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

How to use twitter and be happy and enjoy it.

When I meet fellow game developers and the topic of social media comes up, the scorn for twitter is almost universal. Even people who seemingly rely on it a lot, and have a big social media presence tell me how much they hate it, how divisive it is, how abusive it is, how they wish they didn’t have to be on there.

I love twitter. I find it interesting, fun and positive, and it makes my life a bit better. How on earth can this be true?

(background: I’m a 49 year old UK game dev with about 10k followers, running my own business but using twitter 50% for biz stuff and 50% for laughs).

I think the big mistake people make with twitter is that they are confused about what it is. Twitter is not the Harvard debating society. It is not the BBC. Its is not CNN, it is not your safe space, nor is it a political campaign rally, or a movement for social change. Twitter is a huge open-bar with drunk people sharing funny gifs of cats falling off things, and memes, and bad jokes. It has an element of stand-up comedy, and element of wild party, an element of drunken argument, and its not going to change.

Imagine blundering into the final hours of a drunken stag night/hen party and trying to deliver a lecture about gender politics, or inequality, or trying to argue about austerity. Imagine how well that would work out. Its the wrong forum. Its WORSE than a drunken stag party because so many people are anonymous, and people who you do not *vaguely* know, often from another country. How do you expect it to work when you bring up the issue of gun rights, inequality, or anything else to do with politics…

I’m very political, and opinionated. I have VERY strong opinions on climate change, but despite some eco-tweeting, I don’t vaguely expect that I will change anyone’s opinions on there. Basically life is too short. I tweet when I’m drunk, or find a silly video or interesting website, or have some crazy image of something. I vent angry tweets about trivial things (TV continuity announcer volume levels, donotreply email addresses etc) but I’m not kidding myself that this affects social change.

If you are hating twitter, you are basically doing it wrong. Immediately block or mute everyone you don’t like. Why the hell did you ever follow them. Don’t try and use hashtags to change the world. Follow a lot more silly accounts that post fun stuff. There is an endless supply of funny meme accounts, comedians, and other amusing stuff on twitter. I follow accounts that mock the lack of plates in pretentious restaurants, the stupidity of some internet of things inventions, and an account dedicated to things that annoy British people. Its rare that one of these wont make me smile every day.

Don’t complain about ‘toxicity’ on twitter. Its just a mute button away. You are doing it wrong.

Dealing with a workaholic temperament

There is a huge perception gap between how people perceive those who are wealthy/successful/accomplished, and how those people really feel. I’m not a billionaire, or a nobel prize winner, but by the narrow criteria of solo indie game developer, I’ve had a lot of profitable games, certainly made decent money, and should be feeing pretty content, stable, secure and pretty much able to enjoy life in the way most people would choose to do so. The ‘me’ that people who do not really know me see, is someone with a stupidly fast car, nice house, decent income, and on the face of it, no worries whatsoever. He must be really chill, and really happy.

This is a superficial view.

The reason I’ve done so well in indie games (and other earlier careers like IT), is that I have a completely obsessive workaholic nature. I always overwork, and aim to overachieve. When I was trying to be a heavy rock guitar player, I didn’t set my goals at anything other than the very top. At the time, the best guitar teacher in the country was Shaun Baxter, so I took weekly lessons with him (involving 3 hours each way train journey with a guitar case) at great expense. I saved up to do a course at the Guitar Institute. I bought books of guitar-tab by yngwie malmsteen and steve vai. I read about steves 10 hours a day scales-exercise regime and tried to copy it. I was playing guitar all-the-time.

When I worked in IT, I was told that the ultimate qualification was the MCSE. I studied really hard, and got top marks in practically every exam towards it, getting an MCSE really early, and allowing me to earn a cushy £54,000 a year as an IT contractor (about 20 years ago). When I had an MCSE hardly anybody had one, it was seriously hard to get.

So obviously with programming I’ve taken it equally ridiculously. I code a LOT, and I don’t trust other peoples code. I use C++ and STL, and tbh I’ve spent a lot of time profiling some STL stuff to ensure I am not compromising performance by using it (some iterator stuff *is* slow.). I code my own engine (obviously) and even rewrite my own versions of some of D3DX because they were hilariously slow. I work a LOT, and I think about work a LOT. My bookshelf is 95% code/business and 5% science fiction.

Now the end result of this is great if you judge someone by their bank balance, but health/quality of life wise it can be *pretty bad*. Annoyingly for anyone reading this with physical health problems, I am fine. My heart was described by a doctor as ‘pristine’. my BMI is in the normal range. I am rarely ill. Physically I am not in bad shape, although my cholesterol is highish. But as for my state of mind: thats more kinda frazzled, and bizarrely, its not by alcohol!

Being a workaholic/perfectionist can be very negative because you see the world through faults, problems, errors, failings and potential disasters. I can be very depressed by the state of the world. I can be very negative about the quality of my own work and my prospects. Always worrying about the future is something I’ve kind of had since childhood, but throwing yourself massively into work does not make it better. They say the best things for your mental health and your lifespan are to forge many meaningful relationships with people. Not Facebook friends, but people you physically hang out with. I don’t do nearly enough of that, partly due to being an introvert.

The best thing for my lifestyle in the last year has been falling into a habit of regularly playing online games with buddies whist we voice chat on discord. This is the equiv of a pub for me, and its great, as my game buddies are all indies (we have a lot to chat about) and all work from home, so we are all basically seeking the same kind of sociability. No amount of self-help books or meditation will give me the same feel-good effect as regularly ‘hanging out’, even if its over voice, and not physically.

I’m trying hard to cut out other things in my life that are causing me negative feelings. For years I used the BBC radio 4 today program as an alarm, but its basically politicians shouting, and I don’t need to start my day like that. I’m going to experiment with various gentle alarm apps or soundtracks.  I also consume way too much chocolate, alcohol and do too much day-trading for my ideal mental health. I eat chocolate and drink wine for the short-term serotonin bump, and its self-defeating. I’ll keep doing both, but I’m going to moderate them.

Day trading is a weird one, because although I’m not bad at it (if you ignore my current live trades, I’m £8k up this year), and I do ‘enjoy’ it in some ways, its an extra level of stress, and ties me to a roller-coaster of emotions over which I have zero control. Its a needless ‘game’ that I play with real world consequences and ties me to real world market and political news which I should avoid for my mental health anyway. Again, I’m planning to moderate this, almost certainly quitting for good when/if my current live trades turn positive. At my height, I was playing Battlefield 1 on one monitor and checking day trade charts whilst respawning. That was my ‘relaxing’ time.

Managing my mental state is, for me at least WAY harder than managing finances. If you gave me a choice of having to earn an extra £200k somehow, or learning to work less hard and relax more, I’d probably take the former as I’d find it way easier. That has to change, which means I need to take the idea of work/life balance a lot more seriously. Its hard as hell, but I’m trying.



Risking everything you have to make it as a successful….cliche?

I think the key to making money at something is to invest for the long term, be prepared to lose before you win, to put your money where your mouth is and take big risks…

…to an extent.

You probably know about survivorship bias, where you listen to nothing but the tales of success from people who took big risks. There are definitely many, many cases of people taking insane risks, those risks playing out and them making a huge, incredible success of it. In the world of video games, valve deciding to sink all the half life profits into HL2 AND also trying to create a digital distribution store when retail was still all-powerful was an insanely high risk venture. It worked, and the rest is history. Making a game which fits in no established genre such as the Sims or for that matter, ‘Democracy’ is also a big risk. Doing this entails being prepared to be wrong in a BIG way, and lose 100% of your investment.

This is something I am minded off today when reading a very long, depressing and complex email about a renewable energy investment I made that is being held up and rejected by government bureaucracy (with zero cause) which could, theoretically lose me a fair chunk of money. Real actual *OUCH* levels of money. It will be extremely vexing if this is the case. I tolerate that sort of risk, because when investments like that work, they work very well, and the returns are great.

I’m a high-risk investor who is happy to tick the ‘yes I know what I’m doing and may lose it all’ box on a regular basis. I have some money in lithium mines, some in palladium futures, lots in the electric car company ‘Tesla’ and a bunch of robotics and biotech stuff. Some of this has been a huge success. others… not so much. Overall… I think I’m doing well, but you never get to say that until you cash out. I’ve also invested in indie games, both as a publisher (Redshirt, Big Pharma, Political Animals, Shadowhand) and as a passive investor. Some of these made several times my money back, some have lost me money.

And right now…as I type this I have two CFDs (very short term bets) on Tesla, both of which I am DOWN on, and both of which cost me money each day just to keep the bet running. I have made 37 consecutive profitable trades doing this, but may be close to coming unstuck on these two. Only time will tell. You can probably understand why I thought I couldn’t lose: (The loss calls still make a profit, just at the lower range of my position)

The trick is… I’m never betting the farm. Do not bet the farm. Ever. I’m not even betting a small barn from the farm.

Don’t think I’m not tempted. I’ve seen stock market trades, AND video games, where I’ve thought ‘LOL, this is easy money. I should sell the house, car and liquidate everything else to really max out this sure thing’. Sometimes those trades shoot way up, and I hate myself for being such a coward. Sometimes they go up a bit. Very, very rarely, they crash like a meteorite. The end result of my level of caution is that I’m not a billionaire, but I’m not in the gutter either. This is a *good thing*.

Do not risk everything to make your dream indie game, or fund the writing of your first novel, or even your second or third or tenth. I’ve made a lot of games (at least 20), and even if I thought my next game was a sure-fire hit, I wouldn’t bet ANY money that I couldn’t afford to lose. Obviously this is much easier to say with no mortgage and some cash in the bank. Normally people cannot possibly make a game without spending their last dollar on it… or can they?

These days we have kickstarter, we have patreon, we have indie publishers. if you cannot persuade anyone to give you the minimum money you need to make an early access game through any of those three avenues, then that is a BAD sign and NOT a sign you should remortgage the house or sell a kidney. There is a myth that you have to ‘risk it all’ to become a hit, which is perpetuated by Hollywood movies, and TV shows where this trope of ‘risking it all’ and ‘succeeding just before they ran out of food’ becomes embedded in peoples idea of what it means to be ‘creative’. The romance of the ‘struggling artist eating out of bins who then becomes a billionaire’ is frankly bollocks.

Democracy 3 is a good example. Its a successful game that made me some decent money. Did I risk everything to ‘take a chance’ and make a hit? Nope. I risked fuck-all. I coded that in my spare time while I had a full time job (and a contract to ensure that was ok). I then made a sequel when I knew that the original was already popular. My wife and I both worked full time and we had no kids, so me then deciding to quit and make more games was zero risk, especially as I was already making more from my older games than I was getting in salary anyway. In all my times making video games from 1998s Asteroid Miner onwards, I’ve been unable to pay the mortgage for two months in total.

By all means take some risks. Risks are good. Risk is part of life. Don’t make any decision that could wreck your life and screw up your family.



2018 and I’m not running an energy business.

I’ve been making games for 20 years this year, which means the phrase ‘listen sunshine, I was making games before you woz even born’ is something I can smugly tell more and more people at GDC this year. This is definitely an achievement unlocked. However, milestones are always times for reflection, and after 20 years I am forced to reflect that my non-games ‘business goals’ are still missing an important piece.

I am someone cursed by a drive to work hard at something I know nothing about, have no skills in, and do not understand. Before you crack jokes about my games being ‘not that bad’, I’m not talking about games development, but something else entirely. For about 30 years I’ve been an environmentalist, and have long desired to do something concrete and tangible about the threat of climate change. My fantasy for a long time has been to own a wind farm (not a single turbine, I think big), and although they can be expensive (a 5MW turbine is about $5million), its not that which puts me off. What puts me off, is my complete lack of knowledge about engineering, energy production, and the entire marketplace. I would be like one of those well-meaning but completely doomed idealistic dreamers who opens a restaurant because ‘they really like food’.

Still, I got further than most. I’ve met with 2 people who ran a turbine installation company and talked about the options, although TBH it was just depressing. Despite the UK public having overwhelming support for onshore wind, the idiots in the current government pander to those who bizarrely hate it, and would rather spend TWICE the money per KWH on the most expensive white elephant in human history.

That power station will never be finished, and never generate power. it. is. doomed.

But anyway…

I’ve managed to still ‘make a difference’ as a hands-off investor in renewable energy, by investing in a whole bunch of projects through abundance. I have chunks of solar farms, wind turbines, anaerobic digesters, tidal power stations, and rooftop solar installs. The only problem with this is that it doesn’t ‘feel’ real. I cant go out there and see ‘my’ wind turbine, and for all I know, all of this would have happened without me.

What compounds this feeling of frustration is working on production line (which is all about building real tangible things efficiently), and the long tedious opera-in-waiting that is trying to get fiber optic internet for my home. I won’t bore you with the details, but even being prepared to put down £17,000 and wait a year was insufficient for engineers from BT Openreach to lay a single tiny cable to my house. Yes really. The sheer dumb, mindless incompetence of that just flattens me, and is compounded by the fact that it looks like we are going to get it now anyway for free. Incompetence squared.

The real nail-in-the-coffin is that this fiber link will be delivered on overhead cables, ie: ‘telegraph poles’ as we call them in the UK. Essentially the wooden posts that they would have used in downton abbey times. Have I mentioned that its now 2018 and this is the best that modern Britain can do? This INFURIATES ME. I have total sympathy with Elon Musk when he was stuck in traffic and said ‘I’m going to just buy a machine and start digging’. We urgently need that attitude here, and probably all over the world. It pains me massively to see how pathetic the UK policy on climate change and energy independence is. New houses get built without any solar power, solar thermal or even rain water harvesting. Its like we are stuck in the 1970s. We still dont have smart meters. I had to specifically request a water meter. Madness.

But what can I do? I’m 48, I’m not about to retrain as a civil engineer, and getting into a business you do not understand the basics of is a recipe for disaster. Thus I remain on the sidelines, doing a job that I love, and enjoy, but to be honest, I get pangs of thinking ‘shouldn’t I be doing something more socially useful’?

I read a book on ‘doing good well’, and there is definitely a serious argument in there for ‘earning to give’. In other words, do what you are good at, make money, and use that money to pay others to do what you wish you were good at. I’ve definitely made big investments in green energy, and have vague plans to build a super-eco house to retire in, with a little (maybe 100 panels) solar array next door to it. It wouldn’t make me Elon Musk, but its still something to aim for.

Stressful week

So I had some bugs in stockpiles, and I tried to fix them, and it got more and more tricky, and eventually yesterday I had a bit of a code epiphany and this morning I deleted hundreds and hundreds of lines of code and wrote a few dozen new ones and now finally seem to have a stockpile ordering system that does (as far as my testing can see so far today) everything I want it to.

It was pretty stressful trying to fix it, as when i have buggy code I cant fix, it really does bring me down. So last night I was typing away in visual studio, occasionally with my head in my hands after a bottle of wine, quite late, and quite depressed/annoyed thinking…

“Why the fuck do I try and make such complex games to such a punishing schedule. Why don’t I just do some buy-to-let properties and retire like any sane person…”

Luckily I feel tons better today, but its important to note that people tend to only turn to social media to talk about game development in a good mood, and its not all roses. so there..

On a happier note, here is todays’ video blog :D