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

Does indie game development have an ageism problem?

Hi, I’m an indie game dev. I have been since the early days when we had to sell our games at a market stall on punched cards. Actually no, that was a JOKE but still…

I remember before the invention of the compact disc. I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall & nelson mandela being freed. I recall Ronald Reagan being elected president. My first car had one wing mirror and a manual choke. I went to see Metallica’s ‘master of puppets’ tour. I grew up during the cold war and recall Brezhnev as leader of the USSR. I remember TV with only three channels to choose from.

To put it another way…I’m 49 years old. I’m a proper Gen Xer. Not gen Y, or gen Z, or millennial. Gen X, the cool generation. What little hair I have left is about half grey. I read dead-tree newspapers at the weekend and proper books. I saw the original theatrical release of ‘star wars’.

Because I live in a village whose average community gathering looks like a Dark Crystal cosplay convention, I’m known as ‘that young man’, whereas in fact, not only am I ‘middle aged’ but as far as the indie development community is concerned I am…almost dead.

When I think of indie game devs my age or older… I mostly strike out. I know Jeff Vogel certainly looks around my age, but honestly who else? maybe Jeff Minter? was it it about indie devs called Jeff? The other UK-based indies I know of are all younger. yes even the slightly grey-haired Cas from puppygames or Jake ‘I don’t dye my hair yet’ birkett of grey alien games, both younger than me. Even ‘elder statesman indies ‘introversion‘ are all younger than me.

Now I get it…someone has to be the old timer, and I guess its me, and frankly I don’t give a fuck. Middle age is frankly awesome. You can go out for a meal without caring if your clothes are fashionable or if your ass looks too big or if anybody fancies you. Car insurance is trivial, and I bought my house when they cost about as much as a mouse mat. Oh I forgot…you don’t remember mouse mats do you?


I don’t CARE that *I* am old, but I do care that the age-range of indie devs seems to be…roughly 16-21 years old. I exaggerate for hilarious comic effect, but here is a random group of people. See if you can guess which one is NOT an indie game dev.

Hahaha, we old people are so funny. However, maybe this isn’t funny at all. Maybe in all the excitement and righteous identity politics crusading of the last decade or two about making sure indie game dev is ‘inclusive’ we forgot one group of people. One really big group of people. One really obvious group of people… older people.

(BTW dont go all angry on my ass about that pic. I used those 3 people because I know them, not because they are somehow indicative of anything other than being devs I know).

In theory, there should be OVER-representation of middle aged people in indie game dev. Think it through: We have WAY more development experience than you youngsters have. We likely already have experience of triple-A dev and have learned from their mistakes. Finance-wise, we are no longer paying off college debt. We bought our houses CHEAP and are not saving for a deposit for a house. We are likely married, and thus may be able to balance out the riskiness of starting a business with a 2nd income from a spouse…

Go a bit older, to my age and things may be even EASIER. Our kids have left home, the house is paid off, so is the car… and we have even MORE experience, both as coders/artists and as people who have seem gaming trends come and go. We have access to cheaper debt if we want a bank loan to fund our company. Hell..we may even GET a bank loan, unlike anyone with zero credit history. We have seen friends try and fail at running a business and can learn from their mistakes. We know a LOT of people in the industry….so…Where are all the 40+ indie game developers?

Mark Morris from uk indie devs ‘introversion’

Now I can immediately see a list of counter-arguments. We may be wary of ‘risking’ a stable home life with kids and a spouse depending on us. We may even have a pretty good job in the mainstream industry, and be relying on that for job security. We may have realized that gamedev is too risky and not as fulfilling as we once thought and now be working in the *much better paid* finance or web development industry. We may be burned out by overwork and want a quieter career…

But my own experience just doesn’t back this up. I could NOT switch careers now, from indie game dev at age 49, NOT because I’m too old to get a new job (I’m pretty qualified and very experienced now), but because nobody can afford to pay me enough to quit my indie game gig. To earn what I earn now, I’d probably have to get a job managing 20-50 people (or more) and it would involve the hassle of commuting, attending endless meetings and probably never typing another line of code…

…in other words, my current job is perfect for a 49 year old coder. Its frankly VERY well paid, its work-from home, so I can go walk the dog (I don’t have a dog), pop out for lunch (I do actually do this) and basically work when I feel like it. I can live somewhere remote in the countryside, and take holidays when I feel like it. Its bliss. Show me the stressed out financial software contractor commuting to central London to do a job he likely despises who does NOT instantly want to swap places with me. At age 49, this is great.

And yet at every indie gathering I attend, I’m the oldest. Why? It might be chance, but I cant help but think it might be a sort of unconscious prejudice. Lets be honest, when we imagine indie devs, we imagine someone in their early twenties with blue hair on a skateboard, an apple macbook covered in stickers with edgy slogans on it, and a latte in one hand and avocado toast in the other. Indie game dev is a young persons world.

2019 GDC indie party

Go to a party at GDC and you will find loud music, lots of alcohol and people excitedly yelling at each other. Later, if we are lucky, skrillex may play. yay? at the end of the evening we will celebrate the thirty under thirty. I expect to see twenty under twenty soon. Maybe a special event for pre-teen devs next year?

Indie development is COOL its FRESH its YOUNG! Its people all living together in the same house! its all game-jamming till 4am on a train! its loud music! its an obsession with ‘retro! (because to so many devs the 1980s feels like ancient history, known about only from fascinating documentaries).

This is worrying. We should NOT be gatekeeping indie game development to any small narrowly-defined group of people. The biggest irony about the game dev ‘community’ (actually a very cliquey set of people following each other on twitter) is that they INSIST that they are very very inclusive (and will be offended by any suggestion they are not), but in fact its really a club primarily of relatively well off western middle class twenty somethings.

If you want REAL indie development inclusivity , show me the people in their forties and fifties at your indie event. Hell, show me people over thirty. There is nothing magical about indie game development that means only young people can do it. Computer games are not THAT new.

Democracy 4 ministerial artwork

So…over the 3 games in the democracy series we have experimented with various ways to get artwork to represent the various ministers that you appoint in the game to run each section of the country. In Democracy 1 they looked like this:

In Democracy 2 like this:

In Democracy 3 like this:

That last game used some cleverness to kind of randomly generate ministers from a whole series of layers. It was a grand experiment which gave us loads of ministers to choose from but… I don’t think I was ever 100% happy with the results. This wasn’t exactly cutting edge procedural animation etch, but even so I think that on balance, I’d prefer to have a relatively *small* range of interesting, different hand-crafted images to choose from than try and go all procedural on the ass of this problem..

Obviously the only problem this creates is BUDGET, in that Democracy 4 will be happy to run on your 2560 (or higher) res PC, and thus we probably need quite detailed (large) images and thus we probably need to spend a lot of money on artwork for these… *gulp*.

The other issue is that the world is a DIVERSE PLACE, and we expect to sell the game all over the world so…its an impossible problem, and people will yell at us and call us sexist/racist and other terms regardless what we do so with that in mind…

HERE (below: click to enlarge) is a bunch of 30 reference images. They are all REAL world politicians. Some are nice, some are not nice. Some are famous, some really obscure, but I think they look different enough for you to recognize each one when used in a game. They will NOT be exactly like this in the game, these are just ‘reference art’ for painting the actual in-game images.

So what I’m asking is…does this look OK to you? Don’t forget that the world of modern politics is not a utopia. There are not 50% women, or accurate representation of each ethnicity. If you are governing mexico with these cabinet ministers it may look strange, it will also look strange to govern African states with this cross-section, obviously. I know that. If the game looks like being a big hit, I’d love to vastly increase the artwork range to include more diversity. Decent character art is NOT cheap! Be aware that the majority of players will be American or from Western Europe.

I just want initial feedback. Do these look like a bunch of politicians to YOU?

BTW I don’t care if you don’t know WHO they all are, or if you HATE those people…that goes without saying :D I just want feedback on the general ‘tone’. (I’m braced for being a target for absolute hatred from every angle as we develop this game. politics has never been so ANGRY)

Why epics strategy makes a lot of sense

Not writing about the ooblets thing here, but to address very briefly the core issue: lets talk about why games are epic exclusives, why people shouldn’t be angry and why epic are probably doing the best thing they can do here.

Before going any further I want to make some core assumptions. if you disagree with these stop reading now, because we have no common ground!

  1. Game developers are generally trying to make good, fun games, and stay in business, nothing else.
  2. Its good for gamers if the games marketplace is competitive, as this keeps the prices low, and the services high.

I don’t think either are controversial. if you are literally twelve years old, you may dispute 2), but…do some reading. Monopolies, whether they are near or absolute are a bad thing. Not because the people involved are bad, but just because competition keeps people hungry, keeps people innovative, keeps people working. There was theoretically competition in the marketplace to make cleaner-fuel cars for decades, until one company showed up to provide *real* competition, and then whoah, suddenly the customer has a vast array of cheaper-than-ever and better-than-ever electric cars! Disruptors entering a market make things better for ALL consumers, even if they still stick with the same supplier…

To put this another way, even if you love steam (I do!) and only buy your games from steam (95% steam, 5% origin here), and never, ever, ever will ever buy a game elsewhere…then competition (from epic etc) is STILL good for you, because it forces steam to stay competitive.


So Epic clearly have fucktons of money and want to spend it on creating a true, viable competitor to steam. This is VERY hard. Its almost as hard as competing with amazon prime or netflix. The only upside is that valve are a private company, so they can’t tap the equity markets for cash to run at a loss for a decade to destroy your business… but I digress… competing with steam is HARD, they have been around so long, with such a huge catalog. How will anybody EVER compete?

Well anyone as old as me remembers how valve did it. They were competing with retail, and NONE OF US wanted to use steam. The rage was incredible, I remember HL2s release. people HATED steam with a vengeance and yet…we all installed it because OMG HL2 AMAZEBALLS.

Epic are ‘doing a steam’ to steam, and they are doing it for two reasons, both of which I think are sensible. Firstly, they are doing it because they KNOW THIS WORKS, as they all saw valve do it a while ago. They have also seen many other stores launch…and fail badly without using the ‘exclusive games’ strategy. They know that this *can* work, and they know other strategies *tend to fail*.

The second reason is… this is the best possible way they can promote their store… in the eyes of gamers. yes I really typed that, yes I really mean it. Lets look at the three things epic are doing to drive interest in their store:

  1. Free games literally given away to gamers for nothing but signing up to a free account. Not shovelware, really DECENT games.
  2. A much better cut to developers that means they get to keep more of the money from the games they sell
  3. Advances (guarantees?) on royalties for being exclusive to the platform for a set period.

So.. 1) is epic directly giving money (effectively) to gamers, and 2) and 3) is epic giving money to game developers (quite directly!). How is this bad? And the big point I want to make is…what is the alternative way for them to make the store succeed…


Gamers have a choice. They can either say “Yay we love lack of competition! we have no idea how free markets work” or “We LOVE banner ads, video ads, super-bowl ads, poster-ads, in-stream ads. GIVE US MORE ADVERTS” or they can say “If you *have* to spend a lot of money on building a new games store, it would be good if you gave us, and the game devs loads of free stuff”.

I am amazed they do not rally behind 3). It seems the best possible choice they could make to keep gamers AND game devs happy. Literally the ONLY people who should be raging about their strategy are the account managers at the big advertising agencies.

Boo Hoo.