Golemizer: lessons learned, state of mind and the future
The release of Dungeon of Loot brought some questions from players in Golemizer. Why am I spending so much time on other game projects and why I haven’t really been around Golemizer for quite some time. I decided to come clean about it and be honest about the situation here and here.
That’s surely not the kind of things player like to hear and that’s surely not the kind of things I like to say either. I don’t know if it’s bad or good community relation but I like to stick with the truth (easier to remember).
So yes Golemizer is not what I considered an active development project anymore but I’m not shutting it down either. It however comes to a point where I just cannot go further in the same direction anymore at the risk of completely losing it. For 2 years and a half I haven’t much existed beside being some guy that kept saying “yeah I’m still working on my project, it’s a lot of work but I like very much what I’m doing and I’m sure one day it will give results”. All of my free time was going in Golemizer, all of it. Thanks to my wife for being able to live in this situation.
When I first started to work on Golemizer I was very naïve. I knew I was getting into something huge and that it wouldn’t be easy but I also expected in a way that by working hard and being serious about it that “they would come”. Yeah like I said I was very naïve and it didn’t took long for me to realize that it wouldn’t be an easy ride.
My inspiration came from Gene Endrody (Sherwood Dungeon), Kevan Davis (Urban Dead) and of course Andrew Gower (Runescape). Those people were a proof that a single person could take on the project of building an MMO. Others have also done it but those 3 were those I was aware of at the time. That’s why I never bothered with all the people saying that “it’s not something you should do” because if I was going to be in it for a long time I needed to shield myself from this kind of negativity (some may call this realism). I never feared of not being able to release based on technical knowledge but I underestimated everything surrounding programming like promotion, press relation, exposure …
My first mistake was to take so long before releasing something. While I did came up with a proof of concept fairly early the initial development process took a full year. One year with only about 3-4 people who saw different stages of production. Of course I wasn’t building a game but I was building a framework. A framework on which I spent too much time without releasing anything. Each time I was done with a feature I had 3 more I thought were really needed so the to-do list kept increasing. I did came up with something quite impressive IMHO but something that wasn’t tested, validated against a game concept. I built a lot of tools without much caring about the game itself. So yes I had something quite impressive but no real games to show.
So if a noob like me would ask me some advice about his MMO project I’d say that: “Do it but release something ASAP. Start with something simple and then expand from there. Don’t shoot in every directions because the chances are high that you’ll burn yourself so stick to something basic at first“. I don’t know if you realize but when you’re a noob that knows nothing about game development, is really not sure if he’s doing all of this for nothing and that you work on something for a full year before ever seeing players interact with it it’s a hell of a long time. Somehow I managed to get through it but it had an impact on my life. It became an obsession and filled all the free time I had.
Remember me saying I was naïve about the whole thing? Well I never considered this a hobby. In my mind it was clear that so much work was almost a safe bet on some relatively high expectations. Right from the start it was a job. A job I was enjoying a lot but I wasn’t doing it just for fun. Setting high expectations can be a driving force but it can also stab you in the back if you are unable to manage the stress or if your life situation is not in a stable state.
The second mistake I made was to completely put everything in my life on hold to make this project priority one. My job was terribly boring but I figured that since it wasn’t really hard and well paid that having doing something I like only at night and on the weekends would be enough. Guess what? When you spend so much time at a day job you don’t like even if you think it’s enough to keep you going to do what you like it’s not so obvious when you’re living it day after day. First you become really tired then you start being less efficient at everything. You wake up in the morning and feel like throwing up because you know you have to get through an 8 hour day before getting to what you like. I’m sure that some are able to deal with it and I thought that I could do the same easily. I did it … but not easily. I’m still trying to deal with this. Yep I still have the same job and I’m still enjoying a stable situation with a nice salary even though it bothers the hell out of me. But then could I really be passionate about any kind of job when I already found the one I’m passionate about? The problem is that the one I enjoy still doesn’t pay …
So one year pass (a bit more actually) and I finally hit release. You know these articles giving you advice on how to contact the press, on how to get your work out there? I read them all. Honestly there’s nothing very complicated in it. Some will tell that it’s not that obvious but the truth? It is … BUT you need something good to show. And by something good I mean more than a story and good doesn’t automatically mean “good”. It also mean something “popular”. My main selling point? Hey I was 1 man who built an MMO! Impressive eh? That wasn’t enough. Maybe it’s because others were there before, maybe it’s because Golemizer was a bit harder to understand, maybe it was because it wasn’t well polished but come on! I did it alone! Nah … nobody talked about it. Blame me for expecting something out of this. I often say to never expect anything but that’s well damn easy to say …
Still the game started to get some players. Just getting those few first players was as much work as working on the game itself. And then that leads me to the third mistake.
I was sick of being alone so I made sure to give players a voice. I talked to them and listened to them. Probably a bit too much in fact. The year following release I went into a mad process of massive number of updates. 27 updates with tons of new features and a number of patches (I didn’t even bothered to count those) to fix all the bugs. Don’t get me wrong. This year following release was exciting and I had a lot of fun but I can’t say it has been really productive. What was going in my mind? Well the game was slow to get new players so each time I said to myself “if I add that it will definitely help the game”, “if I do this I’ll be able to contact the press once more to get some exposure”, “the game really need this new feature to make it interesting” … I couldn’t be more far from reality …
That’s when simple fatigue becomes massive exhaustion. I was still living with the same expectations as when I started and each time I was pushing myself with new updates being convinced that it was just a matter of time or hitting the right new feature to see the number of players grows. FYI the most players I’ve seen at the same time online was about 40. It usually remains around 15-20.
The almost total lack of progress was hurting the most. The number of active players never really had any kind of big rise and I can’t even say constant rise. It felt that my efforts were not giving anything and it was quite that in fact. I wasn’t putting my time where it could have mattered. Instead of adding tons of new features I should have stick with basic bug patches and better promotion, community management (all of this with an earlier release). But then I’m saying this but maybe I’m still wrong anyway and I’ll never know for sure. Maybe the game was flawed right from the start. I knew it was a niche game but I wasn’t trying to make millions per year either. Even a niche game could have provided enough players for a nice result (and it doesn’t take that much really but just more than what there was).
And then I hit the wall. Frustrated that there was no sign of real progress it seemed I could be doing the same thing for 10 years and still not get any good results. Someone doing this whole thing as a hobby would have been quite satisfied but would have not been at the same point either. I wasn’t in it to have a hobby so … That’s when things started to get slower. The problem? Players were now expecting me to keep up at the same pace as before which wasn’t possible anymore. First because I wasn’t seeing any progression and because the body could not follow anymore. I had reached my limit and decided to slow down before things turned ugly.
So what’s happening now? I’m taking a long break from Golemizer. I don’t see myself as that “Golemizer only guy” but as someone who want to work on games. I need to try new things, make new mistakes and learn from them. Sticking with the same old plan is only cornering me. All the things I learned while working on Golemizer are incredible and even if it was a hard path to choose I’m happy I decided to go through this. On the technical side I’m not a programming guru or a super geek with the answer to any problem but my experience with Golemizer tested my skills and I now have a proof that my lack of geekiness cannot stop me from overcoming what I’m faced with.
The future? Well Golemizer is a nice IP and maybe one day I’ll revisit it or maybe not. Who knows. I have pretty much a clear idea of what I would do differently but I still doesn’t master the art of getting my work known. That’s something that everyone have to face I know.
The most irritating thing I had to deal with is all those people who pass by and give me advice. I know that (most of them) they are only sharing bits of their experience but the lack of any form of recognition often tells me that they are mostly interested to see their name spread around then to really talk to me. I can count on one hand the number of people who went in the mud with me and said something nice while knowing a bit what I was going through.
Of course you’ll tell me that expecting recognition when you are nobody like me is completely foolish. Indeed everyone is after recognition and expecting it seems quite pretentious. Feel free to think I am pretentious if it makes you feel better. Chances are that we will never have a real honest conversation if you consider this the truth so it doesn’t really matter anyway I guess.
Recognition comes in many form and it surely doesn’t mean blind worship either. Sometimes it’s just saying on your blog “hey that guy built an MMO alone. It’s far from perfect but when did you released your last MMO?“. I know that’s silly. Expectations! Ha! Many people will tell me that’s why I burn myself. To them I say that’s why I lasted that long and that I’m still set on “making it happen” someday even if I have yet to see significant results …
So that “Golemizer guy” is now looking to become that “game developer guy”. I know what I want, where I want to go and what I can do. What I can’t do though is to keep going in a direction that is keeping me away from my goal …