I’ve been feeling something that could only be described as ennui in the wake of my release of ZenFire Free. This always happens after a still-not-making-any-money release, even if that part of the plan didn’t involved making any money anyway.
Part of it is the cold. Part of it is the dark. My S.A.D. light is still broken, but parts are on the way.
Unfortunately, they’re on the way from Canada.
The Current Plan, for some time, has been “work as hard as possible to take a simple idea into the App Store in three weeks or less. Make a free and a for-pay version. Repeat until paying the bills.” At worst this would leave me with a functional portfolio, an expert-level of proficiency with GameSalad, and the ability to let the market decide which idea of mine they like, after which I could run with that game to bring in income until I found another hit. It was a good plan in many way, and following it lead to releasing ZenFire in just 45 days after having spent at least months on the others. I’ve still got ZenFire Premium in the works, an updated version of a for-pay App that got rejected from the App Store, and maybe a for-pay version of my original title, ‘RoidRage. This will give me three for-pay Apps in the App Store.
But it’s time to change The Plan.
If I wanted those three Apps to actually pull in any sort of real income, I would have to spend a lot of time promoting them. Writing to editors. Submitting them to contests. Pimping them to friends. Or paying someone, with my No Money, to do all these things for me.
Now, if these were all killer games that make people unable to remember what that strange crying sound is coming from the crib in the other room, this might be a Great Idea. But they’re not. And, if I continue down this particular road, none of the other titles I’m trying to make in three weeks or less will be, either. And I’ll have to do the same Promotion Dance with every single one, even though only maybe one in five will actually make me any money. Now let’s imagine that I *do* have a hit. If I managed to turn it out in three weeks, it’s likely that The Thing about it will be some simple novelty, ala Tetris, that can and will be copied, probably by some *other* asshole using GameSalad, in the time it takes to snarf down a Guinness. If that person, is, say, Zynga, the graphics, sound, and music will be orders of magnitude better than anything I can turn out all by my lonesome, and even if I was willing to sue someone for “Stealing my Idea!”, by the time I managed to get the paperwork in order they would have been able to use the first million they earned from ripping off my game to put me in jail for being an Indie developer.
Let’s look at a different case. Let’s say I take longer to make a game, thereby enabling me to imbue it with things like a Storyline, Fun, Quirky Characters, and maybe, if I’m really lucky, Music! Let’s say it’s actually a genuine reflection of my innate creativity, perversity, and sense of humor. How is this story different?
First of all, this game will be my Baby, and I will Love it, and Believe in it, and will be willing to Get Behind in it ways I’m simply not willing to do with my current offerings. Reviewers, magazine editors, and Kickstarter will find me in their underwear. Irrespective of their sexual preference, fashion sense, or personal grooming foibles, I will dance about winningly, brandishing a Brand well lubricated with Enthusiasm, Quality, and Whatever the Hell Else I can trowel on there, because that game will be the distilled essence of Whatever the Hell it Means to be Me. This is exactly the kind of behavior that’s necessary to get a game, even a good game, under enough Caring Eyeballs for it to actually balloon into something that looks like a Career, rather than Beer Money.
I sure as Hell don’t have time to do *that* every three weeks. Buying one new set of underwear will be expensive enough.
Furthermore, one reason I wanted to claim I could take an idea to the App Store in three weeks was because I knew it would look great on my resume. And it *would*. The problem is, it would look great on the wrong one. I’m not interested in helping other people make their games at the moment. Later, I’d love to work with some other talented people on a vision that’s not my own. But I’d prefer that to be a Post-Success Phenomenon. The only two parties I’m currently trying to impress with my game-making speed and skill are Myself and My Fans. And what I’ve realized after completing ZenFire is that, in terms of the skill necessary to make True Offering, I’m already there. Of course I’ll always get better, and there’s a million more things to learn, but I can no longer claim that technical incompetence with the Tool is a barrier to my dreams. I’m good enough now.
What lead to this? Part of it was realizing how disconnected I was from gaming in general. One big reason I was originally motivated to program was because I was a total nerd social outcast and the computer gave me a little universe in which to indulge my fantasies of megalomania and control. While I dreamed of being a game maker from my early programming experiences in the 80’s programming in Logo and playing my cousin’s Atari 5200, and made a few games and many proto games between then and college, I officially decided to hang up my gaming ambitions when Windows took over, saying, famously, “I’m not programming for that.” In the meantime, my enthusiasm for actually *playing* games continued well into my post-college corporate years. But, at some point somewhere around Starcraft Broodwars and Unreal Tournament, I stopped. It’s not that I never play, or even that I don’t occasionally take a Video Game Vacation for a few days or weeks. But it’s not, in any way, a core part of my life. I haven’t owned a console since the original NES. I use Apple gear now, so I’m completely disconnected from the Rat Race of the PC-Constant-Upgrade War. The bottom line is, while I still play games, I’m no longer A Gamer. And yet, I’ve still largely derailed my successful-but-boring corporate career to become a game MAKER.
So why is that? If I’m not making games because I identify as a Gamer, then why am I doing it at all? I’ve gone from wearing maroon slacks and Napoleon Dynamite glasses to having four girlfriends. I like reality now, and don’t generally feel the impulse to escape it like I used to. I don’t, basically, play games.
Does this mean I’m on the wrong path? I don’t think so. The unparalleled opportunity to unleash the Xtreme Creativity that I’ve been complimented on for my entire life upon the universe that the indie gaming scene offers is unparalleled. The lifestyle living in home-built yurts, working at coffee houses, and personal freedom that creative laptop work offers is exactly what I want out of life. I’m not the same person as that little boy who was so swept away the first time he saw Pac Man on the screen, but that little boy is still in there.
And now he’s grown up.