Was there really an indie bubble? Or a golden age of indie? We look back in time and remember hearing about these successes on iOS, console, Steam - but when we try our own hands at going indie we don’t meet with those sorts of legendary financial success. I’ve been indie for almost a decade. Lost a lot of money in the process. If there was a golden age I somehow missed it. Thinking there was a golden age is survivor bias - a bunch of people struck gold on a particular platform. Gold rushes commenced. By the time we got there, the gold was gone. Then we tell ourselves, “We missed the golden age. We missed the bubble. If only we’d shipped sooner, or knew someone who could get us on that exclusive platform, in that exclusive market.” But even back in the days when a small handful of people had their big successes, most people were having their quiet failures. While Jonathan Blow was making millions with Braid our team made under $190K with Schizoid. (Split all the ways, it was more than minimum wage, but not by much.) And well before iOS there was shareware and before that people selling floppies in ziplock bags. While they had their loud successes and became who we think of as the big publishers and developers of today there were many more having their quiet failures. I’m not being negative. I’m being positive. Next year, new games will come out of nowhere and be big fat financial successes, maybe in some new emerging market we never thought of before (like Kickstarter) or maybe due to some crazy PR (like becoming a youtuber darling) or maybe due to something I can’t even imagine or think of. There never was a golden age of indie. Which means it isn’t over.
There's a method behind the madness to my update labeling scheme. The a is for alpha. The first number is what source control system iteration I'm on - I never meant to go to a third system, but circumstances warranted. (I lost the admin password to the second one. :P) Then the number after the dot is the version / changelist number.
So, it's been over two months, and over 70 revisions (I don't even remember how many changes went in before the source control system switch), so I have lost track of all the new stuff that's gone in. But here are some highlights:
And that's not all.
There are a couple obvious bugs you'll notice right off the bat, and don't have to report, because I already know about them:
If you're interested in seeing ALL THE BUGS I know about, there's an eye-glazing list here. Lower priority numbers mean I'm going to get to them first. Yeah, it doesn't make sense. Anything under 1 I currently consider absolutely must-fix, so ... I better get on that. There's 84 of those. How many can I fix per day? We'll find out.
Once I fix those - and any new ones that crop up in the meantime - I'll be willing to call the game "Beta" or "Content and Feature Complete."
And don't worry, I don't expect you to check the bug list before giving me feedback. Go ahead and give it to me, on the forums -- http://happionlabs.com/forums -- and I'll sort it all out later.
So. If you're already a backer, enjoy, and if you aren't, what are you waiting for?
Hey, this hour of code thing is kind of cool. Sofia kind of lost interest after about 15 minutes. "I'm tired of making the zombie find the flower" but I told her she could stay up past her bedtime if she worked on it more and she's game.
Let me tell you, I've totally turned around on this issue. I used to be the sort of asshole who said "there are people who can grok pointers and people who can't" - using that Harvard research as my crutch, the research that said, "Here are points where people wash out of our computer science program:"
But just because these are the points where people wash out of CS programs doesn't necessarily mean that those people were flat-out incapable of understanding these concepts. It probably just means that Harvard's sink-or-swim teaching methods kind of sucked.
New research shows that old 'fixed mindset' kind of thinging creates self-fulfilling prophecies that lmit people. It's toxic. The problem with saying, "Why are you trying to draw? You can't draw," is that people actually believe you. We have to overcome that last-century 'you must be naturally talented or don't bother' sort of thinking if we want to accomplish stuff.
Me, I'm lucky. Coming from a supportive you-can-do-it sort of family, I just enjoyed learning how to program. I got off on it. When I discovered pointers and recursion my head exploded with possibilities. Not everyone's going to be like me, and it's going to be hard work for them to grok those concepts, but I firmly believe that almost anyone can do it if they put in the effort. And the benefits are enormous - if, for example, you're a game designer or producer, and you learn to code, you're no longer beholden to other people to make things happen. You can make a game by yourself. And you can probably get a decent-paying job somewhere.
There's another sticking point besides the four I just listed above. Someone recently told me that they've tried to learn to code, and they can work through tutorials and whatnot, but when it comes time to create something original they don't know where to begin.
Well, most coders avoid creating something original. We run a code wizard that generates our windowing app for us, or use someone else's engine, or cut and paste some code off the internet. The swinging-and-wallrunning character code in Energy Hook started with the Unity character controller as a base. Eventually you'll find you've replaced the handle and you've replaced the blade and you've got a knife that's totally yours. No shame in that. (Though there may be a few dick-swinging coders out there who do try to shame you for it. Try to ignore them.) Coders are allowed to plagiarize away their blank-page-syndrome in a way that novelists aren't.
Jake the Dog time:
Going beyond Jake the Dog, there's been research that shows people are usually overconfident when they first try to learn something. There's this curve where they think they're good, then they train some more and realize how far they have to go and think they suck, and then they actually get good and they think they're good again.
So, if you think you suck at something, you may be halfway to getting sorta good at it.
Back in the olden days when compile times were long I almost always had a book on programming or management at my desk and was able to buttress my experiential knowledge with theoretical. These days where turnaround times are so low that I can't even find my place, I haven't kept up in my reading.
I wonder if this could become a pervasive problem for rookie game developers and programmers - on the bright side, you're spending all your time getting stuff done - on the down side, maybe those long periods of head scratching and perusing manuals and websites trying to figure out "why doesn't this work?" could have been bypasses if you had already read the manual or language guide or whatever. Plus you'll possibly be out of the loop on the latest in good coding techniques which you may also pay for in the long run.
I don't know. When do you find time to read these days?
A couple weeks ago I set my 8 year old daughter Sofia down in front of rpgmaker and she happily got to work more-or-less cloning her favorite game, a Warriors RPG (the series of books about talking feral cats, not "Warriors Come Out And Play" warriors) also made in rpgmaker by a Warriors fan.
This has been pretty undirected "set the child in front of a computer and see what happens" learning. She knows enough to google for tutorials, and only comes to me when she gets stuck (I don't know rpgmaker myself, so it's a learning experience for both of us.) It hasn't been totally asocial, though - just last Friday she invited a friend to come over and playtest what she'd made so far.
She loves it. She has learned SO MUCH in the last couple weeks. (It's hard to get her to do her actual schoolwork now, but it's definitely a net win.)
What has she learned?
On the coding side, she's learned how to set and get variables in the event system, and about if/then.
As she writes dialogue she's improving her writing and her typing.
On the art side, here's what her drawing looked like when she started:
So that was in just ten days (I could tell by how many days she had left on her rpgmaker trial), and totally undirected. She just decided she wanted more realistic animals in her game, so she went to a how-to-draw website, and started practicing. (I've had to help her quite a bit getting her art into the game - Gimp is harder than rpgmaker, but she has learned how to use the colorize function to make a bunch of different colored animals out of one base sprite.)
And the cost? The cost has been free so far. She's been using my old laptop and a trial of rpgmaker vx ace. So I'll have to pony up $70 in the near future. (There's a free version of rpgmaker vx ace but she's already hit the item and event limits in it.) You may remember that Kickstarter where a child wanted to raise money to go to rpgmaker camp. Well, I can tell you that a child doesn't need to go to a thousand dollar class to learn rpgmaker.
There is a question I don't know the answer to - Sofia took to rpgmaker like a duck to water, but does that mean rpgmaker is the game development program we should start kids off with? I'm thinking not necessarily - it just happened that Sofia's favorite game was done in rpgmaker, so that was why she responded so well to it. If a child's favorite game is 3D, maybe something like Kodu is a better start... and maybe if the child doesn't take to whatever game development app you show them first, you should try another one or two until you hit one they do respond to.
You know why I named my new company Happion Laboratories?
Because I'm all about the pursuit-of-happiness with it.
And I'm going to talk about that some at iFest.
Come on by!
I suppose this depends a bit on why you went indie. If you decided to become an indie game developer to see if you could make a lot of money, then you could throw some money at it to see if it sticks and then go back to your high paying corporate job and it would end up costing you less in the long run. (Or there's that one in a thousand chance you actually make a ton of money, in which case, again, spending money might be a great investment.) But if, like me, you decided to go indie because you wanted your freedom, because you wanted to stop working for The Man, then read on...because spending less money usually means spending more time, and for me that's great, because I want to prolong my indie adventure as long as possible.
Lately I've come across the blog of Mr. Money Mutache and I really like the cut of the guy's jib. We're kindred spirits in a lot of ways - saved up quite a bit, quit our jobs before the crash, started businesses that didn't work out so well, have families, and try to keep our spending frugal. But Mr. Money Mustache spent less than half as much as me each year and has thus been able to maintain his financial freedom while I am going to have to either increase my indie revenue or go back and work for the man again. If I had been like MMM after I quit, and the Fristrom-Pascual family had really tightened our belts, we could keep doing this indefinitely even on the average indie salary of $25K / year.
Put another way - there's two ways you can make your indie game development company viable: making more than you spend or spending less than you make.
People tend to focus on the first. But the second works too, as heroes like Jason Rohrer show.
There's lots of advice and ways to cut costs on your game development (work from home; use hardware that's a couple years old; use free software; pay only with rev share) but that's a tiny part of the picture, right? The real cost is the cost of supporting yourself and your family.
And Mr. Money Mustache has a lot of good advice on how to keep that down. I highly recommend checking him out and other frugality websites.
But here's some of the stuff I'm doing lately. (Better late than never.) I switched from using Quicken to using You Need A Budget last year, kind of by coincidence, and because You Need A Budget puts the Budget part front-and-center I suddenly realized with embarrassment just how much the Fristrom-Pascual family spends each month. It also didn't let me pat myself on the back just because I'd had one good month out of several, which Quicken did. I'm not even going to say what our monthly budget was because it's so embarrassing - I'll just say that even though I thought I was being frugal, I was still acting like I had my Activision salary.
One thing we did even before I discovered MMM: every line item on our budget that was optional?We cut that in half: Date night. Restaurants. Fun Spending. Even Groceries. The kids' extracurricular classes (Sofia was in a highfalutin' dance class that, in hindsight, was for rich kids. It's Boys'n'Girls club classes for you now, Sofia.)
Turns out it was easy. The only target we couldn't hit was groceries, but we did get it down from over $800/month to $550, which, from what I hear, is pretty impressive for a family of four in Bellevue. But even there, there's still room for improvement. We could eat oatmeal more often, and I don't really need two six-packs of beer a month ... and I've quit drinking coffee before, I could do it again ...
After we'd done that, our monthly budget was starting to look reasonable. I patted myself on the back and said that was probably as cheap as we could go. (Because, you know, Jason Rohrer's lifestyle looks so out of reach it gives me that why-even-try feeling, like when I look at the highest scores on the Geometry Wars leaderboards.)
But that's when I came across Mr. Money Mustache (via You Need A Budget, btw) - and realized there was so much further we could go! There's still some big ticket items we can take care of!
There's No Such Thing As The Fastest Code? How about: There's No Such Thing As The Cheapest Budget. (I bet even Jason Rohrer looks at his monthly spending and thinks, "We could really cut back here." sometimes.)
We can get cheaper health insurance. (The ACA has prodded us into doing this anyway...turns out the kids are eligible for Washington's Medicare.)
And wait! Why do I have disability insurance? I was talked into this years ago. "What if you lost the ability to earn an income, Jamie?" That would be tragic sure, but my particular disability insurance doesn't just cover my ability to earn in income, it covers a whole bunch of stupid shit. And I was paying $2000 a year for it. Basically, unless I lose both my hands or my sight or my mind, I'm still going to be able to do what I do, and that's pretty darn unlikely (and if it does happen, I'm sure my extended family will rally around to help us), so - screw the disability insurance. (I still have life. That's a lot cheaper.)
And Cathy and I have a rule to make sure our businesses are actually businesses and not hobbies that sometimes pay for themselves - whatever they make the previous month, the most we allow ourselves to spend on them the next month is half of that. (This is more important for Catshy Crafts than Happion Labs - I've always been cheap when it came to game development, prefering to invest time over money.)
And, hey - how about we cut all those optional line items in half AGAIN? And get cheaper internet? And cut back to one disc at a time with Netflix? And lower the heat? And turn off the freaking lights and television when we leave the room? Now our budget starts to look less embarrassing: we've cut our spending by over 30%!
What else can we do? We can refinance our home loan. We can sell that second car. (We almost never both drive somewhere different at the same time - that $500/year in insurance+maintenance is an astronomical Per Use cost.) We can ditch our smart phones. (Wait, MMM gets $10 iphones? We'll have to look into that when my current contract is up.)
And the weird thing? Giving up these luxuries is inexplicably making me happier. I don't know why - maybe I've genetically inherited my mom's stoicism and just didn't realize it until now - or maybe it's because I get a kick of moving up on the how-little-we-spend leaderboards. Anyhow, so far, it's not a hardship.
Long and short of it is, if we can cut our spending by 30-50%, we can be indie 30-50%...or more... longer. Rock.
I was hosting the subversion server for Energy Hook on Unfuddle, but that got pricey after I hit the free tier storage limit. So, at the suggestion of @Kostas_Zarifis, I switched to hosting on EC2, which took most of a day to figure out but has only cost around a dollar a month.
But I'm an idiot and forgot my password and deleted the key pair file which had been lingering in my downloads directory and purged long ago. Whoops.
So I had to do this again, and was taking notes on the process as I went, but decided to reboot my computer midway because I was having internet issues, and, well...lost the notes. So, here's my best attempt to reconstruct them, but there could be some gaps. If you try this and have trouble, let me know where you get hung up in the comments.
So there it is. A bit of extra work but a thing.