Monthly Archives: May 2019

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.

There is a disparity between the information people outside a creative industry have, and the truth about working in that industry. This is because the views of people who are very successful in an industry get more coverage, both through conventional media (because reporting on what multi millionaires like Adele or Tom Cruise or Gabe Newell does gets more clicks) and organically through media like twitter, where we naturally follow ‘celebrities’ who are inevitable wealth and famous.

(I am as guilty as anyone. I follow Elon Musk and Brad Wardell and Mike Bithel on twitter. If you are a struggling indie who hasn’t had a hit game ever, I’m unlikely to follow you unless I know you personally…partly because I just *do not know who you are*.)

To compound the problem, there is the whole issue of ‘fake it till you make it’, where indies and other creative types project a false narrative of success in the hope that success will breed success. This is just playing to human nature, and is understandable as a marketing strategy, but its damaging in terms of giving the false impression to people who want the real facts.

And to add to all these factors (as if they were not enough), we have a natural human tendency to want to place emphasis on our successes and minimize our failures. I am much more likely to tell you about all those times I did a share deal and made money than admit just how many times it went badly, badly wrong… This is just how humans operate.

The reality is that there are a number of big downsides to the freelance/self-employed/start-your-own company life that probabl;y need re-emphasizing from time to time. Here are the big ones

Low income

You probably, on average, will not make much money as a game developer, writer, artists, actor or any other creative pursuit. Its just harsh economics. Lots of people want the jobs and few are available. by jobs I also mean sales, so lots of people want a hit indie game and there are only so many buyers. Simple market forces mean most people do badly. In this article in 2018, Mike Rose found that 82% of indie games didn’t make their creators the minimum wage. What makes you so sure you are in the top 18%?

Unstable Income

People often equate unstable income with ‘you earn $5k one month and $3k the next month. sheesh!’ but the reality can be way worse. Think more like this: You earn $32k one month, and then absolutely zero for a year. Or maybe two years. Can you be *that* disciplined with money to live like that? I’ve seen my own income double in one year, then halve the next year, and I’m a stable indie with 20 years experience and many shipped games.

A typical indie games far-from-stable earnings

Isolation

You may well work from home. Whole days may pass without you talking to anyone. You have no work ‘colleagues’ and no workplace chat or gossip. There are no social groups in the evening of people grabbing a quick drink or food after work. There are no workplace parties or works events or trips. You may do 95% of your socializing through a web browser. Not normal or healthy

Financial Planning

You will not have an employers pension, so should set one up. How do you do that? Can you get a mortgage? how do you prove earnings? Who gives you a loan when your income is so unreliable. How can you set up things like subscriptions, or direct debits for bills, or book holidays when you have no idea what you will earn. Even if you get a mortgage, how can you know if you can afford it?

Nobody understands your job

Meeting with friends in normal jobs will start to feel weird. Most of their work-chat is about how they hate their job, or colleagues, or boss. You cannot relate to this at all. They claim to be envious of your lifestyle, but have no idea what it is like. They do not understand why on earth you would work at the weekend, you do not understand why they have to rush back because they have a pre-set lunch *hour*. They don’t know what its like to pitch for work, or a publishing deal, you cant remember what performance reviews are like, or why flexi-time is so valued. They think you have made the wrong decision. You think they have no ambition.

The business facade

You are conscious of always having to represent your business side. You cant get drunk and tell people your job is pointless and the work boring. You are always thinking about your public image, and not wanting to upset potential customers, or investors. Every dumb or sensitive comment you make on twitter could lose you business, even wreck your career. Your views on social media are inseparable from the public face of your employer, which is you.

Nobody to blame

When everything goes wrong and nobody hires you or the game flops, or nobody buys your art, it is your fault. You cannot tell yourself, even subconsciously, that this is the fault of X in marketing or Y in sales, and how you did a good job. Ultimately there is nobody to pass the blame onto. You can come up with excuses and rationalizations but ultimately the whole company is you and there is nobody else to blame. Failure feels much more personal, and harder to shake off. Even when you are successful you worry about failing in the future.

Ultimately, its a choice that depends very much on your personality. Working for yourself in a creative field can be very rewarding, financially as well as personally, and i would DREAD to go be an employee again, but it really depends so much on your personality. I am very self-motivated, I don’t mind (within reason) the isolation, and I’m very risk tolerant, so it works for me.

Also do not forget that the reverse applies. I have personality characteristics that mean I don’t like working as a normal employee at all. I can be argumentative, arrogant, short-tempered, I hate being told what to do, I hate working in noisy places and hate commuting. I can be very moody, and not good at working with extroverted people… there are so many reasons for me to choose the lifestyle I have, despite its many shortcomings.

It is very easy for people who are successful in a field to forget the many downsides for those who are more typical. I probably vastly understate the effect that low income and unstable income has on people. If money worries can lead to stress and health problems, which leaks into relationship problems (which can lead to more stress)… then this can be all consuming. Sometimes these things compound. Trying to be extroverted and upbeat and SELL SELL SELL when inside you are worried about paying for food and that your partner is disappointed in your career choice…. cannot be easy.

My top tip: TALK to other people in similar fields, whether you are in the industry already and struggling, or considering leaving your job for this business. It can be very enlightening. No reading of blogs or twitter is as good as real world ‘pub-chat’ with people in the same position. Even just hearing other people agree with you about the negatives of the industry can be strangely re-assuring. Somehow us humans like to know that we are not suffering alone, even if we are still suffering.

Today is the day! At last someone has taken the time to think of the billionaires… We release an expansion for ‘Production Line’ today, which adds the following features…

Support for Gull wing doors like these:

And for Scissor-wing doors like these:

And also Butterfly-wing doors like these…

And not least a brand new body type called ‘supercar’. It looks like this:

This is the first DLC for Production Line, and it will be available direct from us at www.positech.co.uk/productionline/dlc.html as well as the humble store, GoG and Steam. its $4.99. I did get in touch with a bunch of youtubers and streamers and sent out some keys, but if you want to see exactly how it all works with my smiling face involved, you can check out this blog video I made about the expansion here:

I honestly have no idea if this DLC will be of interest to just a few super-car geeks or to everyone playing the game, so its a bit of a gamble, but I do like having a stupidly expensive car to build myself, and I definitely think it adds to the late game, and adds to the experience for people who want to build super-sprawling factories with some incredibly high-end options.

The DLC actually launches at 9.00AM PDT which is apparently 5.00PM where I am in the UK. here is the link to grab it or wishlist it:

There are no comments yet