I know, I know … most people writing those lists are only trying to “help” or share bits from their experience in the hope to do some good. Well you know what they say about good intentions … well okay it’s not always that bad. I don’t have anything against people writing such list. I just think the list themselves are mostly pointless at best and misleading at worst.

My grudge with these lists is that they are missing context which is essential. Of course it’s hard to summarize a list of tips generic enough that might apply to most people and that’s exactly why I don’t like these lists. That’s why instead of asking indie devs to give me their “top ten list” I do the From indies to indies interviews. I want them to tell me their stories instead of jumping right away at the lessons learned. Different tips apply to different people and without knowing who is talking first you have no clue if this really apply to you.

If I learned anything in the past years is that there are many paths an indie dev can take and that in the end you only know if it was the right path for you once you reached your destination (which can be or not financial success for example). So I’m interested in the path and not the destination.

Here’s a tiny bit from a conversation with Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green that says a lot in a few words:

People rarely understand what made them successful.  And, people on the outside VERY rarely understand what made someone successful.

I think he’s spot on. So when I just see a list of things to do or avoid I feel like maybe the person who wrote might leave some very important details. Maybe I still wouldn’t understand the conclusion by knowing the whole story of the dev but it’s up to me to make the call.

“But Dave! Some of these tips are universal” you might say. Well that’s another problem. We probably already know that stuff but maybe we just chose to ignore it for some reason. Making yet another list won’t change a thing about that.

Take for example “Focus on your strengths” which is taken from this list on Gamasutra. Would I be able to build a “top 10 list to indie success” by saying the opposite like “Forget about your strength and only use your weakness to create games”? So how helpful is this tip really? What about “Improve with each game” … Damn I thought I was supposed to do worst on each try!

So there’s just something silly about this whole “top whatever” thing. Tell me how you went through it. Tell me your story. Even if I don’t learn anything from it maybe it can be entertaining. I’ll take my own lessons from your story or maybe I’ll push it away and refuse to learn anything from it. I don’t need to be patronized I just need actual help. Of course the best way is probably to meet in person and chat but well I don’t see a “top 10 list” as a good alternative.

One last thing … I must say I’m really tired of seeing the “Begin by working on lots of smaller games rather than a huge and lengthy project”. I know I appear to pick on that particular “top 5 list” on Gamasutra but it’s something I’ve read many times on many lists. It’s basically telling to my face that the path I’ve chosen was a bad one. That it was a mistake. That I wasted my time. Well I know it wasn’t but I can’t help to wonder why you would write such “list” and include that…

I’m not unique (look at SPAZ or Illyriad for example that I both covered on my From indies to indies interviews) and believe me I’m not superhuman either. If you want to write a top 10 list you should at least have the decency to consider for a small second that maybe you are wrong. Maybe there are other paths to follow. I’ve started with a big ass project and no it wasn’t successful. Do these lists are guides to be successful on your first project? I don’t think so. I decided to do what I wanted to do even if it looked like a stupid decision and today all I can say is that it was an enlightening experience. Not to take on a big ass project but to do what I wanted to do no matter what the others would tell me. It wasn’t a matter to prove anything to anyone but a matter of doing what I wanted to do. To me being indie is this. Not to follow guidelines. I’ve learned a great deal and it brought me here today. No I’m still not financially successful but I’m still working toward my goal. No it wasn’t always easy (far from it) but I’m still here working. What I’ve learned by going against the “popular thinking” is helping me and I promise that the day I become a “successful indie game dev” that I won’t rub it in everyone’s face because that’s just a path I’ve chosen. That’s not THE path. All I’m saying is that it would have been nice if the wise men out there would have thought that maybe, just maybe, not doing what they recommend could be a valid path as well. I’ve been lucky to have met a person who respected my goals but I can’t say that many people like him in the “indie industry” if you wish. When you’re in a position of some kind of “moral authority” you should be encouraging people in what they want to do. Not try to keep them from the mistakes you’ve made yourself. You can warn them but don’t protect them. It’s not your job.

Oh I’m no better than anyone else you know. I’m even guilty of having wrote such list. Notice however the last point on that list… My opinion was the same 2 years ago and I thought that making fun of myself would actually be the most helpful “advice” I could give.

Actually the “thing” I like to follow recently is “don’t listen to anyone but don’t be deaf either”. If by the time I’m on my death-bed I still haven’t “make it” feel free to make fun of me. Until then please think twice before writing a “top ten list”. Some people are actually looking at you as mentors. Show them the possibilities but try not to sound like you’ve seen what’s behind every single door …