We're doing an Ask Us Anything about Sixty Second Shooter Prime on reddit now - come by and ask us anything. Maybe we'll even answer!
I've had a couple requests for this:
Classic White Belt - Get 10,000 points in classic 60 mode
Classic Brown Belt - Get 100,000 points in classic 60 mode
Classic Black Belt - Get 1,000,000 points in classic 60 mode
Infinity White Belt - Get 20,000 points in infinity mode
Infinity Brown Belt - Get 200,000 points in infinity mode
Infinity Black Belt - Get 2,000,000 points in infinity mode
Wait For It - Get a chain reaction
Blink Of An Eye - Make a chain reaction last 5 seconds
Clocked Out - Make a chain reaction last 10 seconds
Chronomancer - Make a chain reaction last 15 seconds
Seize The Minute - Execute a death blossom
Time Well Spent - Unlock everything
Countdown 5 - Make it to level 5
Countdown 10 - Make it to level 10
Coutndown 15 - Make it to level 15
Final Countdown - Make it to level 20
Minuteman - Destroy 10 enemies with a single missile
The game that I had to convince Sony and my Kickstarter backers to let me make (bless y'all) is arriving tomorrow, 6/19, at 9 AM UTC!
In the near future I'll put up some posts about what it was like to make a game for the Xbox One. Until then, see you on the leaderboards.
Back when I got started in game development, the way to get a game made was to get picked by a distributor to be put into retail. MindCraft was picked by EA's distribution arm, and we got Magic Candle into stores and in front of people that way.
Later it became about getting picked by a publisher. Treyarch got picked by Interplay, then by Crave and EA and Activision, and we got games in retail, in front of people, that way.
Another group doing the picking were the people who picked you to be a launch title, or early title, on their platform. We may be jealous of those first games on the Dreamcast, on the PS2, on the Xbox or Xbox Live Arcade, that sold so many units, maybe way beyond what they would have sold if they launched later amongst the clutter. The early pioneers on iOS were an exception here - the gates were open and a few people stormed in and got lucky - but for the other platforms you had to know someone who knew someone to get in front of people.
Later, of course, iOS got too cluttered and it became about getting picked there, as well - seems like you now have to get featured to make it on iOS.
As the last gen of platforms got cluttered, being picked by an award committee was a big help. Winning the IGF seemed to be a secret to success. Or being picked to be featured on the Xbox Live front page.
Now there are new platforms, and they're open, but who gets picked to get a dev kit first? Who is lucky enough to be picked to put out a launch title? These open platforms will become cluttered faster than ever. How are our titles going to stand out?
I include Kickstarter amongst these open platforms. (I've said it before and I've said it again, one awesome thing about Kickstarter is that you only get a limited time on there - clutter on Kickstarter grows linearly instead of exponentially.)
Now we have to get picked by youtubers and journalists. (My Kickstarter wouldn't have done so well if it wasn't for Rock Paper Shotgun and Penny Arcade; if Yahtzee Croshaw and Nerd Cubed hadn't tweeted about it.) And it still helps a lot to be picked by award shows.
The encouraging thing? Instead of being picked by just one or a few make-or-break people, there's *lots* of people doing the picking. Now the goal is to be picked by a bunch of them, each with their own reach.
And this is either bad news or good news, depending on how you look at it: being picked is contagious. The more you get picked, the more you get picked. Which means it's slow to start but you can eventually get to a tipping point.
So where do you start? First, you pick yourself.
And don't, don't, don't overfocus on one picker. Torpex put all its eggs into a basket with a particular publisher. When we ran out of money, and the publisher passed, we were done. If you're counting on a deal to come through or a particular youtuber to cover you ... yikes.
Throw a wide net. Journalists, youtubers, reddit, your social networks, the indie evangelists at the console companies (I leave it as an exercise to the student to dig up their contact info: Shahid Ahmad, Chris Charla, Nick Suttner, Dan Adelman, Bob Mills...), everyone you meet who you think might be interested in what you're making. You submit to every damn contest you know about. (I'm still kicking myself that I somehow forgot to submit to IGF this year. It's in my calendar for next year, at least.) You go to the trade shows you can afford. (I'm even trying to get into indie Megabooth this year.) And when someone does pick you, it's okay to accept a deal that might only break even or even end up with a small loss, because of that tertiary the-more-you-get-picked-the-more-you-get-picked effect.
I find that Energy Hook is being picked more and more, and I don't feel as powerless as I did in the days of, "This one publisher better greenlight us or it's the end!"
It took me a while to get myself to sit down and write a second real post in this column or series I imagined myself writing on happiness in game development. Of the many things I could write about next, I didn’t know which to pick, for one thing. But I realized there was something else going on there. Now that I’ve said to myself (and on the blog), “I’m going to do this,” it changed. It became an obligation.
I’ve blogged for years and years because it was fun. I’ve never really tried to monetize or to improve my SEO - sometimes I’ll post several times in a week and sometimes I’ll go months without posting anything. I just would get the urge to let some of my thoughts out through the keyboard and make it public.
But now I’ve promised to blog. And this shadow fell over me. When I had some free time, I’d think to myself, I should blog. The stern parent in me nagging the little kid in me. Is it any surprise the little kid in me says, “Screw that, I’m going to read a comic book instead”?
Jesse Schell, in The Art of Game Design, defined ‘fun’ as stuff you do that you don’t have to do. How true that is. When we can’t pull ourselves away from a game, when we say to ourselves “Just one more turn”, there’s often no logical reason for it. We just wanna.
This ties in with studies about intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. We’ve all heard about the study where a bunch of kids were asked to draw - some of them were then paid and others weren’t. The kids who got paid eventually lost interest in drawing, and would only do it for money. You can take something fun and turn it into a chore.
These ideas about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are obvious and scary at the same time. Obvious because when I’m reading a comic book, I know I’m having fun, I know I’m doing it for the pure intrinsic enjoyment of reading the comic book, because I’m not getting paid, because nobody is nagging me, there’s no reason I have to read the book. What if I was paid to read comic books? Before I quit as creative director on Spider-Man 3 I took it upon myself to read an absolute crapload of Spider-Man comics. That was not fun. 99% of those old silver age Spider-Man comics were crap. Not just because they came from an era when Marvel churned out issue after issue to make money, but also because of my perception - I’m not reading this because it’s good; I’m reading this because I ought to.
And scary because most of those things we game designers like to do to keep people interested in our game, to keep them playing, fall into the ‘extrinsic motivator’ category. The play of Energy Hook is intrinsically motivating - it’s inherently fun to make your avatar swing from a building, sail through the air, spin and flip and run along a wall - but I can’t resist also putting in all the traditional mechanisms for ‘replay value’ - you get points, you unlock levels and powers, there are leaderboards and achievements. The players who start playing for those other motivators are no longer playing just for fun. Hopefully it won't ruin the game for them, but the possibility scares the crap out of me.
It’s also scary for our careers. When we were kids we made videogames for fun. Writing those early computer programs or building something with Arcade Machine or Pinball Construction Kit, making a new level or mod for a game we liked - we did that for the pure joy of creating and building. We didn’t expect to get paid. When we started getting paid the bit got flipped. Now we’re obliged to do it. Now it can be hard to sit down at the computer and fix the next bug. I watch my daughter, who couldn’t wait to sit down at her computer and work on her RPGMaker game some more, and wish I could get back to that place where making a game is just pure intrinsic joy.
So. That’s one of the reasons it’s hard to stay happy as a game developer. I’ll share some of the things I do to fight this tendency (I did manage to finally sit down and write this article, after all) in the next post.
Until then - what do you do about it? How do you get back to that place where making a game is fun, even when it’s your job?
You know what? Lots of indie game developers blog about how to make money (or sell more product, which is kind of the same thing). But do any of them blog about how to be happy while you’re doing it?
If you’re not an indie developer, you might think, “Why do you need to blog about that? Of course I’d be happy being an indie game developer. I’d be doing what I want with my life, right? How could I not be happy?”
But if you are an indie game developer you know. Some of my indie dev friends even have a term for it - the malaise. Even the most successful indies get it. It’s something a lot of us have to continually struggle with and fight against.
So, you know what? I’ve decided to be the one. The one who blogs about how to be happy while making your indie games.
Honestly, I don’t remember what all I’ve written. Skimming it now I see a lot of redundancy. So maybe I have said all that needs to be said. But I think it bears repeating.
2) Because I’ve been there (and often end up back there). Truth is, despite all my good fortune I still often feel kinda ‘meh’. It’s not right, I know. I’m a spoiled brat who should be on his knees, thanking the powers that be that he got so lucky with his lot in life, and instead I’m often like, “Man, I’m tired and kinda grumpy and my family’s being a pain and my back is sore. Think I’ll go back to bed.” Unless I continually remind myself how lucky I am (“I make my own games! I had a fantastic Kickstarter the other day! I have a great family and my own home!”) and keep up with whatever happiness exercises I’m into at the time, whether it’s meditating or “double column technique” or walks in the woods or what. (These days it’s bicycling. Variety in these things is good. See hedonic adaptation, below.)
3) Unlike most game programmers, I have a psych degree. Sure it’s just a BA, but it has to be good for something, right?
So, if you’re not an indie game developer, you may be wondering what the fuck. Why aren’t indie game developers happy? Why do they get depressed or even feel just mediocre? Why aren’t they walking on sunbeams and puking rainbows all the time?
Part of it is what happiness scientists call hedonic adaptation. Whenever good stuff happens to us, we rapidly get used to our new standards, and things start seeming normal again. There’s a “set point” theory that says people are basically cheerful or not - once they get used to their current circumstances they return to their typical set point. If we’re born with a tendency to not be cheerful, it doesn’t matter how much awesome stuff happens to us in our lives, we rapidly return to that not-cheerful state. In other words - most peoplefeel ‘meh’. And indie game developers are people.
So, if you’re not an indie game developer, and you’ve been thinking maybe it would make you happy, maybe you should think again. It turns out humans are notoriously bad at knowing what will make them happy. Whether you’re an indie developer or not probably will have no bearing on your happiness.
Now, suppose you’re like me, and there’s something in you that says, “I don’t care. I still want to do it, even so. I can’t imagine doing anything else.” Then what do we do?
First, let’s define our terms. Because I’ve written about happiness-in-game-development before, I was invited to talk at the Seattle Indies Expo about the topic. Then my dad died. So I was in the weird position of talking about happiness when I felt really sad. But never-being-sad is not the kind of happiness I’m talking about here. We want authentic happiness. Not the momentary pleasure of the hedonist, and not just smiles and laughter, but something more subtle and more lasting. That I’m-really-glad-to-be-alive feeling, even if I don’t happen to be eating a sumptuous meal or playing an awesome game at that very moment. You can be very sad that your dad is dead and also very glad to be alive at the same time. Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile describes this distinction in more detail. (That talk, by the way, is what inspired me to start posting about happiness-in-game-development again. I remembered I have a lot to say on the topic.)
Then, how about we try to measure our happiness? We can to an extent. There are websites, like Authentic Happiness and Happify.com, with surveys that will give you a very good indication of how you’ve been feeling lately. You might wonder why to do it. One reason is that when our mood sours, it feels like it’s always been that way. We forget that just yesterday we were on top of the world. It’s good to remember that it’s just a down in a series of ups and downs, and having an official record can help.
We can also get an idea where we stand. Maybe we feel ‘meh’. These tests can give us an idea whether that ‘meh’ is normal quiet desperation or we should seek therapy now.
And finally, we can make a game out of it. We’re gamers, so that should come naturally, right? When I started studying happiness science my CES-D score was usually in the double digits. By doing the work, I was usually able to keep it in the single digits, except when horrible stuff happened (like my dad dying.)
What kind of work? Well, the indie game developer’s malaise isn’t that different from other people’s run-of-the-mill unhappiness. So the same thing that fixes other people can fix us. The good news is the “set point” theory is kind of wrong. You can control your own happiness, but: it’s work; it doesn’t come from the things we commonly think it does; and we have to make it a priority. I’ve linked to these books before and I’ll probably link to them again - studies have shown that just reading a book can make you happier - The How of Happiness - Sonja Lyubomirsky and Feeling Good - David D. Burns.
They’re both a really good start.
But there are particular nuances and quirks of indie game development that pull us away from happiness, and I’ll try to cover them in future posts. In fact, there's so many I'm not sure where to begin, so I'd like to do some research. If you can let me know in the comments:
Are you indie? Are you happy? Why not?
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.