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Independence and Existentialism

It's like Jean Paul Sartre was speaking to indie developers when he wrote Humanism and Existentialism. We are "condemned to freedom" indeed. This is a bit of a ramble more than a lesson, but I felt the need to express it.

Back in university, many...MANY moons ago, I was pretty big into philosophy. Initially, it was a throwaway elective course, but soon after the first few lectures, it became a course that I loved and maintained throughout my time in university. Of the philosophers I studied, the one who had the most impact on me was Jean Paul Sartre and his concepts of Humanism and Existentialism.

It was the concept, "Condemned to Freedom" that resonated most.

In short, what he was saying was that we are all free, for better or worse, and that the events in our life are under our control occur either because of our actions or inactions. There is no safety net. No divine path set ahead of you. Now, there is always a counter point to any philosophical position. For this, it's the idea that choice is an illusion, but for the purposes of what I am writing here, let me just stick with Sartre.

That concept is what has kept me going many times in my life. Now that I have my nascent indie developments, it has become poignant once again. I don't know how many people have had the good fortune of experiencing all facets of the game industry, but I do consider myself to be one of those fortunate few. Now, as a fully independent, one man show, Sartre's words resonate loud and clear once again.

Back in the days when I was working with big publishers, I really took for granted the resources they had at their disposal. The sheer number of people they can reach through their channels and the financial power that allowed them to do pretty much anything, boggles my mind now. I remember being on the EA Redwood campus when the guys at Need for Speed bought an Nissan Skyline GT-R and had it shipped over from Japan as part of a promotional contest. Indies, think about that, they bought a car and shipped it around the planet, just to give it away in a contest. By contrast, I drove my old Mazda to the wrecking yard a few months back and used the money to buy new dishes.

As a free indie, marketing budgets are composed more of time rather than money. Time like the time I am spending to write this post. On the flip side, as an indie, we are free to do whatever we choose without the marketing guys telling us, with very nice power points, what their data is telling them. Things like our graphics are not relevant, or we don't have enough content, or that we MUST generate a "me too" title to reach our quarterly targets.

We are free to work when we choose, not when we are told. I crunch now, as I did then, but now I don't resent it because it's on my terms, not on theirs. I crunch when I am alone, or when I am inspired. They made me crunch through children's birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas. Probably the biggest difference is that if I crunch now, the potential rewards are all mine. Back then, the reward was that I was blessed with the continued obligation to crunch more, until a time came when I was no longer needed.

Condemned...It's interesting. The business freedom afforded to a project by the budgets of the big publishers contrasted against the personal and artistic freedom of an indie. Don't get me wrong, I REALLY miss the paycheck I used to get, but this exile that I am in is liberating in almost every other way. I mean, I am self-publishing!! For the younger devs out there, you have to keep in mind that when I started my career, self publishing is something that required many millions of dollars in the bank. To even think that I could ever do that on my own was unthinkable. I also don't have to censor my work. I can actually do whatever I like.

Condemned. I have to admit, it was the lack of the safety net, after so many years with one, that prevented my from doing this several years ago rather than this year. I allowed myself to drift with the current for fear of condemnation. Fear is the mind killer indeed. If only I had the courage to just embrace my freedom, where might I be now?

There is always the possibility of returning to the big publishers, but if that happens, I will definitely feel a sense of loss.

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