You hear a lot of great success stories from the indie game development scene. It's fun to listen to these stories because they make you feel really good about this industry you've chosen to pour your interests into. The more common story is however are of heartbreak and failure. It’s easy to look at the developers like Team Meat, Zeboyd Games and Polytron and think, “I could do that. I love games and have lots of great ideas.” It’s easy to say that, but the reality of game development is that most teams will never ship their product, or their product will fail. This isn't, and shouldn't be, the end of the story. This is an article all about the hardships of game development, and why it’s one of the best things you could choose to do with your free time.
One of the Cinderella stories of the indie scene
The first thing to keep in mind is passion. To success in game development you have to be willing to put in long, thankless hours to honing your craft. Don’t think of game development as a way to make money and support your lifestyle. You need a job for that. Instead look at it as a way of bettering yourself and the industry. If you happen to make money while developing games, consider it a bonus. That may be a bitter pill to swallow for some of you, but if you’re unable to accept this fact, then maybe indie game development isn't the right thing for you. Shawn Achor says it best in his talk on "The Happiness Advantage" when he says to put your target for happiness before your goal for success. That way you'll be happy, no matter the outcome of your project.
Be happy, no matter how your project goes
Now that's out of the way, it’s time to examine some of your peers in the industry. When someone asks you, “What are some of the most successful game companies and developers in the game industry?” ultimately you think of names like Peter Molyneux, Cliff Bleszinski, Shigeru Miyamoto or the folks at Blizzard Entertainment. These are people/studios that have shaped the way we see and play games. Now, think about this; these developers didn't start off making the amazing games we know today. Molyneux didn't create “Black &White” as his first project. His first game was “The Entrepreneur” and it sold a grand total of 2 copies. TWO COPIES! That’s a far cry from the millions he ships today. So the next time you get a little down on yourself because your game sold 20 units, realize that you shipped ten times the amount Peter Molyneux's first game did.
Despite how you feel about his work, the industry wouldn't be the same without him.
Something else to ease your pain, is knowing you’re not alone. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other indie developers out there to interface with. Just because you have a cool idea that you don’t want “stolen” doesn't mean you should shut yourself off from the rest of the indie community. Now, don’t go shouting your idea from the rooftops because someone can and WILL take that idea if it tickles their fancy. That being said, being part of an indie developer community can be of great help. Not only can fellow developers help teach and troubleshoot, but you’re also establishing friendships and business partnerships that can carry you to some great things and possibly a career.
Cliff's first game: "The Palace of Deceit: The Dragon's Plight"
Something you should keep in mind is that reviews are not what qualifies your game. Well, maybe they are... but not it's not what should define the game's quality for you personally. You need to qualify a game on more than just its review scores. You should look at how much you learned while making your game, contacts you made while promoting your game and skills you sharpened during development. If you submit a game to a site like this, and they give it a poor review score, don't let it get you down. Simply look at what they deducted points for, take note and move on. Reviewers never want to stymie creativity or passion of developers. They only want to offer constructive criticism while informing potential customers about your game. So, while review scores are nice, don't let bad ones keep you from continuing what you love.
"Raptor Resort" was a pretty bad game, but we certainly hope the developers keep trying!
Game development can be a dream come true. It's a lot of fun, you'll learn a plethora of useful skills and hopefully can make a few friends in the process. It's not for everyone. You'll need to have a lot of resolve, passion and drive to survive this industry. But if you stick it out and have your priorities in the right order, the experience is like none other. Get out there, start making games, be prepared to fail, and love every second of it.