Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Independence & control Vs productivity

There is a tension as an indie dev between these forces.

if I rely entirely on middleware and someone else’s engine (Unity + EZ-GUI + some sound stuff + whatever) I can be extremely productive. I don’t waste any time wondering about correct vertex buffer creation flags or optimising sprite rendering, i can just work on the game.

But then when there is a bug in EZ-GUI or a feature missing from Unity, I am totally screwed. Suddenly I’m coding what they support, not what I want to create.

Similarly in business, if I rely entirely on steam for my sales, I don’t waste any time worrying about website design, visitor numbers, bounce-rates, chargebacks or coupon/discount processing, no worries about web server stability, demo download speeds, CDNs and other fluff. I can just work on the game.

But then when steam turn down a game, say they don’t have a slot for a promotion, or change a royalty rate, or screw up a payment (this has NEVER happened to me with steam), then suddenly I am screwed. I become entirely financially dependent on another company, and in that case the term ‘indie’ becomes somewhat shaky.

It’s a constant war between which is more important, and the answer depends on your circumstances, your skills and your attitude, not to mention your free time and team size.

As a lone indie, obviously I have pursued the totally insane route of complete independence in all areas. Even energy independence. Ahahahaha!!! I code my own engine for GSB and GTB, and all my games. I use 3rd party sound libraries just because I frankly find sound coding dull, but everything else is pure me. It’s a big concession to even resort to using phpbb and wordpress, I can tell you…

But something has to give. I am possibly taking on too much and maybe not doing the best job of everything. I need to give way in some direction. Shockingly, and maybe surprisingly, I find myself thinking of giving way more on the business side than the technical side. The thought of abandoning direct sales is madness, but the thought of obsessing less about them, and spending less time on trying to eek out every last bit of direct sales profitability certainly appeals. It also appeals regarding PR. GTB *may* be the last game I handle my own PR for exclusively. (pls don’t email me offering to be my PR guy. The best PR people are already known to me, and frankly if you’re not, then you possibly aren’t that good… :D)

I think I need to spend more time on design, and less on code and less on business. The code side is slimmed back easily by just picking less insanely complex projects for a bit. I also need to spend more time actually relaxing and maybe even enjoying life. A close relative of mine is unwell, and it makes me realise how important it is to enjoy life while you can. I may even manage to sneak in a trip to a nice sunny beach soon.

The only *wrong* decision for me at this point would be to bumble along as I am. I think cracks are starting to show.

8 thoughts on Independence & control Vs productivity

  1. Sounds like you might be considering Unity 4 what about UDK 4 both engines support DX11 and allow you to target mobile platforms?

    BTW NGUI and 2D Toolkit are considered to be more cost effective GUI/2D solutions in Unity than EZGUI/SM2.

    I think you could speed up your game development process once you are up to speed, but you might become frustrated with performance issues due to lack of low level control.

    I look forward to a 3D galaxy spanning Gratuitous Battles game, where players battle from space down to planets.

  2. Also sometimes constraints (whether 3rd party engine or business) can actually force you to be creative in your thinking to get round the lack of a feature. This can lead to ideas you wouldn’t have thought of had you not had any constraints.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that constraints can be a good thing sometimes.

  3. Always enjoy the posts and the inside look into the life of an Indy Game Developer. I really hope you keep doing direct sales, but understand why you would consider stopping. I’ll really miss the early access to alpha builds, they always make me feel like I’m getting something special.

    Its really amazing that you can do the work of an entire development team. I can definitely see why you are looking for better ways to do your work.

  4. *caution: uneducated opinion ahead*

    Isn’t there a middle road here?

    There are some stock engines which come with available source code, so that you can stick your head in and check for errors and issues, as well as expand the codebase yourself.

    Equally, as sales exposure goes, surely it would be best to adopt the “carpet bombing” approach of being in EVERY sales portal (rather than restricting yourself to just one – even if it is the biggest/most popular/best advertised) AND having your own webshop for those who want to directly the support the developer. Havin said that, I have no idea how much of a pain in the bum running your own webshop/download service is.

    As for PR … er … no idea.

  5. I know the feeling here, my theory is generally simple. Do the things you are really good at! Of course there is down side to farming stuff out via contract work or hiring employees, you will end up spending a bunch of time managing them if you want them to work to your vision.

  6. I think you also need to consider where Positech Games will be in 3, 5 or 10 years down the line. I’m assuming you already do that a lot. When it is time to concentrate on family and enjoying life will that be the end of Positech? Maybe it is time to bring in Padawan.

  7. I’ve had some eerily similar self-reflection about my decision to develop my own game engine rather than use an existing one for my current project. I have no doubt in my mind that I would be much further along in development if I had used something like Unity. But I’m equally sure that I would have come up against engine limitations of some sort or another a frustrating number of times, and likely had to let the game engine dictate what I could or couldn’t do in my game.

    I like the fact that if I can’t implement something in my game, it’s because of my own limitations, not a 3rd party I have no control over. It’s within my power to work past my limits, by reading everything I can find on the topic and teaching myself how to implement the new feature. A lot of people would consider that wasted effort, but I feel every new thing I learn gives me a deeper understanding (and appreciation) of games development.

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