Building an indie game is a thrilling adventure full of fame, fortune, and romance which ends with an exciting story you can one day sell for a movie deal. If you read my opening sentence and called “shenanigans” on my claim, then congratulations and keep reading this article you smart yet cynical reader you. If you actually believed the tripe I just wrote, then…. well…I don’t think anything can help you my naïve buffoon, but hey! Keep reading anyways. I need more hits!
Think of your indie game as a climb towards the top of Mount Everest. What’s that you say? Too dangerous and cliché? Fine you donkey dick if you don’t want to go high I’ll take you low.
Now where was I?
Think of your indie game as trek through an unexplored cave you low expectation setting motherfu…ahem…you calculated risk taking moderate. As you navigate this underground complex of stalactites and stalagmites your only guide is a map written by fifty different opinions on which way to go. As you proceed up, down, left, right, ninety degrees, North, Northwest, and various other different directions your lantern runs out of kerosene and you realize you should have climbed the goddamn mountain because that actually had light. But you’re in the cave now so deal with it.
The light is quite faint as you continue, and as you trek further down the path you believe to be the correct one, the light gets more and more dim. There comes a point when you are in total darkness…and when I say total darkness your eyes cannot adjust. All you’re seeing is black. Like Vantablack (Google that word, awesome results). At this point you think you’re close to the end of this wayward journey but you’re not so sure. You’re in too deep to stop and go back. Your only choice is to go forward. Advancing onward feels like an agonizing eternity but what bothers you most is it could be the wrong path. Almost every game developer goes through this torture and it can be extremely tough mentally. Depression is very real and it comes in many different forms. Fortunately for you my grand spelunker, I have some tips to help you stay positive during this trying period.
Super Splendid Tip #1: Write 3 Positive Things
A real great book I picked up a couple of years ago was The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. He’s a fantastic author who specializes in happiness research and is an advocate on positive psychology. Go read his book. It’s very informative and if he finds out I’m giving him a plug here maybe I’ll get a kickback.
In one of his chapters he describes a method for staying optimistic by writing down three positive things that happened to you at the end of the day. Now the Negative Nelly in you is saying nothing good happens daily in my life you liar! But that depends on how we define “good”. When I tell you to describe the good things that happened to you today you’re going to ask yourself did I:
- Get laid
- Get paid a ridiculous amount of money
- Win the Nobel prize for peace
- Find the cure for cancer
- <insert goal that takes lifetime to achieve here>.
I’m talking about little things that make you happy like sleeping in, getting the day off work, taking an hour to exercise at the gym, or not getting bitten by the neighbour’s dog for once. Small victories, and I know they don’t seem like much. But if you spend the day looking for at least three positive things that happened to you and write it down in a journal, it will make all the difference.
It’s called cognitive behavioural therapy. It changes your patterns of thinking and behaviour to help change the way you feel. If you spend the end of each day looking for three or more positive things that happened to you, everything will begin to look like possibilities as opposed to dead ends. Your brain will begin focussing on the good things that can happen instead of negative scenarios.
Amazingly Awesome Tip #2: Whine to Someone….Who Understands
Although I still highly stick to the “write three positive things” rule sometimes you just have to bitch like a little bitch. It’s healthy to complain once in a while. You shouldn’t bottle your emotions as they will eventually come pouring out anyways. And when they do it’ll always be at the wrong time. Like your mom’s fancy dinner party where you tell Uncle John “Fuck you you pathetic fuck! What do you know about making games asshole?! You’ve just been a manager at a run-down independent grocery store that’s going to go out of business! Fuck Franks Fine Foods! Fuck you Uncle John! And fuck the job you’re offering me as produce clerk you fuck! I’m going to be an indie game rock star and you’re not going to ruin my dream asshole!!!!”
Basically find a good friend that’s an even better listener. Pour your heart out and get it all off your chest. But once it’s done don’t go back and complain about the same thing to your friend over and over again. You’ll be that girl that constantly complains to her ugly horny guy pal who she keeps in the friend zone because he’s the only one who listens to her superficial problems. You know that girl. Everyone hates that girl. Basically pity parties suck. Bitch out your problems, feel better, and move one. You’ve got a game to build remember? Oh yah, try to make sure this friend isn’t someone who’s working on the game with you. Meltdowns in front of team members don’t improve morale. Just look at what happened to the Marines team in Aliens when Lieutenant Gorman lost his shit (Spoiler: Sergeant Apone dies).
Wonderfully Wicked Tip #3: Look at Criticism as a Teaching Tool
In the current century we live in it seems that we all love to criticize but none of us want to be criticized. It’s an interesting paradox that if studied by the top minds of this generation all conclusions would be the same. We’re a bunch of hypocritical wimps using the latest technology to infuse us with high levels of keyboard courage while having no real spine. The only way around this is to employ two tactics:
1) Grow a thick set of skin
2) Start looking at what people are really saying
Now when I mention that last point, there are actual tiny nuggets of truth hidden within the YouTube comments section. You just got to look past the colourful language used because people like to be artsy fartsy when they tell you that your game needs improvement. I will give you a couple of examples:
Criticism: “The graphics for this game look like a fucking joke!”
Translation: Your artwork is lacking. You should hire a professional artist.
Criticism: “Good god! This voice acting is so painful!!1 I can do a better job and I haven’t taken any acting classes in my life!”
Translation: Hire professional voice actors instead of using your cousins. Cutting corners just makes you go around in circles.
Criticism: “Fuck your game! It’s a piece of shit! Those 1 million faggots that downloaded it don’t know what a real game is! People support shit nowadays!”
Translation: This is a Troll who possibly tried their hand in game design and failed miserably. They want you to fail as well so you can join them down at their level. Ignore these comical hobgoblins as misery loves company. It’s your best weapon.
You get the picture, if your game is mediocre shit the internet will let you know. It’s your duty to pick up your ears and listen instead of cowering in a corner. Criticism is tough but it is also there to help you. If you can take that tough love and apply it to your design not only will you be a mature responsible cool human being, you’ll also churn out a better game. Just remember, you’ll have all these anonymous jerks to thank after.
Brilliantly Bodacious Tip #4: Get Involved in the Community
You ever go through an entire day of just coding, designing, or planning your game while cutting off all human contact? You ever think you’re alone and you’ll ‘show them all’ when your game is released and they all would have wished to be your friend? You ever consider that if this game development dream doesn’t work out you’re going to live out your days alone, in the forest, isolated from society? Yah, stop doing that you crazed depressed hermit!
If you want your game to be accepted by the community, you should join in the community. I was a bit closed off at the beginning of development for our game Dirty Chinese Restaurant. It was because we didn’t want our ideas to be copied but you’d be surprised how supportive the indie game community is. Currently I help beta test a game called Dystoria by Tri-Coastal Games (there’s your shout out Darryl, you owe me big for the huge draw of people this article is getting. All THREE people). Not only do I beta test for bugs but I also look at the player experience. I have given Darryl plenty of tips to make Dystoria achieve better flow in gameplay. At the same time, he vouches for Dirty Chinese Restaurant without me even asking. It’s a good relationship that makes me feel great because we both support each other’s work. We don’t do it because we are trying to scam free advertising off one another (although it’s a great perk), we do it because we actually like each other’s games.
Helping your community and watching them help you back is one of the biggest positive boosts to your emotional state. So reach out!
Fantastically Fabulous Tip #5: Exercise
This one’s kind of obvious. Exercise, specifically running, releases Endorphins to the body which make you feel super mellow and gives you that I can take on the whole damn world with one hand attitude. It’s basically an anti-depressant. Feeling down? Just run around! Not doing great? Lift some weight!
Now hush those words trying to escape your mouth Captain Obvious. I am well aware some people reading this are not professional athletes nor are they gym rats and that’s all well and fine. You don’t have to be. All you got to do is find some routines online, sign up at your local gym, and execute.
Uh, well George….uh….I don’t have time to exercise. Yah that’s what I call a useless excuse. You know, words that come out of your mouth that are meaningless. Let me ask you two questions oh busy CEO of made up Fortune 500 company. Do you have time to train to swim like Michael Phelps or get a ripped physique like Dwayne Johnson? Of course not! Do you have 30-45 minutes to lift some weights, run around the track, or circuit train? YES! You do! And you’ll feel better for it. Your mood will pick up, you’ll look healthier, and your friends will take notice.
Note: You also have to eat healthily. Don’t expect to do all this on the Dorito Diet as a Nacho Nutrition Supplement.
Extraordinarily Excellent Tip #6: Know When to Relax
You ever ride a wild stallion through the forest and think to yourself man I’m making so much progress, I can do this forever. Well you can’t and if you respond with my butt may get sore but it will be worth the pain when I get there I will reply with no you idiot, I’m referring to the horse you self-centred fuck! It can’t run forever! Now go stop by the lake and let it drink some water before I call those psychos at PETA to deal with you!
The parable I just mentioned about the horse and the selfish asshole (you) not being able to run infinitely also applies to you the game designer. We all want to finish our games. We all want to be successful. And we all want to build another game and continue to build more games. Unfortunately, game design is not a race, it’s a marathon. And like any marathon you have to learn when to push and when to slow down. You’re no good burnt out.
Never feel guilty if you take the day off to spend with your kids or go out to the movies with your friends. Hey, if your single, go out on a date. You need these off times to not be thinking about your game so you can clear your mind and recharge those batteries. Creative solutions, inspiration, and drive has never come from looking at a blank computer screen all day. It comes from going out into the world.
Obviously Outstanding Tip #7: Avoid Negative People
My dad refers to my game as that shit you’re making. I ignore him but I also have family members who believe they need to tell people their opinion on subjects they claim they’re experts on. Once again I just do my thing because I know what I need, not what they believe I need. Criticism is only good for game development. It is critiquing the work, not the person.
Negative people are soul suckers. They refuse to understand you and they want you to feel like smelly maggot infested trash that even the garbage man won’t pick up. Their advice may only serve to inflict their destructive will on you, and it will continue because you were foolish enough to listen the first time. Now that’s not to say people can’t give good advice but when these same people have such a hard on to tell you that you suck, they’re the ones with the actual issues not you.
But George, how will I know who is being negative and who has my best interests.? When someone has your best interests they will address their concerns but they will support you no matter what, if you are committed to a goal. A negative person will try to consistently make you feel stupid for taking a risk and if you ignore them they will channel their inner asshole and try to get other people on their hate bandwagon. They also shit all over you when you fail, but when you’re successful they become very quiet because they are metaphorically constipated and they can’t shit all over you. Remember this is your project, your mountain to climb, not theirs. Don’t give these soul reavers the time of day.
Massively Marvelous Tip #8: Take Small Steps For Small Victories
We have all seen huge successes such as Minecraft and Angry Birds while foolishly thinking to ourselves I can do that easy! I’ve got news for you self-proclaimed genius you can’t. Yes, I’m ignoring my ‘ignore negative people’ rule here but just look at what happened after Flappy Birds and its success. One million plus developers tried to clone the same game thinking they’re going to make $50,000 a day if they code for a week. Spoiler….it didn’t work!
Making a great and unique indie game takes time, and during that time you will have small victories throughout, which should be celebrated mind you. Whether it be small or large titles they went through a lot of trial and error, testing, and rebuilds. The Dirty Chinese Restaurant you see in the two trailers on YouTube (yah I gotta plug my game here, don’t judge you would too) looks nothing like the builds we did originally. We’ve built, torn down, and rebuilt the game engine. We’ve drawn, destroyed, and then redrawn game graphics. We’ve scored music contemporary, converted to 8-bit music, then created an 8bit/contemporary hybrid. Every production meeting we had was composed of the small steps we took that week, nothing more. And with each bunch of small steps milestones were eventually hit which made us truly happy with the product we ended up with. Eventually you will have a game that is grand and a smile that is even grander.
Terribly Terrific Tip #9: Don’t Wear Too Many Hats
As indie game developers….ahem…sorry…as piss poor indie game developers, with teams of three or four people you have to not only build your game but worry about company taxes, website design, marketing strategy, etc. on a tight budget. This can be very stressful and if you are stretched too thin you won’t be focussing on making a great game which will end up suffering. Sure you can do extra things but all those tasks will be all for naught if your focusing 10% on 100 jobs instead of 100% on 3 or 4.
Use this rule of thumb. If you have no skill in that set discipline, then hire someone who does. Never built a website? Hire a professional instead of using wix.com to make pooh. Do you usually get an accountant to do your taxes? Do the same with your business to avoid a nasty audit. Don’t like somebody? Hire a professional hitman instead of pulling an O.J. Simps…oh um…I mean…just don’t associate with said jerk. You would be foolish to think as your business grows (yes you are in a business now regardless if you think you’re just an artist precious snowflake) you won’t need additional help. It isn’t too expensive to hire some freelance PR or designers to help with advertising or websites if you do your research.
Remember the money you pay is an investment. Besides, the upside to shelling out a few bucks for a professional to get the job done is its one less thing to worry about. You’ll sleep easier when you know someone else is bringing their expertise to make your product look even better. It is after all why you’re paying them.
Excessively Extreme Tip #10: Remember…You’re Making a Fucking Game!
Through the stress and hard work of game design it can be all too easy to forget what you’re working towards: making something awesome that people can share. Think about it. You’re making a game! You’re creating something with the potential to dive into the annals of videogame culture, even possibly pop culture. Who does that?! I’ll tell you what my friend, very few people do. And best of all, people in general respect it. It’s a multi-disciplinary craft, not too many people have it on their resume, and it’s a great conversation starter at a party.
I get a great sense of pride telling people I’m finally completing a game called Dirty Chinese Restaurant. Of course, I don’t become self-absorbed in my achievements like a douche (and you shouldn’t be narcissistic either), but it’s okay to talk about your accomplishments if you remain modest about them. Always remember the goal. Write it on a piece of paper and put it at the top of your monitor. Seeing what you are aiming for every day will put a smile on your face.
Now if you are making some hack job game in one week then all this does not apply to you. You deserve to be miserable you lazy dolt! Stop ruining the industry with your I gotta get rich quick shovelware! As for the rest of you, get out there and finish what you started!