Oh yes, I know all about search engine optimization. Can you tell?

I talk to a lot of indie devs, although TBH not as many as I would like to, and I find many of the discussions illuminating. Because I work mostly alone in a little room in a field in the shire, I get so used to my way of doing things that its easy to forget there even are other ways. However, one of the most illuminating things is discovering just how long it takes most developers to do things (whether its code, art, biz dev, production stuff, whatever), and I am constantly shocked at how my output seems to not be 20-30% higher than many devs, but seemingly 300-400%+ more than many developers.

This blog post will try and explain how.

Its harsh. This is not touchy-feely happy cliff. This may annoy you, and make me seem a harsh, competitive, aggressive workaholic. This is reality. Most people don’t want to know this reality, but they claim to want it. This will not motivate everyone, but here goes…

Tip #1 Stop fucking around with ‘fun’ disguised as work.

Reading reddit is not work, unless its 100% actual new, informative, well-reasoned and argued and productivity or sales-boosting information directly applicable to indie game development on the platform/genre combo you work in. Reading about how to make mobile games about ponies is not going to improve your bottom line when you are a PC strategy game developer, no matter how much you kid yourself it will.

This also includes playing a dozen new indie games a month, or watching youtube lets plays or twitch streams of a whole bunch of new games. Thats not ‘market research’, its just goofing around. If you are currently between titles, and thinking seriously, and doing market research into industry trends etc, then yes, MAYBE you can claim a few hours for doing this as ‘work’. If you current game design is pretty fixed, and you are > 6 months away from release, it really doesn’t matter a fuck what is #1 in the indie game charts and how it plays. Thats not work. It will NOT change your immediate plans, don’t pretend otherwise.

Tip#2 Work somewhere quiet.

No a coffee shop is not quiet. Nor is any room in your house/apartment where other people walk through regularly. You need to be an end-zone where people only enter your room if they need YOU. Unless the house is literally on fire, someone has been shot, or imminent death or suffering beckons, nobody should disturb you when you are working. Nobody. You are in isolation. Don’t kid yourself that ‘you work better in a gregarious group of chatty people’. Thats crap and deep down you know that.

Tip#3 Get a big monitor, get 2 big monitors. Don’t feel bad if you have 3.

You cannot get a lot of work done on a tiny laptop. Thats silly. its 2019. Get some big monitors, they are cheap. I have twin 27″ monitors at 2560×1440 res. I couldn’t work at my current rate with less. I spend less time alt-tabbing than you. I can glance at my inbox without a context switch from game dev. I can view loads of my code and my game at high resolution at the same time. Monitors are cheap. its a business investment. Trust me. Buy 2, big, high quality ones. Buy them now.

literally the bare minimum

Tip#4 Shortcut keys and batch files etc

I feel physically pained when someone right clicks and selects ‘copy’ or ‘paste’. How many shortcut keys do you know? Copy & paste & cut and select word, select line, select page up + down? Windows + R Windows+F? Alt+tab? Shift+alt+tab? Windows+arrow keys? Know them all. You actually do not need a mouse for much. the mouse is SLOW. I use batch files to process files in photoshop quite a lot. I also know a lot of shortcut keys in textpad32 and paintshop pro. Also… if you use visual studio are you using visual assist? its amazing. use it. USE every productivity tool imaginable. leverage what computers are good at. Get a fast PC.

I know devs who use zipped up files and drag-dropping to back up their code. FFS. Use source control and cloud backup software that automates all this for you. If code and software exists to make you more productive USE it. Use email filters and rules. So much time-saving software exists, use it.

FFS I even have my living room lights come on automatically at sunset without me pressing buttons. Automate the fuck out of things.

Tip#5 Comfort

You will work longer and harder and happier in a nice work environment. When it comes to my office, no expense is spared. If you are an indie developer, your desk and office chair are probably more important to you than your car, TV, cooker and sofa combined. You will (hopefully) spend a lot of time in that chair at that desk. Get a really good one. try many, the really good ones will last a while. Mine is an aeron, 9 years old, still perfect. I actually had a desk made for me (surprisingly cheap actually), It will last forever. Do not make false economies here. Mine was about £800. Thats under £100 a year so far for the place I park my ass most of my life.

other chairs are shit

Tip#6 Mindset

If you are working on your first game, I hate to be that ‘one guy’ who breaks with the happy-clappy hugs and flowers online twitter group hug, but no, you are not an indie game dev, you are a wannabe. You are trying. you might one day release a game, in which case, well done, welcome to the club. the world is littered with people who try and fail, and those who give up. Someone who is ‘working on a novel’ is not a novelist, they are a hobbyist.

If you want the warm glowy feeling of being an indie dev who entertains people and ships games and makes a living from it, they you need to work hard as fuck, for a long time, and get your head down and get the product shipped. Do not surround yourself with well meaning people who tell you what you want to hear. Thats a route that spirals down and down into insular failure and disappointment. If your game is behind schedule then you are failing. Stop whining and work harder, and keep that attitude until you finish something.

Also… don’t kid yourself that you have worked ‘super hard’ because you put in a solid 6 hours work at your desk today. Thats great, but frankly someone flipping burgers has worked longer and harder than you today. You claim to want to make a secure living in one of the most competitive, sought-after, cut-throat industries in the world? Well so does everybody else. Most people fail. Most people lose. You will not make a success of this working less hours than someone doing an unskilled minimum wage job. Do not blame me for the harsh realities of competition, but more importantly do not pretend they don’t exist because that truth is inconvenient.

This job is not hard. You want hard? go work as a soldier, a police officer, as a trauma surgeon or an astronaut. game dev is fucking easy. Don’t kid yourself.

Tip#7 Focus on one thing well

If you are good at making 2D RPGs, make 2D RPGs. Unless you have three years salary in the bank, and a lot of confidence, and are absolutely MISERABLE making those games, do not change. Every 2D RPG you make improves your skills, your experience, your audience, your engine, your productivity and your tool-chain.

I’m a competent programmer. I could make a 3D physics game next. Maybe I have a cool idea for one, but for fucks sake that is a BIG leap away from 2D/iso strategy/management games. Why throw 90% of my audience, experience, skills and technologyonto a bonfire just to switch genres and styles.

You might decide to change genres/engines/languages etc because you are seeking artistic fulfillment. Thats great, but thats the luxury of a leisure activity. Again…3 years salary banked? go for it. Else…thats almost certainly a poor business decision. Get good at a thing, then do that thing until its a big success. There is HUGE opportunity cost when you learn a new genre/style/language/technology. Make sure you are fully aware of this. Few genres are so small they cannot support a single indie dev.

source:spiderweb software, experts in genre focus

Tip#8 Seek out harsh but real criticism

I get a fair few really good reviews and emails from people who really like my games. I love them. they make me feel happy, and warm, and appreciated and other nice things. its a good feeling. They don’t actually make my games better though. The emails you hate, the negative reviews, the dreaded steam refund reasons… these are the harsh angry truths that you do NOT want to hear, and yet you must. When someones tells you ‘i could make a better GUI with my ass whilst high‘, you may be angry, depressed, furious, insulted…but you need to hear it. maybe your GUI *is* bad. Maybe it could be improved.

to be fair, that slider was really crap. its better now.

Do not insulate yourself from the negative. negativity can lead to change, improvement and accomplishment. Data about what you are doing badly is absolutely essential in improving. If nobody ever tells you your games art direction is shit, or your game title is stupid, you will never improve it. If you *absolutely* cannot cope with harsh, hurtful criticism, then you probably should not try to make a living from indie game development.

Tip#9 avoid chances for distraction

I used to use rescuetime. I also used to use an hourglass to focus myself on work. I now find I need neither. I’ve worked so hard, so long, I’ve internalized what they used to do for me. Most people aren’t at that stage, and they get distracted. if your phone distracts you from work, switch it off. Nothing will explode. We survived thousands of years without mobile phones, you will be fine for entire eight hour stretches. You don’t need twitter during work hours, you don’t need to check the news sites or reddit during work hours.

If your code takes time to compile or art takes time to render, learn to multi-task with other WORK stuff. Set aside small tasks, like replying to forum threads, easy tech-support emails etc, so you can do them when you are waiting for your work to complete. Schedule other activities that you need to do anyway around times you know you are waiting for your PC. I mow the lawn/chop firewood while my PC renders out youtube videos for me. If my PC needs to reboot and update the O/S I will set it off before I have lunch, or last thing at night.

Avoid situations where your PC is sat there doing something (rendering / compiling / updating) and you have nothing to do but SIT THERE. You will get distracted, your mind-state will collapse, your productivity will plummet.

source: XKCD

Tip#10 Avoid bullshit productivity planning admin

Some peoples reaction to stuff like this is to immediately start planning to be more productive. they will start a productivity planning spreadsheet, with nice formatting, some color-coding and even a company logo, or they will google for inspirational quotes to print out and then stick up around the office. or they will start making an important list of the top ten things they have learned about productivity. They might hop onto discord to chat to fellow devs and share their new found enthusiasm for productivity with their buddies…

This is all bullshit.

The true response to this blog post, which is ending very shortly, is to close your browser. (yes CLOSE it), and do some work. Internalize the *attitude* not the specifics, and actually DO something. In other words, do not become like this classic, absolutely on-topic sketch from the life-of-brian which does a great job of showing exactly what I’m on about.

Get back to work and stop fucking around.

How long does your indie game take to start up? from clicking the icon to actually being able to take input at the main menu? Just for fun, I decided to analyze whats involved in doing so for mine.

Because the aim here is to actually analyze the REAL impact, not the best case, I need to ensure that the game (Production Line) is not just happily sat there all in RAM from a recent run-through, so it seems best to oh…maybe launch battlefield V beforehand (and quit it) just to populate disk/RAM with a load of other stuff and do my best to evict all my games code.

Then…its time to fire-up aqtime and take a look. I decided to do line-level, rather than just function-level analysis, which slows the game massively, taking 17 seconds to start (the reality is dramatically faster), but I can still do relative comparisons.

First thing to notice is that pretty much the entire time is inside Game::InitApp() which makes sense.

Rather worryingly though, the vast majority appears to be inside SIM_Threadmanager::Initialise. That *may* be an artifact of aqtimes approach to thread profiling, but worth taking a look inside anyway… And it turns out that 100% of that time is inside SetThreadName() (which i only need for debugging anyway). This is a rare bit of code that I don’t understand well, and was from the evil interwebs:

#pragma pack(push,8)
typedef struct tagTHREADNAME_INFO
{
	DWORD dwType; // Must be 0x1000.
	LPCSTR szName; // Pointer to name (in user addr space).
	DWORD dwThreadID; // Thread ID (-1=caller thread).
	DWORD dwFlags; // Reserved for future use, must be zero.
} THREADNAME_INFO;
#pragma pack(pop)

void SetThreadName(DWORD dwThreadID, char* threadName)
{
	THREADNAME_INFO info;
	info.dwType = 0x1000;
	info.szName = threadName;
	info.dwThreadID = dwThreadID;
	info.dwFlags = 0;

	__try
	{
		RaiseException(MS_VC_EXCEPTION, 0, sizeof(info) / sizeof(ULONG_PTR), 
(ULONG_PTR*)&info);
	}
	__except (EXCEPTION_EXECUTE_HANDLER)
	{
		volatile int foo = 9;
	}
}

The exception is basically ALL of the time. WTF? Apparently there is a less hacky way outlined here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/visualstudio/debugger/how-to-set-a-thread-name-in-native-code?view=vs-2019 Which I will try later. I suspect the waiting for visual studios debugger is the cause of the problem.

Anyway…onwards and upwards, so whats next? It basically all Init3D() (click to enlarge)

So basically my DirectX initialisation and the shadermanager stuff is most of the problem. I suspect the DirectX initialisdation may be too black-boxed for me to influence further. The first big chunk is this line:

PD3D9 = Direct3DCreate9(D3D_SDK_VERSION);    

Which takes up 34.74% of the start time. The next slow bit is the largest at 41% which is:

hr = PD3D9->CreateDevice( AdapterToUse, DeviceType, WindowHandle,
 D3DCREATE_SOFTWARE_VERTEXPROCESSING, &PresentParameters, &PDevice);    

So…holy crap. how can that line of code even be run? This can only happen if my checkcaps() code suggest the video card does not support hardware transform and lighting. I suspect some of the reporting here must be nonsense? Especially as my own debug logs suggest that the hardware TNL version is the one than ran… FFS :( lets look outside that code then…

Most of the slowdown is in shader manager, which loads 11 shaders:

so it looks like about half the loading time here is actually spent writing out debug data! This is hard to avoid though, as I do find this data invaluable for detecting errors. And because an app can crash and lose all its data, I flush each line of my debug logs to disk with a hard drive flush on each line…

…so interestingly all the time seems to be inside OutputDebugString, which is only of any real use when the debugger is running. However! I *do* want to see that data in both release builds, and debug builds. Maybe I need a flag to tell if a debugger is present when the debug engine starts up? As a first pass I should at least build up a char* with the newline in to avoid twice the OutputDebugString calls. Here is the new code and timings.

Ooooh. I’ve halved the time of it. I’ve done the same with my non-directx debug code too. Now I’ll try changing that thread stuff… It turns out that SetThreadDescription is windows 10 only, so I need a different system (and apparently would need to update my platform SDK…urrrgh), so maybe best to just skip calling that code when no debugger is detected?

This works (using isDebuggerPresent) but the profiler actually trips that flag too, so to set it work I needed to compare time stamps on debug files. Without the debugger, it looks like time from app start to menu ready is 0.395 seconds. With the debugger its… 0.532 seconds.

That sounds pretty small, but actually I’m quite happy as I lost ZERO functionality, and the changes to the debug data will affect any time that data is written, not just during startup. 9Its not a lot, but there is *some*, and I’m an efficiency obsessive.

I think I’ll put a clause around the debugengines OutputDebugString and nuke that unless IsDebuggerPresent() too :D

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No, I’m not talking about mine, but about *other peoples code* that I encounter on a day to day basis. Some choice examples:

When I start aqtime ( a profiling app, ironically), it hangs for about 10 seconds. then when I load a project (the file is under 100k) it hangs for another ten seconds.

There is no discernible network activity during this time, and the CPU is not thrashed either. How is this even POSSIBLE? A quick check shows that my i7 3600 can do 106 trillion instructions per second. (106,000 MIPS). Thats insane. It also means that in this ten seconds, it can do one thousand trillion instructions. To do seemingly…nothing

Also… for my sins I own a Samsung smart TV. When I start up that pile of crap, if often will not respond to remote buttons for about eight seconds, and even then, it queues them up, and can lag processing an instruction by two or three seconds. This TV has all eco options disabled (much though that pains me), and has all options regarding uploading viewing data disabled. Lets assume its CPU runs at a mere 1% of the speed of my i7, that means it has to get buy on a mere 10 trillion operations per second. My god, no wonder its slow, as I’m quite sure it takes a billion instructions just to change channels right? (even if it did, it could respond in 1/10,000th of a second)

These smiling fools would be less chirpy if they knew how badly coded the interface was

I just launched HTMLTools, some software I use to edit web pages, and it took 15 seconds to load up an present an empty document. fifteen seconds, on an i7 doing absolutely nothing of any consequence.

Why the hell do we tolerate this mess? why have we allowed coders to get away with producing such awful, horrible, bloated work that doesn’t even come close to running at 1% of its potential speed and efficiency.

In any other realm this would be a source of huge anger, embarrassment and public shaming. My car can theoretically do about 150mph. imagine buying such a car and then realizing that due to bloated software, it can only actually manage 0.1 miles per hour. Imagine turning on a 2,000watt Oven, and only getting 2 of those watts used to actually heat something. We would go absolutely bonkers.

an intel i7. So much capability, so little proper usage.

There is a VAST discrepancy between the amount of time it takes optimized computer code to do a thing, and the amount of time the average consumer/player/citizen thinks it will take. We need to educate people that when they launch an app and it is not 100% super-responsive, that this is because it is badly, shoddily, terribly made.

Who can we blame? well maybe the people who make operating systems for one, as they are often bloated beyond belief. I use my smartphone a fair bit but not THAT much, and when it gets an update and tells me its ‘optimizing’ (yeah right) 237 apps… I ask myself what the hell is all of this crap, because i’m sure I didn’t install it. When the O/S is already a bloated piece of tortoise-ware, how can we really expect app developers to do any better.

I think a better source of blame is people who write ‘learn C++ in 7 days’ style books, who peddle this false bullshit that you can master something as complex as a computer language in less time than it takes to binge watch a TV series. Even worse is the whole raft of middleware which is pushed onto people who think nothing of plugging in some code that does god-knows-what, simply to avoid writing a few dozen lines of code themselves.

We need to push back against this stuff. We need to take a bottom-up approach where we start with what our apps/operating systems/appliances really NEED to do, and then try to create the fastest possible environment for this to happen. The only recent example of seen of this is the designing of a dedicated self-driving computer chip for tesla cars. very long explanation below: (chip stats about 7min 30 in)

If you follow me on twitter you will know I bang on about electric cars a lot, specifically Teslas, and why I get angry at the FUD and nonsense spread about them online. Why do I care?

Lets get the disclaimers out of the way. Yup, I own one (A 2015 85D Tesla model S with autopilot 1) and yup, I own some tesla stock. Obviously I am biased because I don’t want people to criticize my purchase choice (I am human) and because I have some financial interest (although TBH thats a relatively minor concern. I have stock in Microsoft and Nvidia too but I don’t bang on about em…). So given those obvious points, why else do I care?

Climate Change

First up..the obvious one. Climate change is real. Its also predominantly caused by humans, specifically CO2 emissions, and if you actually ‘do not believe’ that, then please think about what other widely accepted scientific conclusions you would like to dispute. Maybe you don’t believe in magnetic forces either? or perhaps even gravity? maybe the earth is not a sphere but flat? There is a wealth of scientific consensus on this, and you should not only accept the fact, but be absolutely terrified of the consequences. Don’t think about ‘it getting a bit warmer’ think about agricultural yield collapse, food price spikes, food-rioting, mass immigration, resource-wars and global upheaval. This should scare the crap out of you…

…and one of the things we as individuals can do is switch to a cleaner form of transport, notably: an electric car. They are not practical for everyone right now, but will be very soon, and once you buy one you dramatically cut the amount of CO2 you personally are stuffing into the atmosphere. Its a great way to do your bit.

Pollution

Secondly…Pollution. EVs not only emit no CO2 at the tailpipe (and electricity grids get greener every day), but also zero fumes or pollutants of any kind. That means cleaner cities, quieter roads (less noise pollution!) and fewer kids with asthma. And the car behind you on the road is no longer sucking up your exhaust fumes and blowing them into the driver & passengers faces. Plus the newer teslas have HEPA filters in that mean the air in the car will be substantially cleaner than the air outside. ideal for polluted cities.

People sometimes repeat some FUD about cobalt, implying its all from congo, and batteries are full of it. Actually its a mere 3% now, and dropping to 0% soon. Plus its dramatically less of a problem than the impacts of oil dependence

Convenience

This is the one people just do not get, and will NOT accept…until they own an EV. The caveat here is assuming you have off-road parking at home, OR you work somewhere that has an EV charging point in the car park. (This is getting much, much more common).

Charging an EV is super-cheap (here in the UK I work it out to be just under £0.04 per mile in ‘fuel’, assuming 100% home charging), and actually MORE convenient than owning a petrol/diesel car. The fact is, with an EV, you have a fuel station *at your house*, and it can fill up while you sleep. In some cases you can set the car to charge during off-peak (cheaper) electricity times! The fact that the car charges while you sleep means every day when you get in the car, it has a full battery, so you can drive maybe 200-240 miles before recharging (real-world range in UK).

That 240 sounds low compared to your petrol car, until you realize that petrol car has to go to a special recharging place to get fuel (which costs a fortune), and where you have to stand there like an idiot holding a trigger to fill it up. Oh BTW that fuel is smelly, environmentally damaging and catastrophically dangerous.

On the average day, you do NOT drive 240 miles, and if you *do*, you are likely on a motorway, where you can stop and charge your car (still cheaper than petrol) while you grab a coffee and a donut. Charging speeds are getting faster than ever:

TBH, like 99% of tesla owners, even though I have access to the amazing supercharger network (which the car auto-navigates me to if it thinks I need power), I hardly use it, unless I drive to London and back with passengers in the car. Even then, I don’t *wait* for it, I just pick up an extra 50-60 miles while I have a coffee that I’d have stopped for anyway. No queuing to pay, no holding a pump, no logging in or barcode scanning, just stick the cable in and go grab coffee…

Technology

Electric cars have phenomenal batteries. These are NOT the same as the batteries in your mobile phone or laptop. They do not noticeably lose any charge (in fact the range of my car has gone UP since I bought it…thanks free software upgrades over the internet!). You do *not* have to give even the slightest thought to replacing your battery. You will likely need several new batteries for your old petrol car in the same time that you would notice even a minor degradation in your EV range over time. Battery tech in 2019 is amazing.

Performance

Holy crap they are fast. You might not care (I only care a bit), but since owning my EV, going back to my wife’s car (lexus CT200H hybrid) feels like driving a horse and cart, even in ‘sport mode’. EVs have instant power, real throw-you back in your seat with some force’ levels of power. For real car-geeks who want something sporty, trade in your petrol-car now, its history.

Maintenance

LOL. Whats that? I’ve owned my car 3 and a bit years now. It had an intermittent screen problem which is being fixed this week (under warranty), but apart from that and a minor thing with one door handle (see above, fixed), nothing has gone wrong. It was serviced once, but TBH it didn’t need it. Annual service? LOL. why? whats going to go wrong? the exhaust (nope)? radiator (no)? the drive shaft? (no)… EVs are actually WAY simpler than petrol cars. They are electric motors, a battery…errr and seats and doors I guess. The maintenance costs on them are *trivial*. Oh and satnav updates are streamed automatically while I sleep. For free, obviously.

The Future

Tech like EVs represent tipping-points. Right now they seem niche, but the sales are accelerating FAST, despite a super-well-funded FUD and bullshit campaign by multiple dying industries. Right now finding a petrol station for your old-tech car is easy, ditto a mechanic but that will crossover soon. The future of cars is undeniably electric, and we aren’t far off the point where the re-sale value of a petrol car starts to drop when people realize their next car will be electric, even if they won’t be able to buy one for a few years.

Safety

The top 3 safest cars on the planet right now? All EVs:

…oh and no engine in front of you means your body is not crushed in a front impact, plus the whole front of the car is a crumple zone. And the battery in the floor makes them bottom heavy, meaning they *do not roll*. Oh and I nearly forgot the complete lack of 50 liters of highly flammable liquid that just isn’t in an EV. You want a safe car? You want an EV.


Oh and BTW all electric cars are automatics. Learning to operate a clutch and a gear stick is so 1970s. This isn’t a skill we need to bother learning soon. I thought I’d hate an automatic but OMG I love it. Assing around with gears feels like being in some costume drama fiddling with cumbersome stupid old technology for a joke. I don’t miss it one bit.

I feel very strongly about electric cars mostly because there are so many lies spread about them. Mine is my favorite purchase of all time, except perhaps my house, and I’m not a car guy. I still don’t really know what torque is or what any bits of a traditional car do, nor do I care. But I like cutting edge tech that is so cool it makes you laugh out loud.

If you ever get an opportunity to try one, do so. Even the harshest skeptics are won over the minute they drive one.

BTW if you do buy a tesla, using this code ( http://ts.la/cliff7605 ) gets you some free supercharger miles. I already have unlimited for buying an early one, but at the time of writing this earns you 1,000 free miles.

People do not want to hear this. It will not be popular. There will be denial. I have spent a long time, in phases over the years, in denial about it. I have wanted to believe it was not true, because realizing the truth is often very depressing, and if you are like most passionate and committed indie devs, you associate a lot of your personal self-worth with the success of your game, and you absolutely do not want to hear what I’m about to type. You may disagree, you may REALLY disagree, and for all I know, I may be wrong, I’ve certainly been wrong many times, but I assure you that when I type this, it is absolutely what I believe to be the case right here, right now in 2019 making an indie game for the PC.

The #1 metric for your indie game, in terms of determining its success is how good it is.

There. I said it. Unleash the rage hordes.

There are a whole host of reasons why we may try to argue that this is not true. Maybe luck is the biggest factor (seriously? you can do better than that, especially as some developers,/studios then seem to be weirdly consistently lucky…), Maybe its marketing spend (definitely a factor, but not #1. what was minecraft and flappy birds marketing budget?), maybe its nepotism and who you know? (really? was notch super-connected? was he a regular at GDC parties before minecraft) Maybe its originality (seriously? is rimworld a huge hit because of the original art style?) Maybe its timing? (seriously? when did making a game about income taxes gel with the zeitgeist of gaming tastes then?)

Face facts, we WANT the reason for a games success or lack of success to be something OUTSIDE our control. We want it to be something that we can shake our fist at, and complain about to our friends down the pub. “My game would have been a huge hit, if only I was friends with Mike Bithell, or if I lived in San Francisco, or if I had a bigger art budget, or if I had released it a month/year/decade earlier/later.”

I’ve made loads of games. Seriously loads. Many more than people realize. have you tried Kombat Kars, Space Battle 3001 and Kudos: Rock Legend? Probably not, but I’m responsible for all of them. None of them did that well, and they all kind of suck. I did a game called Planetary Defense, which kinda did ok considering the super-short dev time. It was ok, but the gameplay was fairly shallow. Kudos:Rock legend couldn’t decide if it was serious or casual. Kombat kars was hampered by my total lack of understanding physics programming. Space battle 3001 looked like someones first space game, and played like it too.

There is an absolute art form, to which many devs acquire olympic style skills, to come up with reasons that your game failed. People could write whole books on all the various outside factors that were beyond their control, which meant that inexplicably their last game was not a success. Its quit impressive to see the mental gymnastics. The only factor that is never considered? The actual game. maybe the game is just not good enough. It might be good, but not good ENOUGH.

Its a topic for a whole blog post in itself to explain why if you game is 90% good enough you will get 10% of the sales, when its 95% good enough you get 20% of the sales and when it hits 100% you get 100% and buy a sports car. Just trust me, its true, I have long experience of each stage of that.

And now before you hurl abuse at me, I’ll explain the nuance of what I mean when I say ‘not good enough’. Its probably not polished. The gameplay is not balanced just right. The tutorial is not good enough. The player options are not comprehensive enough. There may not be enough content. The art style may clash. The sound effects may be annoying. The music may be too repetitive, or annoying. There may be big obvious missing features where players expected things to be in the game. There may not be enough tooltips or hotkeys. The translations may be of poor quality. The performance may suck for some players., and so on and so on…

Production Line was started over 3 years ago. about two years ago it was a good game I was very proud of. it got better and better during early access. it was released this year and I considered it to be a very good, polished, high quality game. It got extremely good reviews. I could easily have moved on, but I have not, and I’m still working on it every day. It is not good enough. It is very good, and has made a profit, and sold a lot of copies, but it is not good enough.

I’m on update 76 right now (started working on it today), which is based around changes to some charts and graphs that display data about the component import costs. This is a tiny part of a tiny part of the game, but I am aware that its a bit obscure and confusing and some players have said so. The games reviews are very positive and the vast, vast majority of players have no problem with those charts, or do not care, but some players think they suck, and dispassionately I agree. They need to be made better.

That wont be the last thing I improve or tweak. I’ll be working through my polish list for a long time. As I work more and more on the game, and finesse it more and more, the sales go UP not down (as is the curve with most indie games). I’m not awaiting the imminent demise of the games sales, but the absolute opposite. I’m 90% there and heading towards 100%. Quality is all that matters.

I know this isn’t an option for everyone because: experience & economics. Not everyone has 39 years of coding experience, not everyone has a financial cushion that allows them to spend a bit longer to make a game higher quality. I know this. I know the position I am in, very acutely. The reason for this blog post is not to criticize but inspire. I want people who are struggling as indie devs to do well, and I feel thats best achieved by pointing out the truth.

We all lie about ourselves, even to ourselves. I think I am much funnier and better looking than I really am. I also think I’m thinner than I am, and probably kid myself I have some hair. We also lie about stuff we do, and stuff we make. The problem is, when your own sense of self-worth and your own pride get in the way of seeing reality, you are doing nobody any favors. Your indie game is probably not good enough, and deep down, you know it.