Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

We were all noobs once

Sunday, November 10th, 2013


Me on a BBC Micro circa 1991

The indie community is full of many diverse perspectives, and diverse perspectives are of course what makes life so enjoyable!

However, when it generates into “us and them” mentality I think there is a problem.

Underdogs vs Successful Indies

I’ve been an indie game developer for 9 years now and in recent years I’ve seen a trend where some indies seem identify themselves as underdogs and they sometimes attack indies who are successful. These attacks take many forms but at the end of the day they are unpleasant and unnecessary.

One common attack, or perhaps I should say “misconception”, is that successful “elite” indies are only in it for themselves and don’t help other indies. This is so false it’s laughable.

I’m neither an underdog nor am I rich. I feel I sit somewhere in the middle in that I’ve managed to survive somehow all these years, and I’d love to keep on doing that! However, one of the main reasons I’ve managed to keep going all this time is because I’ve been helped out many times by successful developers.

In 2010 I co-founded up Full Indie in Vancouver so that indies could get together to help each other out and motivate each other. That group now has 1759 members!

I also now run Full Indie UK, which is a UK-based indie meetup group. I did this because I know how much I and other indies love to share their experiences and how much we all need that and can benefit from it.

Noobs R Us

Therefore, I would encourage anyone who feels like an underdog to remember that as indies we all started in the same place – as complete “noobs”. Some of us have done well financially, some of us have done well in terms of recognition, and some of us have not achieved either (yet).

Railing against those who have done well isn’t productive, better to instead to use other people’s success as a motivational tool and to look at yourself and see how you can improve – that’s what I try to do anyway.

I’ve never felt anyone who has “made it” was shitty to me; more the opposite – I’ve been offered unsolicited help many many times.

Peace Man

So please, let’s stop this talk of “indie elites/illuminati” and “underdogs” and remember that we are all in this indie adventure together.

Indies are *way* more friendly and helpful than other industries. For example, I made business software for 9 years and we had to keep everything secret from our competitors and so did they!

Also if you see someone promoting this false, hurtful divide, perhaps it’s time to call them out on it and encourage them to see the awesomeness right in front of their eyes?

Remember, we make games for a living. How amazing is that?

Being a indie game developer dad

Monday, March 11th, 2013

I could never go and work in an office for a corporation again whilst my kids still live at home, and probably just never again anyway.

Working in an office

The relationship I had with my family (wife and two boys) whilst working in an office doing game dev was the worst it’s ever been. I basically saw them at breakfast and then went to the office and maybe saw them just before they went to bed depending on how late I worked (plus travel time). Occasionally I got to meet my wife for lunch because both my boys were at school and my wife is self-employed. Of course I got the weekends with my family but I was often tired and unmotivated to do much.

Also my wife was left basically bringing the boys up on her own during the week and I began to realise that they desperately needed me around more as a dad for a different perspective on things, plus I wanted to see them of course – something that amplified after my father passed away.

I’m sure that if you are not a parent then working in an office is probably fine as long as you can still find time to spend with your partner and to do your hobbies. If the company you work for is progressive enough to allow you to work at home sometimes/quite often and allows you to have some flexibility in your schedule to deal with family-related issues that regularly crop up then that would of course be great, but I wasn’t in such a company/culture (although they did help me out when my dad died.)

It can also be awkward working with people who don’t have kids who just don’t understand that your family comes before your work and what responsibilities you have outside of the office. Plus, and this is sad, I’m sure many dads think it’s normal and acceptable to go to work all day and hardly ever see their kids…Some would say they have no choice, but I disagree, there is always choice of some kind if you look hard enough. [EDIT] A friend has reminded me that in the US if you work for a company you’ll get health insurance and that without it you are screwed. This is certainly huge bummer and no doubt would put many parents off going indie as paying for your family’s insurance costs a fortune. Not so in Canada or the UK or many other countries fortunately.

TL;DR If you are a parent, working away from home sucks. Don’t do it!

Working at home as an indie

Before I worked in an office I worked at home as an indie. That was a conscious decision that I made when my first son was 3 and my second son was 6 months old (before that I was an IT consultant and spent lots of time at home as well). Whilst working in the office I remembered the good times of being able to see my kids, help my wife with stuff, and just generally being around. So eventually I left that company and went back to being indie again and it’s just so much better! :-)

However, of course the flip side is that:

a) I get interrupted at home a lot
b) Income is variable and there is no certainty etc.
c) I seem to work best in the afternoons and evenings which is when my family wants to see me.

I’ve gone through indie crunches where I’ve hardly seen anyone, and I often work at weekends (due to being busy and also because I enjoy it), but then other times when my family really needs my help, like if they are all ill with the flu or something, I can be there for them.

It’s definitely not a good idea to set up hard deadlines as an indie parent because some poop will mostly likely hit the fan and force you to make tough decisions. For example: on the day I was supposed to be shipping Spring Bonus for PC/Mac (it had to come out by Easter Sunday) I’d had 1 hour sleep the night before due to testing and then my wife got super-ill and I had to rush her to hospital (it turned out to be cancer) and then go and get the kids from school etc. It was one of the most horrible and stressful days of my life trying to balance everything. Luckily she is fine now and the game shipped and has done well, but it was not easy at all.

I also like doing the school run. If you are a dad and have not dropped your kids off or picked them up from playgroup/school on then you are missing out on something really important. Don’t let your wife hog this cool thing that will give you memories you’ll never forgot.

Also my wife works at home and so we get to go out to lunch, for romantic walks, and to Ikea when we feel like it. This is obviously good for our relationship ;-)

Btw, sorry that I’m just writing from a male/dad perspective – I would love to hear more indie mums/moms posting their thoughts too!

TL;DR You still have to balance your work/home life when working at home as an indie, but it’s definitely better for parents.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments, thanks!

Life Purpose

Monday, May 21st, 2012

I often think about my “life purpose” and whether the work I’m doing is aligning with that purpose. I still don’t think I’m doing what I really should be doing, but at least it’s pretty good where I am and I can keep moving towards my purpose.

Birth of my First Son

Not long after my first son was born I realised that I needed to see more of him because he was growing up so fast. That’s when I stopped full-time office work making/selling business software and did contract work at home instead (this was 3 years before I turned into an independent game developer). This was a good time period for me as I saw lots of both my boys, but I still think I could have spent more time with them, which is something I regret because I can never get that time back.

After a few years of being indie I got invited to move to Canada to work at Big Fish Games as a full-time employee and I took them up on the offer. Working at Big Fish was tough because it meant I wasn’t around enough for my kids and so when I quit after 2 years, one of my main focuses was to improve the “culture” at home and make up for my absence. Basically I aimed to be a decent dad for my boys by setting an example, teaching them ways to behave, and just being with them. It’s an ongoing process but we are getting there after me working at home now for 16 months.

So it’s clear to me that my main life purpose is to be a good dad and husband. All other life purposes have to come second to that because there’s no point me succeeding at something great if I let my family down. That’s the way I feel anyway. I remember mentioning to some co-workers at one point that my family came before work and they looked shocked :-) Perhaps they’ll understand one day, perhaps they won’t. Each to their own.

Teaching and Community Building

Also teaching Aikido has allowed me to help many people (including children) find inner strength, cultivate peace, and become more self-confident. I enjoy teaching very much and aim to continue with this.

I also hope that running Full Indie in Vancouver (a meetup group for independent game developers) has helped out members of the community here in many ways. I know for a fact that new teams have formed because of people becoming friends via the group, and that the speakers have helped to inspire many people. Also the sheer amount of useful information exchanged at meetups is amazing.

Kick up the Backside

My father died in 2010 and this of course made me ponder my own relationship with my children. My wife because very ill last year (she is now fully recovered) and of course that made me think about things some more. This year more relatives have become sick, and also I recently passed a kidney stone then got an infection and was out of action for a couple of weeks.

Each of these events has helped me gain clarity on what the important things (to me) are in life. As I mentioned before I do think about my purpose and what is important to me a lot but major events can certainly act as a catalyst!

Some people have life-changing epiphanies when they are on vacation from work. Apparently this only tends to happen to most people in the SECOND week of vacation. In North America most employees only get two weeks of vacation a year and rarely take them consecutively, so they may not get a chance to have a sudden realisation about their lives! This is why I would encourage you to make time to think about your life purpose and what is important to you if you are not already doing this.

Being Creative

So for me the sort of things that are important are: Family, Teaching, and being creative. I’ve always been creative and I find the creative urge to be ever-present. It comes out via making games, playing music, writing blogs posts etc. Oh and running a business! I also used to do a lot of artwork when I was younger but that has fallen to the wayside for now.

I imagine that many people also feel they are creative but are not spending as much time creating things as they want to . I know for sure that even if you can squeeze a few extra hours per week doing something creative that you love, you’ll feel so much happier. So have a think about how you could do that…

Life Purpose and Work

I feel I should also add something about “work”. I’ve always taken pride in my work and aimed to deliver quality. When I made business software for bookshops I knew how radically it could transform bookshop owners’ businesses as well as make life easier for the employees – thus it was very easy for me to do the sales pitches for the software because I believed in the product. I used to have a high conversion rate as a result.

Games are different because it’s harder for me to point at a direct benefit to the players of my games. Although I have received emails from casual gamers who’ve said things like Fairway Solitaire has enabled then to get into playing casual games with their dads or husbands etc. which is pretty cool. Also some disabled/ill people have explained how my games distract them from their pain. I’ve also always been careful to add untimed modes to my recent games after I got an email from a girl who wears a kind of head-mounted devices to interact with the computer.

However, although games might be cool due to the above reasons, and because they are a creative outlet for me as well as a way to practice discipline and skill, I ultimately don’t feel that they add enough to the world to be important in the same way as the non-work things I do (family, teaching, running a group etc). But they are one of the most fun ways I can generate income to allow me to do my other things, so that feels OK for now. Mind you some self-help gurus would tell me stop making games and immediately begin on the stuff I find most important even if it’s tough at first – and they are probably right… It’s just tough when you have a family to support of course, but that’s the classic excuse!

I’m not saying that NO games add to the world in an important way. Some probably do and I’d like to hear more about such games (let me know in the comments), but certainly most don’t seem to bring anything particularly positive except for things like employing people and providing escapism etc. The obvious exception being educational games or games donating money to charity.

Telling My Story

One cool side-effect of making games and running a business is being able to talk to others about it in order to help them or be an example, and I’ve found that to be very rewarding over the years. I have communicated my story via this blog, by doing speeches at universities and trade shows, and just by chatting to people. I would say that this is one of the most positive parts of making games for me, and of course I couldn’t communicate my story if I didn’t have one to tell. Anyway, stay tuned because as my story unfolds I’m going to keep talking about it of course!

Ultimately if I could just make games for fun as a hobby (which is how I started when I was a kid) and keep my finances buoyant by helping other people, I think I’d rather do that that having to make games for money. So over the years I’ve been giving more thought about how to achieve that but not reached any firm conclusions yet. It will certainly be interesting to read this in 10 years’ time and see what I actually did ;-)

OK that’s enough for now. I hope this post helped you gain an insight into the way I value things and has made you think about your own life purpose.

Please let me know your own thoughts about your life purpose in the comments. Thanks!