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

Why friends try to stop you being independent

I notice people doing this a fair bit, to people who are considering quitting their job, or starting up as an indie developer. My experience is obviously from indie game development, but the same applies to almost any ‘going indie’ career, even if it’s opening a corner shop. Why do they try and stop this? and do they have a point?

Reason #1 “You won’t make any money”

This often translates into a subconscious fear that you “will” make some money. If you do, then their own decision to stay in a normal job seems kinda crazy. Note that often the people who work for themselves tell you to go do it, it’s the ones in safe jobs that tell you that you won’t make any money.

Reason #2 “You will forfeit your bonus”

Isn’t it interesting how every job has a bonus and a promotion and a raise ‘just around the corner’?  Also, it may or may not be news to you but those share options they keep giving you are probably worth jack-shit. Ask to exchange them for just a ferw thousand dollars and see what they say. They are a way to keep you from quitting without it costing the company anything. And that bonus? It’s probably not going to happen. Look around your workplace and check that you aren’t just reciting that Luke/Uncle Owen scene. “You can go to the academy next year luke…”

Reason #3 “There is too much competition”

Yeah right… It would be crazy to start up a new search engine Sergey, have you not seen yahoo and Lycos, they OWN this market. And what does Zuckerberg think he is doing, MySpace is already the king there… Times change. The games industry is always changing and growing. Sure there is a lot of competition, but a lot of it sucks, and there is room for a few more. If there was no competition the same people would say the market is too small, or it was impossible to create a market for that.

Reason #4 “It will be lonely”

I met guys in offices who would sit with headphones on and not talk to anyone for the whole day. Going indie doesn’t have a monopoly on loneliness or boredom :D. Plus fellow indies are a chatty and likable bunch. There are probably a few developers, maybe not in games, but certainly in software, living not far from you. Once you get over the initial geeky shyness, getting out and meeting other devs becomes great fun. With skype, instant messaging, phones, facebook etc, you don’t have to be a hermit to work for yourself. On the whole, I’ve found people who work for themselves to be a much more optimistic and cheerful bunch than average.

Reason #5 “You’re wife/husband won’t let you”

Remind them of the ‘richer/poorer’ bit in the vows :D But seriously, your friends don’t know more about your private situation than you do, so don’t listen to them on it.

Reason #6 “It means no job security”

Must I point you at recent layoffs in the games industry? We aren’t like the car or oil business. When game devs go broke you get no notice. I mean NO notice. The doors are just locked one day, and if you are REALLY lucky, you won’t lose a few months salary that they lied to you about and said was ‘an admin problem’. Being indie is MORE secure than a proper job, because you have multiple income streams. If steam stop selling my games tomorrow, I’d be fine (gutted, but fine :D), because there are myriad other deals scattered about that trickle in some royalties. Plus royalty income slowly tapers down, you don’t get a sudden shock and a P45. Don’t get me wrong, being indie does ‘feel’ insecure for the first five years or so, but it really isn’t.

Convinced? :D

16 thoughts on Why friends try to stop you being independent

  1. typo: you’re wife -> your wife

    Appart from that, agree 100%. I am an independent web developer now and so far it is just more fun than the alternative.

  2. It’s a psychological thing, Cliff. Basically, these people are trying to stop you from changing, because it’d break their idea of the world (which you’re a part of). But when they start to do it, it’s already late :)

  3. I guess it is a riskier alternative, in concept anyway.

    But life’s all about risk, change and trying things anyway, right ? :D

  4. Nice, agree totally.
    Not in the gaming sector myself, but did start a software company and can’t imagine ever going to back to having a boss!

    e-dog, was thinking the same thing myself, it’s the illusion of security that working for a big company has, so they won’t try something different until they can convince themselves that it’s a sure-thing – which it rarely ever is.

  5. “Reason #1 “You won’t make any money””

    The thing is, it’s not as much “being afraid of your success” as being afraid for you, simply, or themselves in such situation. Not anyone has the guts/can afford to not have a monthly regular income. It’s a situation of uncertainty, and some people ned the stability. It’s not only about the game industry, it’s everywhere, people making their restaurant, their craft shop, all this is about losing a “sure” income, and become independent.

    And a lot of people fail. More than the amount of people who actually succeed. So it’s natural that people around you are worried.

    Also, not everyone has the interest in being independent. A lot of people are happy with their regular job, even if it’s not “ideal”, because of what it allows them to do on side of it. Being independent usually also means no work hours, and very long days, especially at the beginning when you try to make a name for yourself.

    About the last point, I admit though that in the game industry, being independent or regular employee doesn’t seem to mean a lot about job security. It’s enough that the new big release tanks, and everyone is out of a job from one day to the other. No matter how good you were.

  6. Cliffski, how many people are developing games right now versus how many Indie game developers are making a living from this.

    For example there are over 1 million developers using Unity and 1.5m installs of UDK, yet there are probably only a few hundred successful indie game developers.

    My point is that bringing the right skills together and applying them the right way to develop a great game is a multiplicative sum:

    Marketing * Graphics * 3D/2D * Sound * Music * Uniqueness * Fun * Programming Skill * Testing * Optimisation * Business = Level of Success at games development.

    Where any one skill (variable) can have a profound effect upon the resultant product and it’s reception in the ‘marketplace’.

    You should also point out that it often takes a number of failures before an Indie starts to make any successful games.

    Personally I’ve gone indie and even using Unity it’s a lot of work to make a half decent game and I think it goes exponential when you move towards good and great.

  7. I’ve read a ton of anecdotes of people going indie, developing their game for a year, and then releasing it to generate 27 dollars in sales. I can’t say I blame anyone for not wanting to take such a risk.

    I think if anyone wants to go indie, they should do it as a side project at first, and then quit their job once / if it starts to generate enough money to support yourself.

  8. This is of course, very true.
    The problem is, lots of people think it’s easy, or that they can do it with little experience. I went proper indie when I was about 35. I started learning to code at age 11. These days, people think 2 or 3 years coding experience means they can go indie, and often it’s not true.

    Plus people think it’s easy ville. I tend to compare it more to being in the US marine corps or paratroopers. If you thin you will have the same level of dedication and work ethic, you will be ok.
    Most people do not :D

  9. Great post!

    I’ve been thinking about going full indie for a while now but haven’t made the jump. The reasons you mentioned come up quite a bit – mostly the Money, Security and Competition ones.

    At the end of the day, for anyone going indie, you just need to do your research, plan and commit. Success or failure will be on your shoulders and most people will be surprised how well they perform under the pressure of “I wont eat if this doesn’t work” :D

  10. Totally agree with Sub and Cliffski. Can’t really add anything to the excellent posts. If you consider the worst case scenario and know you can get through it then go for it.

  11. I’m not quite believing Cliffski’s arguments here.

    > Reason #1 “You won’t make any money”

    It’s not that people are afraid of your success, and want to hold you back. There are a lot of indie’s who don’t make money. I know of one indie game company where there was a period of six months where they didn’t get paid at all. I had gone out on my own and created a company a while back, a year after the game’s release, I went and added up all the time I had spent and compared it to the income I received. I ended up earning a little over $2/hour for my work. Most startups are bad at earning money. Most restaurants go out of business within six months.

    I’m not saying that people shouldn’t create indie game companies. I just don’t think they should be naive about what it entails, and shouldn’t think that other people have subconscious desires to short-circuit your success because they secretly know you’re going to be fabulously successful.

    > Reason #2 “You will forfeit your bonus”

    That’s a dumb reason to stay at your day-job.

    > Reason #3 “There is too much competition”

    This is a fair reason. You might get lucky and get successful, though.

    > “It would be crazy to start up a new search engine Sergey, have you not seen yahoo and Lycos, they OWN this market.”

    Well, yes, but I’m hesitant to hold up successful businesses who made it against the odds without also examining companies that tried to make it and failed. It seems like cherry-picking to highlight only the successes – kind of like telling people they should buy lotto tickets because “that guy who won the jackpot last week wouldn’t have won if he didn’t play!” (It’s still a bad bet to buy lotto tickets.)

    > Reason #4 “It will be lonely”

    I think this depends on the type of indie company you’re starting.

    > Reason #5 “You’re wife/husband won’t let you”

    I disagree with the “your wife/husband won’t let you”, but I do agree with the sentiment that you might not be in a financial position to start a new company, especially if you have children or your spouse doesn’t work. You have to be sensitive to your financial situation and the fact that you are probably more willing to sacrifice money for your dream than your wife and kids would be willing to sacrifice for your dream.

    > Reason #6 “It means no job security” Must I point you at recent layoffs in the games industry?

    There are different levels of risk. Creating your own company entails a higher level of risk than working for someone else. Saying that “working for other companies is also risky” is using binary “safe”/”not safe” logic, when you should be quantifying between 0.0 and 1.0.

    I don’t mean to rain on people’s parade if they want to form an indie company. I’ve done it in the past, and will likely do it again in the future. I just think there’s more that can be said about these issues.

  12. Cliff, what it comes down to in the end is whether or not you can make going Indie work. If you can’t, all the reasons listed above are pretty damn reasonable. If you can, none of them make a lick of sense.

  13. I’m just scared of jumping off that particular cliff :) getting over the initial internal resistance is the hardest part for me.

  14. Go full independent if you can afford to be without income for 5 years.

    At the end of the 5 you’ll either be earning enough to live or have compiled enough game development skills to land a decent job in the industry, save up, and try it again.

    I feel bad for indies that don’t plan for a run as long as that, and end up putting many eggs into a single, small basket.

    P.S. Get a business degree and a programming degree or partner with people who have them.

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