For the past eight years I've been developing and releasing games part-time while working as an analyst programmer during the day for a small business. On a Monday like any other, I received a Skype call from my boss telling me that after working at the same place for fourteen years I didn't have a job anymore.
You know how it goes; we like you, we're satisfied with your work but the company is going through a rough time right now so we have to make some cost-savings decisions. Five employees were let go that day.
Happy as a part-time indie dev
After fourteen years working for the same employer I had some nice work conditions allowing me to put decent energy on game development even part-time. I was working four days a week, most of the time from home and my day was beginning at 8:45. I had plenty of energy to put on games in the evening and each Friday was dedicated to game development. Sure, like anyone else I was hoping one day to maybe make the move to full-time game development but my situation was still nice all things considered.
When all of this went away, my main concern was to know if I'd be able to find the same work conditions I had and if not then what this would mean to working on games part-time. I'm not old (36) but the older I get the less I feel like spending entire evenings and weekends locked in front of my computer after doing the same for an unrelated day job. Sure, I enjoy working on games and I managed to make some money but at some point you start wondering if you wouldn't prefer to do something else with your time since you don't need to work on games to pay the bills.
Two weeks after losing my job I received a job offer from Ubisoft through some ex-colleagues who put good words for me. I wasn't even actively searching for a new job at this point so it came as a surprise and forced me to think about what I really wanted. I heard many stories about working for AAA studios but when you get such a job offer you have to take a moment to think about it. One thing was clear, if I'd say yes to this job it'd probably be the end of my side projects of game development.
Time to see what eight years of part-time game development brought me
Right when I started to work on my first game, Golemizer, I made sure to have some kind of presence on the web and started to reach out to other developers. I never was great at PR but I did my best to make sure there was something for people to see if they'd look me up. I spent a lot of time posting on my blog while nobody was reading anything I was writing but slowly I started to make some contacts. Blogging is nice but for people to start paying attention to you releasing stuff is what really counts. I made sure people would notice that I just don't dream about making games and released 13 games in eight years. Results were mixed for sure but when I was talking about a project then people knew I would deliver it.
So slowly but surely some people started to know who I was. Not a lot of them but people who would change my life for sure. At some point I even did some interviews with other indie devs in the hope to provide a point of view not provided by the press in a series of post called "From indies to indies". It didn't last as I'm not great to run interviews but I posted three of them (Dead Frontier, Illyriad and SPAZ). What I learned by doing these interviews is that other indie devs are more than happy to share their experience and that most of them are easily accessible. From there my world became much bigger.
While I was juggling with the idea to work for Ubisoft I started to ask around if any indie devs had work for me. Anything like website maintenance to coding project currently in development. Nothing actually came up so I approached the situation from a different side. I started to pitch game ideas (ideas accumulated during eight years of not having a budget to realize them) to other indie devs. That's when something really interesting happened and that I realized that eight years spent of actually releasing games (even with mixed results) and making contacts was the smartest thing I ever did.
From indie dev to publisher
I never pitched any game project to a publisher so as my first time I'm sure I did a terrible job, missing every single point of advice you can probably get in one of the many posts telling you how to approach publishers. What these posts don't tell you however is that who you are and what you did in the past matters and that there are many different type of publishers out there.
One of my pitch, described as roguelike-like inspired by FTL and The Walking Dead, caught the attention of an indie dev who knows very well games about zombie apocalypse. The same person I interviewed four years ago about his game Dead Frontier, Neil Yates from Creaky Corpse. When I look back at this pitch I can see it was really terrible so the pitch itself surely wasn't the only reason Neil wanted to talk about this project a bit more. I'll let Neil explains if he feels like it why he thought it might be a good idea to bet on me and this project but I like to think that showing that I actually make it to the release line might have played a lot here.
He never published a game before so both for Neil and me it was new territory. We had an interesting and very casual discussion about how we could make this project work. On my side I was concerned about suddenly leaving behind me the stability a day job offered me for so many years and I'm sure that his main concern was to make sure this adventure wouldn't become an endless spiral of investment that would never see the light of day. Without entering too much into details, the main thing we agreed on was a six months period to make this project happen. This might seem awfully short to start from scratch a game and release it but the plan was clear from the start and it was a good way to make sure we both knew what was going to happen. It helped us to both feel secure, me knowing that I'd have to find another day job after six months if I couldn't deliver and for Neil knowing there's a defined maximum risk he's taking on this project.
That six months deadline wasn't pulled out of thin air. My previous game Human Extinction Simulator took me about a year to release while working on it part-time so I figured that if I could maintain the same level of focus on the core idea and be able to dedicate myself full-time to such project then six months was realistic. When you worked for so long on games part-time you start to develop tricks to make sure you ever release your projects. You become better at identifying features or ideas that might derail projects, you establish a discipline of work and you learn to identify times when nothing you do is helpful and you need to take a break.
Less than a month after signing the contract I sent a first fully playable build to Neil. Oh it was full of bugs and still using programmer arts but the game was all in there and Neil like what he saw. Of course, working on such deadline comes with constraints but I always kept telling myself that what the game does it must do well and feels like a complete experience. The worst thing that could happen is to throw some half-finished idea in there that would end up ruining what the game does well. If I must pick a single thing I'm proud about this project is the ability to maintain a tight grasp on its scale without sacrificing anything that makes this game fun.
We're now a bit more than halfway this six months period and we're now ready to reveal this game named March of the Living on Steam's Greenlight and on its official website. I still have much work to do but I'm happy to say that we're on track to release the game right on time as planned. Whatever happens when we release the game I can say for sure that both Neil and me had a great time working on this project together and that I'm amazed that the path I followed these past few years lead me to this point. One thing is sure and it’s that for six months I had the best job ever. Time will tell if I get to continue the adventure.
March of the Living is set to be released this Spring.
Official website: http://www.marchofthelivinggame.com/
Steam Greenlight: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=605952563
Contact the author:
Email: [email protected]