I recently gave a 5 minute mini-rant at the IGDA Toronto branch titled “Time To Give Up, But In a Good Way!”. The talk went well, but didn’t quite convey what I *meant* to convey. This is probably due to the fact that I had 5 minutes and did zero preparation work. As such I still have the ideas of the talk in my head, and wish to share some of them here.
I see myself as a very analytical and practical person. I tend to not make games just because I “like” their ideas, but also often because I think I can sell them. I make small games because I think making large games are riskier, and I never try to bet the farm on a single project. When I started making games as an indie who wanted to make a living off of my own work, the first thing I did was look at the top selling game on iOS, which at the time was a Scorched Earth style artillery game. This is why my first game is Tank Strike, a game that plays okay but is creatively bereft. It’s also why I made a really bad Pumpkin Carving app in my first year that sold WAY more than it should have (considering it has a well-deserved 2 star rating). Battle Beat, a game that I spent 8 months on, was based on the idea that “Rock Band and Guitar Hero were popular games, and everyone’s desperate to use those plastic instruments!”. I’m still not sure why someone with no musical ability like myself thought making a rhythm game was a good idea.
Battle Beat was also the game that almost had me giving up on making a living on indie games. I spent about a year and a half making various indie games from Tank Strike to Battle Beat and Mega Monster Mania. Some things I made did okay, but I wasn’t making enough to live off of (if I hadn’t been living with my parents at the time). In fact, around this time I had thrown in the towel. I was revising my resume and sending it out to various companies. I decided XBLIG wasn’t a marketplace where I could make a living. Of course, I didn’t have the attention to spend ALL DAY on my resume and applying to jobs, so I started making a game just for fun. For my own sense of amusement. It would be my last XBLIG game with no intention to really make money off it. I’d spend the next month applying to jobs while working on this dumb game idea I had.
That dumb game idea was Baby Maker Extreme, and it ended up paying for all that time I had been failing. It reversed the flow of events and let me keep making indie games to this day. It also seeded a bit of bravado in my head. Baby Maker Extreme was the #1 game for a while, and its influence on my future games was clear. I suddenly thought “sexual innuendo! That’s how you make money!” and ran with that. I started releasing titles like Stick Massage, Can You Handle 2 At Once?, and Blow Me Up. I was cynical about other devs who used “sex sells” and “massage apps” as their marketing ploys and my games were always trying to make FUN of those ideas. But, nothing really performed like Baby Maker Extreme. I had a few other successes, but time marched on and I started seeing the domination of the XBLIG marketplace by Minecraft games and other 3d combat focused Avatar games. Games I could make, and sometimes did, but didn’t really enjoy the process of making them. I had been spending a few months on a still unannounced project of mine when I realized XBLIG’s time was limited. XBox One and PS4 were coming this holiday and I probably should jump to a new platform. I decided the game I was working on was probably going to be my last XBLIG. I was going to pick up Unity and start making a game designed in a way that it might get through Greenlight and onto Steam. I had my big project going, but also a small distraction.
Now, I say distraction, but what I MEAN is TOJam. TOJam is the Toronto Indie Game Jam that happens every year in Toronto. It’s a fantastic event and I’ve always enjoyed participating in it. It’s where I first learned XNA and made my first XNA game with friends from university. That said, I have a bad history of trying to “do” something with my TOJam games. Last year I made Jetpack Rapture at TOJam in 2 days, then spent a few weeks modifying the game so I could sell it on XBLIG. This year I had no expectations of porting it. In fact, in my design doc for TOJam I put the note “[Porting to XBox] is not a priority. My last TOJam game Jetpack Rapture took a while to port and did AWFUL on XBLIG, so I don’t expect this to be worth porting.” This was possibly going to be the last XNA game I started, and it wouldn’t even be on XBLIG. I just wanted to have fun making another dumb game idea without worrying about how it would do if I sold it, or having a project drag on beyond it being fun to work on. My goal at TOJam was to make the WEIRDEST game at the event (an event that has over 400 participants in a single building!). Surprisingly, I MAY have actually accomplished that goal.
The game I made at TOJam this year was what eventually became Mount Your Friends. So, why is Mount Your Friends on XBLIG if I didn’t plan to port it? Because everyone I showed the game to loved it and demanded a copy. It was a game that made me feel really good because other developers who I respected were giving me complements on my design. It was the confidence boost I needed after a lot of recent failure on the XBLIG marketplace. So I finished it and released it on XBLIG (in a rushed manner, still assuming I shouldn’t overcommit to working on the game) and now it feels like it may be the next Baby Maker Extreme. It seems like every time I make a game without giving a shit about its possible saleability it does orders of magnitude better. When I give up on all my desires for attention and financial success I made something that brings those things to me naturally.
So give up on your dreams of making it big, because once you give up you’ll make your best works? Well, that doesn’t really work. Now that I have this idea in my head, I start building up expectations and making things that artificially feel like I’m saying to myself “I don’t care if this succeeds!” while at the same time hoping “gee, I hope I’ve tricked my brain into making something that succeeds!” It’s a mindset that existed in my subconscious, and perhaps cannot be forced forward. I sometimes wish I could not care about success, but I’m still the analytical developer I started as. Perhaps that’s a good thing though, because my obsession and analysis is still information being fed into my mind, and perhaps my subconscious takes those ideas into consideration as well when it occasionally tries to design something amazing with me.