How to feel better about your imposter syndrome
There’s an article on Polygon in which some game developers are talking about this imposter syndrome they are feeling. I’m guessing that you need to have met success of a particular scale to start feeling that way as it’s really not something I can relate to and even have a hard time understanding.
My best guess is that we’re particularly clueless when it comes to explain what makes a success and the human mind just refuse to accept not being able to clearly put the finger on what really happened. Noticed how we’re “able” to say why this game or that other one were successful after success was actually met but that we never see anyone explaining why his next game yet to be released will be a success?… I mean if we would really be able to analyze what truly makes a success it should be simple to use the same recipe and repeat the feat over and over…
The first mistake is to judge your success on a release basis
You’re only as good as the last good thing you did… Well this is the first mistake. Not that it doesn’t suck to do great and then completely miss the target but if you’re only focused on your last project then you’re forgetting what got you so far to start with. Nobody stays at the top all the time.
To live from release to release and forgetting the big picture is a good plan to start feeling bad about yourself. It’s also true when you’re not as successful as you’d like to be. After I released Human Extinction Simulator and saw sales stop after a month I sure went through a bad time but I still had to admit that I never did as good as this. The past height years and dozen of releases got me to a better result than before even if I was expecting more.
The question “are games art” is uninteresting to me as it’s pretty obvious most game developers are feeling like artists when living from release to release. The trick is to take a step back and see your business instead of your last piece of art. Things are only really bad if your last project prevents you from starting another one.
Stop waiting to get your work validated by others
You released a game, you had fun making it and on top of that sold thousand of copies and you’re making good money. Why is it not enough? Why the need on top of that to have others say “you did a good job”? Obviously if you sold thousand of copies you must have done something right so you should try to translate these sales into the pat on the back you badly need.
Maybe I’m just part of a minority here. At my day job I never really felt anything when a project manager was telling me I did a great job or when my boss thanked me for whatever good I did. I was paid to do such work and if I was doing such a good job then all I expected was that my paycheck reflects that. You can use words all you want but if at the end of the day it makes no difference on my paycheck then I don’t care.
Of course we make games because we enjoy doing so but isn’t it the point being able to keep doing that? People are thanking you for having a fun time by paying for your games. That’s a pretty big pat on the back when someone is ready to put money he earned working hard on something you created. Expecting more than that starts to feel like you’ll never be able to get enough. Not that I can’t see how pretty good it feels (always better to be told you did great than you did something crappy) but sale stats are not simple cold data. It’s way more than that. This alone is a tiny clue that you must have done something a bit good somehow.
Some people say to not go into game development for the money. Well guess what, you should also not go into game development if you’re badly craving validation by your peers or the public. Negative voices are always louder than positive ones as people appreciating your work often don’t feel like they need to tell you (while it’s often the opposite if they’re not satisfied).
There’s always someone who knows more than you do
An interesting case is Tom Francis who had great success with his game Gunpoint. He describes how he feels like he was barely able to make the technical side of Gunpoint hold together from his point of view as he doesn’t have the technical expertise other game devs might have.
The first thing you must accept when working with computers is that you will never be able to stop learning. There’s always something new you must adapt to and you always have to start back at the bottom of the ladder. Some adapt faster than others but nobody escapes this. You are never done learning so knowing less than someone else shouldn’t be a source of insecurity. It simply means they’ve been going at it longer than you.
I’ve been coding for 16 years professionally and I’m still able to put together terrible code. We all do. It always start very clean with good intentions and then it all falls apart somehow without you realizing it. On the day I released Human Extinction Simulator a very bad bug was discovered, preventing the game to launch… It was bad but I still didn’t felt like a was a fraud unable to properly release a game. This is just routine when you’re programming. Just ask any of your programmer friends to tell you stories about horrible releases they went through (websites, softwares, servers, anything). There’s no need to feel like a fraud because you didn’t know enough, it’s just how things go in this business.
There’s a good damn reason why at my day job I always refused to release something on a Friday. It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, something can always go bad and you don’t want it crashing during the weekend. Not having all the answers at hand isn’t important. What’s important is your capacity to learn and adapt.
In case of emergency remember what it was like “before”
I’m sure I’ll fall to this myself so that’s why I try to be conscious about it. As you climb the imaginary ladder of success you start losing perspective of what it is like to not have yet met the success you’re hoping for.
It creeps behind you and you don’t realize it. You best game made you $300,000 and now you’re feeling like a total failure because your last release “only” made $50,000… I don’t even know how to fail by making $50,000 so a little perspective is required. Easier said than done I guess but still true.
If you were to win at the lottery would you invest all the money you gained in new lottery tickets hoping to win again? Well, it’s a bit the same. When you win the lottery of game development, sure you probably learned a thing or two that might help you improve your chances of winning again but then remember how it was like when you were clueless about why your previous releases were unnoticed because chances are that you’re still clueless about a lot of things.
When you only see your last success then your start losing perspective and you’re sure to feel really bad if you’re unable to repeat your past feats…