While working from private homes, hotel rooms, and short term rental properties all over the world Super Ultra Hyper was born. Me, a veteran game developer of nearly two decades, founded a company in 2013 to make a game; Game of Loot. Over the last year and a half I made it, stem to stern, top to bottom, minus the music. It’s a cross between Puzzles and Dragons, Candy Crush Saga, and Puzzle Troopers with a western RPG twist. But let me back up, I’m getting ahead of my self...
I make art for games…Its the only bonafide and employable skill I have. During my tenure in the game development industry, I've worked with nearly every major publisher including Activision Blizzard and EA. I've worked for the now defunct THQ. I've made an arcade cabinet for Atari and worked on an xBox One title for Square Enix. About the only thing I haven't done is make a game for myself. After almost 2 decades of making games, it’s about time! I've actually spent more of my life developing video games for other people than the time it took to receive a formal education and graduate college. I've always been an 'all in' kinda guy so...against the wishes and advice of all my loved ones, I quit my job, sold most of my belongings, put the rest in storage, and then bought a new laptop and a one way ticket to a Asia. After all, why not see some of the world while I do this thing.
The games. I’ve been making them as an artist for over 17 years. I started back in the days of arcade cabinets. Looking back, I’ve always thought of those days as an era in games when you had to make a really good game to make money. Any money. I mean, if you didn’t, no one would play your arcade and you wouldn’t sell any cabinets. The barrier for entry was low, really low. A quarter. So if your game wasn’t fun in the first 30 seconds you were doomed. The big guys, like Atari, would focus test their games over and over. If it didn’t test well it would be reworked or cancelled. But if it was terrible it would never see the light of day. Arcades died, the industry changed and here we are years and years later.
As I’ve gotten older I was able to save some money. Not a lot, but enough to be somewhat serious about forming a company of my own. Our own company really, as I needed, at minimum, me and a programmer on board. My issue was really twofold, the path was still quite unclear. The only viable plan was to make a prototype and pitch it to publishers. One of which would hopefully choose to fund development. That, and I needed a willing partner, that programmer, and probably 2 to 4 others, all foolish enough to try something crazy and possessing savings accounts to support themselves. It wasn’t the right time.
Now, rewind a few years to the initial release of the iPhone. It’s the beginning of the App Store, Steam, and Indies. I’m still making games but now as a part of a team with over one hundred people and budgets rotuinly reaching 20-40 million dollars. I’d pretty much given up on the ‘start my own company’ idea. It looked hopeless. Then almost overnight the tides turned. I started prodding the programmer friends around me. Whispering about how it was time. I still had enough cash to carry myself for a bit, even after a divorce. I just needed that programmer. Two of us could do it.
I guess a few of those programmers heard me… or looked around for themselves. They saw what we all saw. It would only take a couple people to make a game on their own, just them, and they could publish it themselves. It is reminiscent of the early arcade era in many ways. Once again a team of 1 to 3 could develop an entire game and the barrier for entry was super low.
Unfortunately, those programmers chose to partner up with other guys. In 15 years I didn’t see a single person quit to form their own company. Then, over two years a number of guys I was working with up and quit their job to get their own gig going. Guys I had approached about partnering up with too. Sadly, they chose other partners for various reasons. And what a bummer. For at least 10 solid years I have had the ability and motivation to do this thing. Then during the last few years the time has been right, really right, but I couldn’t find that willing programmer.
“And the window is closing." The app market is maturing. Its going from a small team can do it to you need an army. There is big money to be made and the big names are flooding the market with high quality games. They are dropping lots of money on advertising to gather customers and its getting harder and harder to compete. The app market is quickly becoming a pay to play environment that’s very difficult to get noticed within. But it ain't over yet. The small guy can still do it. I think… I hope… We'll see.
Sometimes you just gotta say,”What the F*$%!” -Risky Business
Because it’s true. So I decided to grab the bull by the horns and do it myself. I quit my job and started to teach myself to program. To start, I decided to do a simple flappy bird like game tutorial to get the basics down. Now things get weird. Just after completing that I got a call from an old colleague of mine, a game designer. A programmer friend of his had agreed to build an app with him and they were looking for an artist third. Bam. Perfect. Their game design was a spelling game of sorts. Spelling meets Puzzles and Dragons. Not my style of game but a good idea I thought. Previously, I intended on building a niche game in hopes that it would be easier to make stand out, easier for me to build, and a straightforward $1.99ish price on the app store. However, this was the opportunity I had been looking for since forever. So I dropped my previous plans and off we went, me developing the look and my conspirators working on design and programming. Great right?
Wrong. 3 or 4 months into production the programmer we were working with stops responding to my contact attempts. There were no previous warnings or signs such as disagreements. Just radio silence. Not an “I quit.” No “you suck.” No “I suck.” Nothing. Nada. The whole plan subsequently falls apart, of course. I was standing there with my contribution, the art I had created. Looking at my options I had a choice, toss the work I had done or carry on by myself. I changed the concept slightly, as you will see playing the game, and removed the part I didn’t like, spelling. Then I replaced it with a mechanic I did like, collapse. Either way I would now continue to learn programming. With 3 months experience as a programmer I hit file → new → text document → gameOfLoot.lua, and off I went. Quite literally it turned out. 1 year ago I bought a 1 way ticket to Asia and I’ve been living here ever since. 1½ years into production, Game of Loot is almost ready for the wild.
So, what have I learned?
You should do it too. Taking the leap and leaving a secure job for freedom is both exciting and terrifying. Stressful and gratifying. On the precipice of my game’s success or failure, I’m positive I’ll regard the choice to make it as a great one. A character building experience.
The time is right. The opportunity sits in front of you! There has never been so low a bar for becoming the creator of something. From Kickstarter to Steam, it really is possible in a way that has never before been available to anyone.
You will surprise yourself. When there is no “try” or “can’t” you will be amazed at what you are capable of. If the only option is to accomplish a task you’ll find a way.
It’s a lot of work. It’s also bigger than you think. I used to complain about mandatory overtime and working so much. Then I began working for myself. I have never worked more or harder than now. Working on my own game has motivated me in a way I didn’t expect. But I am burnt out too. I’ve worked 7 days a week for over 6 months.
It’s hard to stay motivated. Next time I will not build such a big game. Taking so long to make this thing while doing it by myself has been challenging. I don’t know if it’s fun either. I used to think the core game was fun but looking at it and playing it for more than a year has negated my ability to see the forest for the trees.
You probably can afford it. But it takes sacrifice. Now that I am settled here in Asia, I spend about 1200$ a month living minus development costs, licensing fees, hardware, ect. I could spend lots more but I want to make this work if I can, and money is the key to making it possible. Being frugal until finding a decent revenue stream will ensure that I can continue to try.
I want to work with someone. I really enjoy a team environment. The hardest part is working alone. As another put it, “It's like sitting in an echo chamber of doubts.” But it’s a means to an end. As soon as I can justify the expense I will hire some local help. If you are an experienced game developer and want to team up drop me a line.
Be an indie developer. I will choose a more niche game design next time. When I began this journey I intended to create a game that would attract a more niche audience, thus making it easier to reach my customer base. However, as things developed I ended up making something that is kind of niche, having a traditional RPG theme but also being free to play and going up against really tough competition. If you know anything about the app store it has become a really tough market, and I am not quite sure if it will stand out. Here’s to hoping!
Game of Loot was Developed by Kenny Thompson of Super Ultra Hyper LLC.