When the game you developed is haunting you
The most difficult thing I had (and still have) to do is to explain to players why I’m letting sleep an online game I worked on (not kill just letting it be on its own). It happened to Golemizer and it’s now going in the same direction for Star Corsairs at the moment. It’s not easy to explain it all in an email so let’s see if I can do better on this blog.
You did not try hard enough
It’s probably what some people may feel like telling me. Keep fixing it, keep improving it, keep “spreading the word” about it, don’t let go. It’s hard to argue against that. But still … Not all projects automatically “succeed” simply by “trying harder”. Sometimes the project just isn’t good enough, sometimes you’re just not the right person that could see how to turn this any other way and sometimes the idea already reached its full potential and it’s alright this way.
Without trying to sound like full of myself I’ve now become quite happy with what I achieved as a total newbie with Golemizer. Not all indie devs had that kind of results with their first game. I went with what some call an impossible project on my first try and managed to make something decent out of it. Could it have been anything more? Maybe. Maybe with more experience, more contacts, more help, more time, etc. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s the best it could ever be.
Sure it took a lot of time to be at peace with this first experience. After going so much efforts, stress and unhealthy habits (like barely sleeping) I was then feeling guilty to say “I don’t feel like doing this anymore”. Would it have been possible to just do “less of it”? Well I tried for some time but it’s hard to be equally involved in many projects specially when you have come to accept that one of them won’t get any farther. I’m able to work on many projects at the same time at my day job but then I don’t have to do so in the evening after a full day of work …
But look at game X! They kept going for Y time and it turned out well in the end
Yes. Again something it’s hard to argue against. What you need to realize is when we work on a game we don’t follow a clear path. You create your own path and you can’t expect to see on the horizon the finish line. Nobody can tell you “just keep going for 6 more weeks”. It might as well be 6 more months or 6 more years. It’d make an amazing story to hear “this guys kept going for 6 years with the same game before it met such success” but not everyone is able to stick with the same game for so long while waiting for better results. Sometimes moving on is just a matter of sanity.
When things don’t quite go as you wish they would go you ask yourself a lot of questions. Did I screwed up? Is it just my luck that sucks? Did I miss some important marketing move? Is the concept of the game just lame? Is there any real potential in this idea after all? And so on …
Nobody can answer these questions for you so you have to make the decisions. Some can offer their opinion but in the end it’s you that will stay behind the keyboard to work if you decide to keep going. So you evaluate the good and the bad and then make a decision. How do you know you’ve made the right one? Well the only way to know is if you can deal with it or not without confusing this state of mind with feelings like frustration or disappointment.
Making the decision
The question is “why would you turn your back on your own game”. Well it depends on your motivation. Is it to just have a hobby and don’t care about anything else? Is it to make money? Is to work on THAT game only? Me it was to create something that would have an impact on my day-to-day life. Have something from my imagination comes into my own little real world and change it. I feel the need to create and I also feel the need to see these creations have a measurable impact on my life. Oh it sure did but not quite in the way I expected. Well the way I hoped. Just being able to keep a day job for maybe 3-4 days a week would have been an amazing result for me and I’d still be working on Golemizer today I guess. Deep down I was hoping for more but since I’m a pessimist being able to compensate for 2 days of “lost” paid work would have been enough. Instead now I work 4 days a week but that 5th day is completely unpaid. It’s a choice I made to help me work on what I really like to do. So I still achieved part of it but it wasn’t based on the good results of my previous projects.
So there comes a time your motivation and reality collide. Do you just deal with reality and hope things get better in the near (or very far) future? Or do you go back to what motivated you in the first place? So you go with your motivation and have to make the tough call of saying “I’m moving on”. People can hate you for that. Others don’t understand why you’re giving up “so soon” and wish you would consider this project as something else than an expression of your initial motivation. Others are sad but understand why you’re making this decision.
Making this decision can possibly hurt your reputation but it’s a risk to take. People might just say “bah don’t bother he’ll just leave in a few months”. The fact is there’s no universal standard for when it’s okay to move on. There’s no minimum result that will have people say “oh he didn’t reach X so it’s okay”. You have to draw the line yourself and deal with the consequences. It’s about not lying to yourself really. Asking yourself when are you just doing this for others and just putting yourself on the back burner. Choosing yourself over anybody else can only mean not everyone will be happy about it. There’s not much to do about that.
Again are all projects meant to inevitably match initial hopes at some point? The fact that few indies have success with their first game (or 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, etc.) tells me that the answer is “no”. I can’t prevent myself to not work on other projects just because my first few ones were online games. If you wish to tell me “told you so” about anything related to the creation of an MMO feel free to do so. I’m at peace with it now.
Offline/single-player games help you to sleep better at night
I released a few single-player Flash games and I’m not loosing any sleep over them even if they didn’t perform not that amazingly. Sure you get that adrenaline rush on the week of release but a few months later you’re already thinking about the next one and don’t feel bad for not caring about the past.
Maybe that’s why now I’m going in this direction. At least for my own self-motivated projects. Not that I won’t ever work on an online game again on my own but it’s nice for a change to deal with the pressure in a different way. It doesn’t mean that it will be easier but the post-release struggle won’t be the same for sure. Oh I guess you still receive at some point mails from players asking “why don’t you release new patches anymore?” but expectations for new stuff in online games are much greater I think.
An interesting way to look at it is that even if Golemizer and Star Corsairs and not doing particularly well they still receive a somewhat interesting number of visitors each day. 100 for Star Corsairs and 200 for Golemizer, give or take. Now it’s now interesting as in “I’m an Internet star” but it means I’m able to put a game out there and by various means manage to have people discover it. For online games the problem is the “critical mass problem”. 100 visitors per day is great if they all visit your website in the same 15 minutes but not so great if it’s spread on 24 hours. They get in, see nobody around and then leave. An empty MMO is not an attractive one.
So my point? Well on 100-200 visitors per day there’s a chance I might make 1 sale of a single-player game because people don’t care about how many people are online on this website when they visit it when it comes to “do I buy this game or not”. With an MMO they could play for a week, leave because they’re always playing alone and I still haven’t made a sale. I’m not saying I’ll automatically make 1 sale per day but the possibility is there. For an empty MMO the possibility to make a sale is significantly lower. It’s just my own little way to see a bright side in all of this.
But you’re still wrong
I know I won’t change anyone’s mind about what they think I should or shouldn’t do. That’s not really the point anyway. I just know that some people out there might be curious as to why such decision was made. Maybe someone can even learn something from it. Or maybe not. It’s now posted anyway.
So you can stick to “shame on you for giving up so soon” or you can wish me luck for my next project and the next one and the next one. Heck it’d be really great if you’d take some time to leave some feedback on one of them!