It’s true. After 10 years, I’ll be wrapping up my games business. Later this year, I’ll be moving on to other things.
I am still going to be around. I’d still like to attend GDC in San Francisco every year. Ludum Dare is a thing I’ll continue to work on and run (and if I’m lucky, I might be able to enter again some day). I’m also going to continue doing little projects that amuse me, things like my Commodore 64 game from New Years. Really, not much is changing today. But it is time for me to move on from the Indie games business.
The big mistake I made in my 10 year journey was going solo. I’m way too ambitious for solo. Some time after I left the mainstream industry in mid 2005 and started my indie biz, I had a team. We developed and pitched an Xbox Live Arcade game back when it was just starting out (based on a Ludum Dare game), but it just didn’t work out.
We were too early, and relied way too much on Microsoft validating us. Sony was just starting what became PSN, and Steam wasn’t a thing yet (not really). It was too soon. Despite what I thought, the opportunity just wasn’t there yet.
I couldn’t afford to keep paying everyone, so the team split, and I went solo.
Eventually I had some success on what became modern Mobile (i.e. iOS and Android). The game (Smiles) took initially 4 months to create, entirely by me. The game sold poorly, but it did succeed through other opportunities. Many new platforms were created and and destroyed after Apple’s App Store launched, and I was on the ball, everywhere first. That was an opportunity I took advantage of, and that’s how I turned a financial flop in to trips, cash, and prizes including a car.
The key word here is opportunity.
The problem today is also that word: opportunity. If anything, things today are better than ever. Despite what you may think of Steam Greenlight, it’s a pretty minor barrier to entry. Any game worthwhile will get on Steam eventually. Heck, even my game Smiles was Greenlit, and it’s a casual game (an Arcade casual game, but that’s a whole other story). If your game has merit, you can get on Steam, on Consoles, or with $100+$25 you can get it on Mobile. And the tools today are better than ever.
There is no more barrier to entry. Good games can go wherever they want.
But with so much opportunity, there is no opportunity.
Okay that sounds a little grim and preachy, but my point is that it’s no longer about just making games. It’s not about games that look good, games that play well, games that have a message, games that are different, games in a popular genre or theme; No, instead it’s all about games that stand out, and games people want. You can’t advertise or market your way to success. Those things help, but only if the game itself has that potential. Almost every successful indie you know has put multiple years in to their projects. And for every indie you know, there are hundreds you don’t. It’s not practical to just make games and hope to make a living.
After trying several way-too-ambitious ideas, and some introspection, I’ve accepted that I’m going to have to do something else. As a solo dev, I’m just not going to make it work.
I am trying one more project, and while it is gaming related, it’s not a game. It’s very technical (my speciality), but not a game. Working on Ludum Dare these past several months, I’m finding myself interested in web services. I use the internet; You use the internet. So why not use some of that “expertise” to make something I might actually use?
I’ll have more to say on the new thing later, once it’s useful.
I’m never going to stop making things (I can’t), I’m just not confident in the “Indie Game Business” anymore.
* * *
The next bit is personal stuff.
I’ll be 35 in a few days. I hadn’t put much thought in to it before, but some months back, a dear friend got me thinking that I need to take my age more seriously.
I am getting old.
It’s a weird thing being the odd man out. Something I’ve noticed, almost all my (local) friends have children. In the back of my mind, I think I also want to try having a family (despite the horror stories), but if I wait too long our *cough* ‘machinery’ will stop working. It’s also something that’s just not practical with a failed business looming over my head. So I gotta get my shit together, clean things up. The other mistake I made was living my personal life ‘solo’. I gotta fix that too, but… well lets be honest, fixing that might be the hardest part. 😉
My games biz didn’t work out, but I had fun.
I have my one last hurrah, the gaming-related project I alluded to above, but like Ludum Dare it’ll need time to grow. Come next year, I have to figure out what I’m doing next. Do I pick up some gamedev work? Do I try something completely different? Can I find something interesting that gives me the flexibility to run demanding side projects like Ludum Dare and new thing? Do I sneak an uncomfortably long trip to Japan in somewhere?
Either way, whatever I do, it’s time to stop doing things solo.