Spontaneous hits are a massive part of the indie success story narrative, with monthly tales of indie studios who have seemingly come out of nowhere, put out a great game, and found instant success.
But Thomas Was Alone
creator Mike Bithell argued at Develop Conference today that these stories can actually be quite dangerous for new devs coming into the space and want to achieve the same sort of success because, in Bithell's words, "It's all bollocks."
"This is a story we keep telling, and it's a great story - the person who comes out of nowhere and makes a great game," he says. "Upcoming devs expect, or at least hope, they will achieve a spontaneous hit."
"There will be indies who look at how I sold 1 million copies of Thomas Was Alone
and think 'My game actually has art, I could sell 10 million copies!'" he laughs. "If you think Phil Fish's first game was Fez
, or Jonathan Blow's first game was Braid
, that's going to inform how you make your first games. It's all bullshit. Everyone has a bunch of games you've never heard of."
Indeed, Bithell himself released more than half a dozen games before finding success with Thomas Was Alone
. The key, he says, is to realize that you are going to be bad at making games to begin with, and the only way to get better and hopefully find that hit is to keep trying.
"Everyone fails. Everyone sucks at making video games. We're shit," he says. "The objective when I get up in the morning is to suck slightly less than yesterday."
"It's fine to be a failure - everyone is, and it's awesome," he adds. "There is no way to make a guaranteed hit. It's a lie. The best way to make a hit is to fail a lot."
Of course, you still need to be able to survive while failing, and taking on other work elsewhere alongside your personal stuff can be key to keeping that dream alive.
"The best thing you can do is survive and wait for that hit to happen," Bithell says. Be ready to fail. You're going to fail over and over again."