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

Indie Loneliness

Ok lets talk about something indie game developers don’t talk about much, but it affects quite a lot of us.


Many indies these days are in teams of 3 or 4 or more people, so the problem in that case is not acute. However, the genius of al gore’s internet means that often those teams are geographically distant and scattered anyway. I have contractors and partners working with/for me in all different countries, but in the majority of cases I’ve never met those people, or even phoned or skyped them. Some people think that’s weird, but I like the idea that I’m employing people based on the portfolio, reputation and skills and that their country of origin, accent etc never occur to me.

Of course the downside of this is that you sit in a room on your own with a keyboard, and there is nobody to just go ‘hey wassup?’ to. This makes me very very productive, when I need to be, but it can also be a very lonely job.

For a lot of people, especially the more insular sheldon-cooper style geeks, this is not a problem. Some people at Elixir and Lionhead would sit there with headphones on and never talk to anyone at all. I found that weird, but it was quite common. Other people, like me, actually enjoy the whole ‘water-cooler chit chat about nothing’ that you get in a normal workplace. Intellectually I know this is just some primitive portion of my brain that wants to metaphorically pick fleas off fellow humans, but there’s no doubting it does make me happier to hang out with a group of buddies and chat about stuff.

MSN, Skype et al, are great, and I do chat quite a bit to other indies over them, but of course it’s not quite the same. Private forums are also very good, because they become like a bar filled with friends, rather than the vast mass of trolls and flamebaters you get in most public anonymous forums. Meeting up for a beer is ideal, but generally for me that involves at least a 100 mile car journey, because if there’s a bright center to the universe, I’m in the county it’s farthest from.

me at my house, yesterday.

What’s the solution? Well I think it’s yet another justification for going along to indie meetups and shaking some hands. Indies can probably recognize that slightly shy, rabbit-in-headlights stare that other developers have when they spend too long debugging and not enough time actually socializing. I’m lucky in that I’m not in the home alone like I was when I made Kudos and Democracy, and I don’t suffer from paranoid shyness like some indies do. I’ve also been around quite a while now, so someone normally recognizes me at all these indie things, which is great. One indie told me that I’m ‘much less scary in real life’ which I assume is a compliment. I’m at the eurogamer expo on thursday, BTW.

So I guess what I’m saying is, if you feel lonely,and isolated and it gets you down, don’t think it’s just you. This can be a lonely job, especially if the only people you chat to in your working day are family members who have no idea what you do, and are desperately hoping you will give up and get a proper job. They say the first step is recognizing you have a problem. The second step is normally to get a cat, or probably better a dog (because you need to walk it, and thus it gets you out in the fresh air that way). I’d definitely have a dog if we didn’t already have a sufficiency of cats.

Any other lone wolf indies out there howling at the moon?

17 thoughts on Indie Loneliness

  1. I guess it’s easier to live with if you choose to be an indie or freelancer or whatever. I’m a temporary freelance web developer atm only because I can’t get a job Java programming. My problem is, my loneliness is actually detrimental to my concentration, and I’m not getting anything done. *sigh* back to work…

  2. Howling long and loud, in between freelance iOS development, eating and sleeping.

    Still, it’s a good job for good clients, and every job has to have its downsides, right?

    The trouble is I can feel my social skills starting to slowly melt away…

  3. Wow, this rings true. I’ve been feeling this pretty bad the last couple of days. Glad it’s not just me – but at the same time it’s a pretty saddening thing to be endemic of indies.

  4. I hope you’ll agree that the commute to work, walk to your desk, and occasional chat with a co-worker can occasionally even add the creative process. Just interaction and getting outside can trigger inspiration in weird ways. I’ve got a typical job in an office, but otherwise I spend as much time writing as I can.

    I’ll admit I’ve taken vacation, not gone anywhere, and just sat in my house writing all day for about a week straight. While I did get a lot done, it does get strange after a bit. I never felt lonely, but less connected, less in tune. Ultimately the things we make are for people and if you’re not around and seeing and talking to people, you can forget what the tendencies of everyday people are. It’s a balance.

    Cliff, can I make a suggestion? You should get together with some indie dev pals and do a podcast, not to talk about work necessarily, but just chat about whatever. I’d listen to it, and I’m sure a bunch of others would too. And maybe it would help to hear and chat with some like-minded fellows on a routine basis.

  5. Yeah, I’m howling at the moon. I’m trying to get into contact with indies closer to home (Rotterdam/the Netherlands) but so far no luck. (for some reason most Indies I know are far far away) Doesn’t help that I always forget about events like this until it’s too late for me to plan to go :(

  6. If I were ever to leave my full-time job to work as an indie gamer, I would set up shop at a place like this: You can basically rent a desk and be in a place with a bunch of other folks all doing neat stuff. I’ve attended several user group meetings there and it’s a great space.

    I understand that many indie devs are operating on a shoestring, but this is kind of the best of both worlds. I’m know there are many places springing up all over the US, I have no idea if there are equivalent things over in the UK.

  7. It can get very lonely indeed. Even if you have friends and a love one, during the day you have to work, alone.

    When loneliness gets the best of me I usually go out take a long walk in random directions and get some sunlight on my pale programmer face. It doesn’t fix the problem per se, but it does break the monotony a bit. Staring at the same 4 walls all day long adds to the feeling of isolation and loneliness.

  8. I got very lonely, and so dealt with the issue by doing my work via laptop from the local Cafe. Once I became a regular customer, I started getting to know all the people who worked there, and the people who ALSO regularly went there to do work, and I ended up making a lot of new friends who I can count on to sit there and do work with me. XD

    Not applicable to all situations, but it helped me so I thought I’d pass on the suggestion.

  9. I agree with the comments about the value of just being around other people and how that can help broaden your perspective on things. Also, working by myself, I rarely get the benefit of hearing someone say, “What if you tried this?”

    As much as I would love to be an auteur whose vision needs no one else, the reality is quite different and I fear my work suffers from that.

  10. I think David A. has a fantastic idea. However, it’s very difficult if you’re only just making enough cash to pay your bills while working from home.

    Thankfully I only work at home part time, so I get to see other developers during the working week. It really does make a big difference. Right now I don’t think I could cope with working at home full time. Try telling that to people who have never tried it!

  11. It may sound stupid but I think sometimes it’s a matter of lack of time to meet people, even in internet. You have to invest time on reading forums, chat with people, until you meet someone who, more or less has the same perspective as you. And maybe, if you see him reliable (and the same with you) you can start someday a project together.
    Am I wrong? Is like that?
    Is there a shortcut with this?
    Sounds terrible, but it takes me a lot of time to keep in contact with other devs, play their games, make suggestions, show them my game, etc. I can make some random comments (like this one) but to create a relationship takes a lot more time.
    Any suggestion Cliff? how did you meet the people you work with, and how did you saw them not risky to work with?
    Any other devs here have any suggestion?
    (yes, I’m planning to get some help in my work and work in others projects, but still don’t know how)

  12. Loneliness and distractions took a bite out of my productivity when I was working as an freelance artist from home. Actually paying jobs went fine but personal projects, which I valued more as they were more in games and 3D, suffered. After some time sort of lonely-crazy crept in an boosted creativity but I can’t vouch for results because of the crazy and lack of feedback.

    Were I in a such a situation ever again I’d get a table at a shared work-space and stay sane – and get most of the rent deducted in taxes anyway.

    As to indie game development with a team spread over distances.. In a freeware game project we found weekly online meetings crucial in keeping up the moral and productivity. Those meetings really made the team.

    On professional indie project I’d probably do what Cliff says, hire based on portfolio, reputation and skills.
    Also while I think other route is helping another pro indie(again going by portfolio) in their project, with them doing likewise, I’d probably do it only as a sort of a ‘hour exchange’-deal. After some put in each way both could see if it will work out or not.

  13. I’ve been working as an independent developer for 7 years now (not games). I can’t say loneliness has been a problem. perhaps I am just an unsocial git?

    I’ve organised a pub night for indie developers in Swindon previously. I was planning to do it again. Drop me a line if you are interested.

  14. I’m definitely an isolated indie. Never been to a conference, talked a bit with some other coders but never had any facetiem with other small devs. I’m hoping that’ll change come this thursday when IndieCade kicks off.

    Heh I wish you’d be there Cliff, too bad you’re well on the wrong side of the pond to join us california nutters :P

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