I’ve spent the last five years working on videogames, initially as a freelancer, then for big publishers such as EA Playfish and King on web and mobile games.
Two months ago, I’ve decided to quit my job as a game developer to go indie. I founded my own studio, Himeki Games, and started working on games I really care about. I strongly believe this has been the best decision I've made in my career, for a variety of reasons.
Going indie is scary. You say goodbye to a steady income in order to achieve creative and/or financial freedom, and you suddenly have 10x the amount of things you need to take care of, things you didn't even thought about a week before the big step. In exchange, you get the chance to be true to yourself and make something personal, among other things.
When starting on, I decided to be disciplined about it as I really wanted to make it sustainable. I'd like to share some of the things I've done that made this first period very enjoyable and productive!
Have working hours. Don’t just work whenever you have time or you feel like
Making games is a creative endeavour, and you cannot expect to be creative from 9 to 5 every day, but keeping working hours really helps.
For some people, it ensures that you work hard enough and stay focused on your game, and also enable you to do some proper planning for the project.
On the other hand, some people need working hours to avoid the opposite effect, working too much. The risk is that you won’t be able to enjoy your free time, as you’ll always feel like you need to work on your game, or you’re wasting time. Having time off, maintaining a social life and meeting people is vital if you want to keep it sustainable.
Work with other people
Even if you’re not working on the same game, working with other people really helps staying focused and motivated. If being in the same place is not a viable option, either for distance or for other reasons, keep a Skype group and login everyday. Even the occasional rant when your new feature does not work as expected or sharing references really helps keeping the mood up. Also you can share feedback and bounce ideas for each of your projects.
Make sure to find what works best for you. Personally, I don’t love going to cafes as it’s expensive and I cannot focus on my work. I prefer working from homes using laptops, and I always keep a Skype chat with friends developers.
Keep a dev blog
This is probably the best advice of the bunch. Making a game takes a long time. Making a good one takes even longer. Working for that long with no feedback or exposure whatsoever can be really daunting and stressful.
To overcome this, keeping a dev-blog and frequently updating it really helps. Friends and gamers will know what you’re working on, and their excitement (hopefully) will keep you motivated.
Personally, it is also very effective in keeping me focused. When you’re on your own, it can be easy to go off track and slack on the usual Monday mornings or Friday evenings. You have no one to report to, and there are no short term consequences of being lazy. But if you write a weekly recap of what you’ve accomplished, how you’re taking the project further and how you feel about the game, you’ll have a short term goal to work toward and to keep you committed.
Also, further on, it's really nice to be able to check the progress you've made in the previous weeks or months. The sense of accomplishment you can get seeing your product going from an unpolished, rough prototype to a full-fledged game is great!
If you want to make a great game, I strongly believe playing lots of games is essential. I’ve always been impressed by how many people work in the industry, and don’t know what Resident Evil or Last of Us are, or who Miyamoto or Ueda are, just to name a few.
I know that finding the time to play is really difficult when you start working, and especially when you go indie and you don’t have a steady income, but in the long run it will definitely pay off.
It is especially important to play other games in the same genre of your current project. I’m currenty working on a SHMUP, I’ve gathered all the games I got during these years and then some, and I make sure to replay some of them each week, to always keep in mind what makes a good game, what makes them fun, and more importantly how they can be improved further.
Keep a lifestyle that suits you
When thinking about going indie, one of the first things that comes to mind are sleepless nights coding and eating instant ramen. While that may sounds fun and adventurous, not everyone can sustain such lifestyle.
Having your own business and making a professional game is a long run, not a sprint, and you need to keep a lifestyle that suits you. Sure, you'll have to make sacrifices, especially at the beginning, and you'll give up some stability compared to having a job in a company, but if on top of that you add a dramatic and sudden change in your life for the worse, your probability of success would reduce drastically.
I hope you'll find some useful advices in this list, and that they'll contribute to make your indie endeavour more enjoyable!
You can follow updates about my first project, Hoshi he no Chikai, on Twitter and on my dev-blog.