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Make the kinds of games you can be proud of

There are lots of choices we make as indie game developers that have lasting effects on our careers, from the platforms to the tools to the game genres we choose to spend time on. This post is about some of those choices.

Philip Maxey, Blogger

February 26, 2015

7 Min Read

It was an interesting last year (interesting in this case doesn't necessarily mean good), and I got to the end of 2014 at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. I even blogged about it here (another great article which came to a similar conclusion can be read here). Over the past few weeks I've made a number of decisions about where to go next in my "game making career" and these decisions came naturally. I got to the point in december where a number of things I had tried didn't work out, I even tried one last thing during december and that didn't work out either, coming into the new year every path seemed pointless. But then something started to happen. I started to realise the issue wasn't me but instead was the platform that I had been trying to get somewhere with for the past 2 years, i.e mobile.

I came into mobile at precisely the wrong point. Too late to cash in on the "wow I can play a game on my phone" early gold rush but also right at the start of the monopolization of the charts by the major players. Of course that's not to say that it was impossible for me or anyone to create successful games at that point because some did, but it was at that point that the free ride was over and having success on mobile became proportionally difficult to the practically impossible stage that it's in now.

It was a bit like trying to climb up a hill which gets steeper over time, rather than being what it should be, a level playing field.

The final nail in the coffin was this page. 12,963 Games submitted to launch in one month?!? because of the lack of quality curation on the App store it's just a numbers game, whether that be via the number of shovelware submitted or the number of "whales" you can get money from. I struggled with being part of that world for a few years but it was never something I felt comfortable with.

With this realisation came another and that's there is a whole other market which had always been on the fringes of my mind for years, which actually is a perfect fit for me and the kinds of games I want to work on. And that of course is Steam.

You see I think the difference between Steam and mobile is that mobile makes you make games you think you should be making, whereas Steam allows you to make the kinds of games you want to make, if that makes sense. That's not to downplay the struggle to do well on Steam, to get Green lit etc I know that takes time and skill, it's just at least on Steam you have a kind of freedom which most lone developers don't have on mobile. Making games should be a creative and engineering exercise not an accounting exercise.

A number of points started to become clearer in my mind.

  1. The kinds of games I want to work on are mostly retro, even pixel-art, basically the kinds of games my generation imagined they were playing while they were actually playing the games of the 80s and 90s! The audience on Steam seems to like these kinds of games.

  2. There's no race to the bottom on Steam because it's doubly curated, first by the community and then by Valve (triply if you included the PC gaming press). The community value talent and hard work, they are gamers and don't mind paying for the experiences they want. Which is obviously different to mobile, whereas that kind of mentality is definitely niche.

  3. There's options to really share what you're working on with the community at a much earlier stage via Early Access and players being more interested in the actual development of games than on mobile.

  4. Creating a game for Steam will give me the opportunity to finally get into Unity.

  5. I've got a great idea for a retro type game which I would love to work on.

All of the above points coalesced over the past few weeks and for the first time in a long time I feel I'm on the right path again.

I have no doubt Steam will become more saturated like mobile over time, and it's up to Valve to come up with solutions to combat the negative effects of that, but as long as they keep community curation (and they seem to be even improving upon that) Steam will always be a better choice for the lone developer than mobile (as the mobile situation currently stands).

I've got a great idea for a re-vamp of an old game that I've always loved. It will be pixel art but will take advantage of the new effects that modern game engines give you. It will have interesting and hopefully meaningly strategy elements that will deepen the experience as well. It's in the early early days of planning right now so I can't say too much but I can't wait to get to the point when I can. I'll be blogging and recording my experience working on it right from the start (already started doing that) and I'll be posting updates on here and on Twitter. I'll be doing all the graphics and coding myself which will include me learning Unity as I go.

I still however need to pay the bills, and even though I would happily work on my new game 24/7 I need some contract work as well, ironically though this new approach to things might help with that too.

Yesterday I started to create some pixel art mock ups of how I think the game should look, pixel art concept work I guess you would could call it. And a funny thing happened. As I was doing it I realised I felt happy. I used to do pixel art for some of the hobby games I worked on during the late 80s and 90s, and I've always liked that style, but starting to do it again felt right and strangely the few mock ups I did looked good straight off the bat. So with that in mind I'm going to spend a few weeks creating some pixel art (including animation hopefully), some for the game, and some other fun bits and see if that will help me get some pixel art contract work.

That also made me realise something interesting. What are those things that you find yourself looking at when you should be working? those games, that art, those articles? whatever they are those are the things that you should be involved with, those are the things that will make you happy. Of course it's easy to say that, quite another to put it into practice. But it's also easy to lose yourself, lose your way with your career and perhaps the above idea can give you a means to find your way back.

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