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Don't Quit Your Day Job To Become an Indie

The last half a year I have been doing game by myself. I did it full time. In this post, I'll share my experience from what is to do game all alone, and what are the rabbit's holes in being an indie developer.

Here I shortly describe, what last 6 months of being an indie game developer have taught me. You can read the full blog about it at http://epicboattrip.blogspot.fi/.

Iterative prototyping

One of the most enjoyable things in this project of making these prototypes was the flexibility and agile way to make them. I had an idea of a new feature, and depending on the scale of the feature, it was done next day or two weeks later. When that feature was done, I played the game and analysed it, then I decided ether to make a new feature, modify the old one or even delete something.
Sometimes I made small design documents and timetables for the whole month, and I stuck to them. That way I managed to make huge features and changes. But sometimes building one feature a whole month blindly, backfired. When you concentrate too much on one detail, you lose the big picture.
That happened to me a few times, but at the same time, some features just need to be tested to know if they work or not. But being an indie can give a lot of flexibility, that can makes prototyping a lot of fun.
 

When the game is good enough

One a very dangerous thing is when you have power to make decisions and tools to make changes: You might end up in a neverending loop of changing and modifying things.

The hardest part for independent developer is to decide, when the game is done. Or actually understand, that the game will never be done, there will be always something to be changed or added. That is why it's good to participate in competitions or have clear deadlines or other restrictions, which will push you to stick with the plan.

Currently when I look at my phone, I see 8 different prototypes there. They all are made from the same project, which I have been developing further on and kept making changes on the way. Just because I always thought the game was missing something, I kept adding and changing stuff.

 

Make your dreams reality, with clear goals

I don't know if it is the ironic nature of life or what. But when I started this project, I didn't have any clear idea what I wanted to do. My only goal was to make something on the mobile marketplace. That is ironic, because I usually have tons of game ideas I passionately want to do. But while I was making this game, I didn't have any goals that I wanted to achieve with the game. I didn't have any clear idea what the theme would be, I changed it about 4 times. I didn't know for which audience I was making this game: was it casual or was it an artistic indie game. Was the game competitive or was it narrative driven adventure. All those things should be clear and well thought, before starting to make a game. Ironically, I didn't have none of them.
 And that is one thing, why I think my project got too long and "messy". Of course I got freedom to change my game to different directions, but afterwards it also looks like I was wandering around the same game idea. Endlessly changing key features and not progressing forward.
For people who are thinking about starting their indie project, I have an advice: Start a project that you are passionate about. Otherwise it's not worth it.
 

Test your game, but test with the right people

Most of the time I worked alone in an empty flat. Sometimes I met people and showed them my game and got some feedback, but I didn't have a constant group of testers or co-workers with whom I could discuss about the game.
Feedback is always valuable, but it needs to be filtered.
For example: Would you listen feedback of FPS game from your mom or from your friend who owns all the CoDs  and Battlefields (in this example I'm not talking about a FPS game made for housewives).
People are different kind of players, and you cannot please everyone. Some people may suggest a more active gameplay and some people may suggest more turn-based gameplay, it's up to you to know which direction you want to go.
As an indie, you might not have resources to have lots of different kind of testers, but among your friends try to find a kind of players who play similar games you are making, because they are your target audience. Other friends may also have lots of ideas for your game, but nevertheless you add those ideas or not, they may never actually buy your game. That is just because, it's not their type of a game.
Don't take it personally, it's just how it goes, we play games that meet our own interests.
 

Ups and Downs

You might already see now where I'm getting at, the ups and downs of being indie are all in the balance between the freedom and the restrictions.

Freedom is fun and agile, but restrictions help keeping the focus and get things done.As an indie, you will be having an ongoing battle between having the freedom of changing things, and trying to keep the game coherent and make the project go forward.

Making your own game may sound a lot fun, but it also comes with a lot of stress and responsibilities. You are constantly worrying about your game, “did I work enough today” and ”did I make it good enough, should I make the feature better”. Because you are responsible to yourself, you never get the final words on things, you can always go back and change things. And in my experience, you will.

In my opinion, before starting to be a full time indie, try to make game while you are working at somewhere else. If you can do your own project every weekend for the next half a year besides your job, and the game is getting forward, then you are up to being an indie.

Being your own boss demands certain kind of personality. Before quitting your job, try to test, are you that kind of person who can be 24/7 responsible of your own work pace. Can you give yourself a weekend off, without thinking you should be doing your game? Can you work for weeks without anybody giving you a positive feedback? Can you work without nobody saying that you are going into the right direction?

Making it as an indie, means you need to find a ways to reward yourself, keep a clear goal and ways to push yourself to make the progress.

So, all of you who are dreaming about your own game: Start doing it now! Don’t quit your job. Don’t make any lame excuses “I don’t have a time for it”, when you are full time indie you’ll be working at least 6 days a week 12h a day. If you don't do that, you will be worrying “will my game ever be finished”.

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