Tips you were never given about being indie
These are not tips to make that big hit you might be after, you’re on your own for this.
Live in a country where the dollar is worth less than the US dollar
As weird at it is, a considerable part of the success I’m enjoying right now is due to the fact that I live in Canada and the dollar here is currently weak. It’s not exactly a solid strategy as the CAD was worth about as much as the USD in 2012 but right now it makes quite a difference.
For every dollar Steam is sending me it means an additional 30 cents in my bank account so on a few thousands it’s starting to be quite interesting. Since the release of March of the Living, it’s about $15,000 more I got due to the weakness of the CAD. This is money that wouldn’t exists if I was living in the US or UK.
A weak dollar can mean that I have to pay more for some stuff I’d get at a lower price in the US but since I don’t spend much money beside for food and mortgage (I’m really not a gadget guy and I rarely buy games) I can’t say that I feel pressure there.
Taxation is quite high in Quebec so it’d be even better if I was living in another province but I’m still making more money here than if I’d be living in the US.
Other indie devs are not your audience
Even though I know that to get exposure on Twitter you need something that is more than just “here’s my latest game” it can be depressing to see how even my most popular tweets with many RT have so little engagement. The answer to this matter is quite clear though; I just have to pay attention at how I use Twitter myself.
I tend to follow other indie devs who also follow other devs and are followed by devs themselves (some who released hits have a wider reach but it’s not that common). So when I post something on Twitter it tends to remain in that unproductive loop. I see many games announcements or articles posted by indie devs but I often don’t go further than just checking it quickly. The reason is simple, other indie devs are busy working and promoting their own stuff.
While it can be nice to exchange with other indie devs about what you’re going through, there’s a limit to what this echo chamber can do. Sure, seeing your post on the front page of Gamasutra can provide a warm and fuzzy feeling but unless it starts spreading outside of the game development circle it doesn’t accomplish much in terms of marketing (it might be good to establish contacts when searching for a job or that kind of stuff but you’re not reaching players that way).
Even though I’m conscious that other indie devs most likely won’t help me to sell more copies of my games, most of the stuff I post on my blog is still addressed to them (or I should say have little value to potential customers). Being conscious of this I should probably do something about it at some point…
Do you have your dev buddy?
I’m not talking about the 50 indie devs following you on Twitter, I’m talking about the guy you chat with on a regular basis and contrary to your immediate entourage actually have a clue what you’re doing or what you’re going through.
Making games is easy. Anyone can make games. When you hope/try to make games that might make money at some point though it’s easy to get lost as there’s no clear path that will take you from your first game to your big hit making millions for example.
Your dev buddy won’t guarantee you success but it’s like a lighthouse that provides you a fixed point in an infinite number of possibilities. Your dev buddy can help you to remain sane, provides an ear when nobody around you understand what you’re trying to say (for example, most people around me don’t even play games so it can difficult sometimes to communicate with them about my job) and is also a presence that prevents to feel too lonely.
When you’re not part of a team, game development can be an incredibly lonely experience that even people like me who don’t need much presence around can find difficult at some point. I was saying how your dev buddy helps you to remain sane and it’s literally that, not just having someone to rant with about game development stuff.
Don’t define yourself only as a game developer
That one I’m still working on. When you put many hours thinking about games, prototyping them and coding them it’s easy to think that there’s nothing else in your life. From day-to-day you pretty much do the same thing over and over and beside taking a break to post on Twitter or on a forum you don’t have much contact with the outside world. Heck, it’s Saturday and instead of doing something else I’m writing on my blog about indie dev stuff…
I took some kind of vacation recently and had a weird thought; I don’t have any hobby. When I started to work on games it was as a hobby and since it was taking so much of my time I slowly pushed away my other hobbies like trying to learn to play the guitar, playing D&D with friends, writing poetry or even reading books. It happened without me realizing what was happening.
So when I found myself without a computer nearby I just didn’t know what I would enjoy to do. Doing nothing and just relaxing can be great but it leaves the mind free to keep thinking about the work you will do once you’re back in action.
I keep telling myself that maybe I won’t be a full-time indie dev until I’m 70 (for a number of reasons, not just because I fear to not make money with my next game) so I’m trying to be at peace with the possibility that at some point I might have to find a job again but the question I seem to avoid is “what would I do with my free time if this happens?”. Make games as a hobby again? Maybe but knowing myself I’d probably still secretly hope to make a game allowing me to return to full-time indie status again and it wouldn’t really feel like a hobby then.
I had to become a full-time indie to realize this as now that I spend my day working on games I don’t exactly feel like putting an additional 5 hours in the evening doing exactly the same thing. Some people might say that when you’re an indie game dev that you never get to take a break but I think it’s very unhealthy. However, now that I don’t know what to do with my free time I see how some people can say such thing as it’s so damn easy to sit back at the computer and continue what you were doing during the day.
I know I’ll be able to remain a full-time indie for at least the rest of the year so during this time my objective will be to figure what else I am exactly. It seems like a silly question but what’s even more silly is that I don’t quite have an answer right now.