First anniversary of being a full-time indie game dev
A year ago I was losing my day job and didn’t know what would be next for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to have another indie dev to bet on me and because of this I can now say that I’ve been a full-time indie game dev for a year now!
Saying no to Ubisoft
A year ago, I was also saying no to Ubisoft after receiving a job offer from them. Back then, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. Who refuses a job offer from such employer just a few days after losing his job! Specially that the whole process went really fast (within a week I had a first contact, passed the interview and received an offer).
Looking back now, I’m glad I said no. First, I made more money being a full-time indie dev than I would have made working for Ubisoft. It sure wasn’t guaranteed when I started but eh, the results are there now. It could have gone the other way but it didn’t. Secondly, I’m not sure I would have really liked it there. It wasn’t a job to work directly on games first, it was only a programming job, it had huge commuting time and I probably wouldn’t be making games anymore on my free time.
Finally, if I would have taken the job I’d probably be torturing myself about missing the opportunity to work on my own games full-time. At least now, whatever happens, I can say that I did it, that I know what it is like and won’t have any regret of not trying it when it was possible.
I still don’t have full control over my anxiety of being self-employed but then many will say that you never totally get over this. I believe there are different levels of anxiety though. If MotL would have made me $200,000 so far then I’d know I have more time to fail and try again which isn’t the case right now.
Very successful devs might say they are living the same anxiety but if you release a relatively unsuccessful game and it doesn’t mean that you have to stop making games to look for a job it’s a bit different. If my next game is a flop then it’s over for me (my full-time dev status I mean). Some might say it can be a good thing to get you motivated and do your best because you’re under pressure but it would imply I don’t do my best in a safer position which is a bit insulting. Put the hat if it fits you but don’t force it on me.
The way I try to fight this anxiety is to accept that this might not last forever and this wouldn’t be the end of the world. I’d prefer it didn’t end but it might so it’s useless to stress over this. I’ll find something else or another opportunity will show itself. The experience I gained in the last year has a value so I must trust that I’ll do fine no matter what happens.
I still feel clueless
Well, not totally but I know that being successful doesn’t make me the guy who knows it all. I’ve received a few emails from other devs asking me for advice and I’m always careful to remind them that I can only tell them what I did and what I observed but that they shouldn’t take anything I say for granted. They should also seek the opinion of other people and then try to figure out what fit them in the mix.
A reason why you can feel clueless even by being successful is because of the Stegosaurus Tail’s. You can have a long period of time where you make little money and then a sale comes up and you’re back up again and then it goes down again, and up, down, etc. It means that you can have a terrible time figuring out how much money you’ll have made by the end of the year so it makes decisions like “how much can I afford to invest in my next project” terribly difficult to answer. It can be tempting to spend that initial big pile of money you make after release but then you need to remember the money you’ll make in following months will be quite different so you need to plan your budget carefully.
In order to try to feel a bit less clueless I built myself a prediction model comparing early sales of Human Extinction Simulator and March of the Living. My hypothesis was that since HES wasn’t a very successful game compared to MotL, the predictions I’d make would in fact be pessimists compared to the real results. My prediction one month after the release of MotL was that the game would make about $500,000 gross in one year which would mean about $175,000 net for me. I can tell you that if I use the same model today that my prediction is now quite far from my first prediction so obviously the model I used is completely wrong.
Trying to predict the success of a game by comparing it to another one is really difficult if not impossible. How “really” successful MotL will be is still unknown. At least until it finally goes through the full cycle of all seasonal sales and various deeper discounts.
I know I sound terribly negative here but that’s just the way I am. I’m still happy to be a full-time indie dev. I wanted to live this for so long and it finally happened. Maybe I had an idealized vision of what it really meant but how cool is it when you wake up in the morning it’s to make games! YOUR games on top of it.
If I went with the negative stuff first it’s just to show that “making it” (full-time status) doesn’t make you feel like you have completed something. You’re just getting started in fact. Well, unless you made a pile of money, could retire tomorrow and make games without caring about financial matters then yes, maybe you can feel like you have “won” indie game development. For most of us though it doesn’t go this way.
Maybe I was expecting to feel like crossing some finish line or something but I never had that feeling. Other self-employed people might celebrate getting their first client for example but I guess for me the real moment I felt like crossing a finish line was actually at the very beginning when I signed a deal with a publisher. Being able to start this wild adventure was actually my biggest victory as weird as it might sound…