Archive for category: Indie Life

Tempus Fugit

09 Oct
October 9, 2015

At the end of this month, I will have been working on System Crash for four years.

Four years.

It’s hard to wrap my mind around that number. I’m in such a different place right now, that old life seems like a half-remembered dream.

I do remember desperation, though. Feeling trapped, like an animal. Dreams die hard, and I could feel mine kicking frantically in my chest as the daily grind slowly suffocated the life out of it.

There was nothing wrong with me. I was well-off, respected. I had great friends and an active social life. And yet, slowly but surely, desperation grew. I could feel the point approaching where I’d have to either let my dream die or do something drastic.

So I jumped.

Which was fairly unprecedented, for me. I’m not particularly brave. Or, to put it more generously, I err on the side of caution. But I guess the fear of what would happen if I made a move was eventually overpowered by the fear of what would happen if I didn’t.

It was a bit of a fuck up, though. I mean, obviously; I had originally estimated one year and here I am, four years later, still labouring to get the first game out.

I made plenty of mistakes in my design and my development process along the way. From choice of art style (I love SC’s art, but lots of indies have found success with abstraction and a stylized art style that gets them more bang for their art buck. I’ve been taking notes.) to stubbornly failing to triage certain beloved features the minute I saw that I’d run out of money before finishing them (The story campaign, for example. I should have released an arena card battler then used the money to build a story campaign in the sequel. I should be building that sequel now).

My game design isn’t as creative as I’d have liked, I basically just mashed together existing CCGs that I’d played, and I’m piss-poor at marketing and PR. I took ages to put up a proper website for the game, I don’t have a PR video or a Facebook page ready, and my blogging (the cheapest form of PR I could do) is erratic.

All in all, just a mess.

But…but the desperation is gone. I mean, I’m not where I want to be, yet, and I still want to get there, badly. But that animal in my chest isn’t kicking me in the ribs anymore. I’ve fucked up a lot, but at least I’m fucking up in generally the right direction. I’m doing something to make my dream a reality. And, to paraphrase Edison, I’ve figured out a bunch of things that don’t work.

So at least I can make different mistakes on the next game. 😉

Four years. Crazy That’s a hell of a lot of time to devote to a thing.

It’s also, I think, going to be the sum total of the thing. I’m anticipating being finished development by the end of this month. The game is looking good, just a little bit more playtesting to do and it’s a wrap. So, yeah, woo!

Here’s to four years! It was a crazy journey, but I’m ready to start a new adventure now!

Rinse And Repeat

29 Sep
September 29, 2015

Whew, another one of these articles? When will the “Indie GameDev Bubble” blog post bubble pop, I wonder?

Soon, hopefully.

The Doom That Came To Indielyria

12 Sep
September 12, 2015

If you follow the indie dev scene at all, you’ll probably have read a number of thinkpieces recently on whether or not there is an Indie Bubble, and whether that hypothetical bubble is in the process of collapsing. Jeff Vogel, Jonathan Blow and other big names have all weighed in.

A lot of the doomsayers refer to two particular graphs released by the marvelous SteamSpy. If you haven’t seen them yet, these are they:

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releases per month

They show that the number of games being released on Steam is increasing exponentially over time (although a not-insignificant portion of that is due to companies dumping their back-catalogue games on Steam now that the gates are open, mind), and that, while total monthly sales has remained fairly consistent, median sales is trending toward zero.

This proves, a lot of them claim, that the Doom is here, it’s upon us. Gather your loved ones and flee into the sea, the Doom is here, DOOM!

Now, I don’t know whether there is actually an indie bubble. Maybe, maybe not. What I do know is you can’t use that graph to draw the types of conclusions people are drawing from it. A little bit of statistics is a dangerous thing.

The problem lies in people claiming that the graph proves it is getting harder for the average developer to earn a decent income by selling their games. Because the median was higher in the past, and now it’s near zero. Makes sense, right?

No. It doesn’t.

That graph shows sales figures for Steam only, not games being sold as a whole. And Steam changed its policies to lower the bar to entry. Which means that a lot of developers that weren’t on Steam (and thus weren’t reflected in the stats) are now on Steam, and affecting values like the median.

Let me illustrate why this means you can’t draw real conclusions, if it isn’t already clear.

Let’s say you have the Olympic 100m sprint. And, for the sake of example, let’s suppose that 20 runners are allowed into the event, the top 20 in the world. And let us further suppose that big sports brands watch the event and award lucrative sponsorship deals to the top 10 runners in the race.

So 10 out of 20 earn lucrative sponsorship deals. That’s 50% of the Olympic runners who earn big bucks. So if you’re in that race those are some good odds at making money. The average earning will be fairly good, and the median earning for a runner in the sprint will also be pretty high, (the 10th place sponsorship amount)/2.

But let’s say that one year the Olympics committee decides that the Olympics needs to be more of a “people’s event”. They’ll let 1000 runners compete, and you don’t have to meet a particularly high barrier of entry, it’s first-come, first served. So what ends up happening is a whole bunch of “average joe” runners get in. They’re not going to beat Usain Bolt, but they figure it’s the Olympics, why not, what a lark!

They all run, and the top 10 get lucrative sponsorship deals, as before.

But the average and median will change. 10 out of 20 is 50% who earn money. 10 out of 1000 is only 1%. The overall amount of money given out stays constant, but the average earning of a runner competing in the 100m sprint drops way down, weighted by all those hundreds who didn’t earn anything. And the median will now be zero, because most of the sprinters didn’t earn a sponsorship deal.

So the question is, is the situation better or worse than it was before?

The answer is that it’s pretty much the same. The people who never had a chance to win lucrative sponsorship before still don’t have a chance. They’re dragging the stats down now that they’re being counted, but their earnings were always 0 and that hasn’t changed. The top athletes in the world were always competing with those people, it’s just that in the past they out-competed them to get a slot in the top 20 in qualifiers, now they’re out-competing them directly, on the day, in the race.

For the top athletes, the situation isn’t that much different. There will be some added competition from athletes who just missed the top 20 cutoff during qualifiers, but they had to out-compete them to get a spot in the top 20 anyway, so it’s just another qualifier.

The point here is that lowering the bar to entry and letting in a bunch of low-performers can dramatically alter the stats, simply because you’re counting people you never counted before. The median earnings of an Olympic runner will tend toward zero the more people you let run in that race, yes, but it doesn’t actually mean it’s really any harder to be a top earner.

It’s still as hard as it was before, ie fucking hard.

Which is why I don’t think you can really point to that graph as proving anything, besides that more devs are getting their games on Steam now.

Which we already knew.

What I’d be interested in, personally, is a graph showing number of indie devs earning above a certain amount, maybe a couple of hundred K, for the last few years. If that number has dropped, maybe The Doom is upon us. But I have a sneaking suspicion it’s actually gone up. That’s just my gut instinct from having followed the indie scene for a while, it seems like more indies are making a decent living in recent years, regardless of the “median” dropping. But that’s just a suspicion, it could be wrong.

African Game Devs At Gamescom

19 Aug
August 19, 2015

Let me kick off my Gamescom posts by sharing the piece I wrote for IGN on our trip, the motivation behind it, who went etc. In later posts I’ll talk about my experiences, personally.

Take a look!

Forgetful

18 Aug
August 18, 2015

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but System Crash is such a big project that I can’t hold all of it in my head at once.

The downside of this is that I keep having to relearn parts of my code. “Oh, that’s what I was doing here” etc.

The upside is that occasionally I’ll read a line of dialogue I forgot I wrote and think “Not bad, laddie, not bad at all!”

Gamescom Cosplay

16 Aug
August 16, 2015

I’ve been back a week now. But you’ll have to bear with me, I was utterly shattered when I got home, so for most of this week I’ve been doing little besides my day job, spending time with Michelle and sleeping.

I’ll report back on Gamescom soon, I promise. In the mean time, here’s a video of some cool cosplay. I can’t believe the Transformer didn’t cap it off, Iron Man is cool but that costume blew all the others away. I’ll post pics when I get a chance.

Gamescom!

28 Jul
July 28, 2015

Apologies for the lack of blog posts, I’ve been a bit swamped IRL lately. Various birthdays, including my own, some tax stuff to sort out (paperwork, yay, fun) and most importantly, getting my shit together for Gamescom!

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That’s right, in about a week I’ll be jetting off to my first ever big international game development conference, courtesy of a cultural exchange program between Make Games SA, local educational institutions and the Goethe Institut. Together with a number of other South African developers and educators, I’ll be meeting with international game developers, hanging out, attending game development talks, discussing “the biz”, and generally just networking and “exchanging culture”, which I think is code for “drinking beer and eating wurst”.

Fun times!

I won’t be presenting System Crash at the show, as I’m not really going in my personal capacity so much as a member of the MGSA delegation. But I’ll certainly have System Crash with me, and it won’t take much to get me to talk about it/show it off. 😉

So I’ll be gone all next week. But I will have my lappie with me. Assuming I can get some decent wifi (and avoid atrocious data roaming costs), I’ll post some updates from the show.

Wish me luck!

Cyberpunks Represent

27 Jul
July 27, 2015

It is the year 2015 and corporations exert their influence over every aspect of human life. The gulf between the haves and the have-nots grows ever wider, and the desperate underclasses rumble in discontent. The ecosystem teeters on the verge of collapse as corporate interests race to strip mine the planet of its natural resources, heedless of impending disaster. Wracked by internal strife and political corruption, the great powers turn inward. Foes old and new, emboldened, rise to threaten the established global order.

But some resist the New Order. Operating in the shadows, they forge their own path, living by the code of the street. They are the Runners…

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So, it happens that I recently crossed off another year around the Sun. I’m also, I feel, within a month or so of releasing System Crash. So I decided to do a combined birthday & release party deal. The theme, natch, was Cyberpunk.

The flat was plastered with cyberpunk art from System Crash and the classics of the genre, guests were offered “blue pill” and “red pill” shooters as they came in the door, and there was neon everywhere, of course.

Like all good cyberpunk media, there were Urban Punks and Street Gangers…

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…Street Samurai and Cyborgs…

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… and, of course, femme fatales.

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Also, these guys, who didn’t ask for this.

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And Greenbeard, the crazy ex-hacker who’s been on one too many Matrix runs.

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Thanks to all my friends who came out and made it such an awesome night. *Comic book guy voice* Best. Party. Ever.

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Hone your Edge and Fight The System, Runners!

Aaaaand There’s A Nasty Bug In The Beta

15 Jul
July 15, 2015

Beta releases are bittersweet. On the one hand, it’s the culmination of a lot of work, and it’s cool to see people enjoying it.

On the other, bugs. Immediate bug reports. Sometimes, nasty ones.

Ah well, good to catch the flipping things.

Beta 1.2.1.0 has a rather nasty hang bug. I’ve mailed the newsletter, but let me post the details here, for anyone who reads the blog but hasn’t subscribed to my newsletter, for reasons unknown. *cough* *hint* *cough*

System Crash saves out profile data to the install folder, mainly because I hate digging around in My Documents to find my save games.

Unfortunately, Windows UAC doesn’t like that when the game is installed to Program Files. Installing with UAC set to enabled results in the System Crash exe not having sufficient permissions to modify files in Program Files, even the save file it created.

So people are experiencing the problem where, when shutting down SC and restarting, the program hangs on a grey screen.

My apologies for not catching this issue, and any frustration it may have caused. I’m looking at a fix (probably saving your profile to My Documents. The Man has won :/).

In the mean time, you can do the following to continue playing:

1) Set the program to “run as admin”. This grants it rights to modify files in Program Files.

2) Copy your save files out of your current install (INSTALL_DIR\System Crash_Data\Gameplay\Profiles\YOUR_PROFILE.prof), uninstall System Crash, reinstall it somewhere else on your drive. Copy your save files in. Should work now.

3) As 2, but you turn UAC off and then reinstall in Program Files, if you really want it installed there. That will install the program with full file access rights, since with UAC off, programs are by default installed with the same rights as the user, and you are an Admin.

4) (Optional) Swear a dark curse upon the House of Microsoft, from now unto the 100th generation of Bill Gates’ line.

Sorry for the frustration, if you ran into this bug. And thank you for your patience while these beta issues are fixed.

I hope you’re enjoying the game, otherwise!

Gareth out.

Defining Success

26 Jun
June 26, 2015

When I think about releasing System Crash, it brings up a flood of emotions. Hope, excitement, anxiety, fear, all jumbled up together.

But fear, unfortunately, is a powerful, primal emotion- focus on it too much and it can grow, overshadowing all the others. When fear takes hold, excitement fades, motivation leaches away, and the brain switches to distraction-seeking activities in order to protect itself from being overwhelmed by anxiety.

And the more you’re invested, the greater the hope, the stronger the fear.

I’ve talked about this before, but the way I fight this is by reframing. I consciously choose to look at the situation differently. That might seem like ‘faking’, but it’s more self-persuasion. We’ve all experienced talking ourselves into or out of things, right?

For myself, this involves redefining what I consider to be a ‘success’. Choosing to look at success as not just the outcome of the making, but also what I’ve gained in the process of making something.

I can’t control how many units System Crash will sell, pinning my definition of success/failure solely on that metric leads to fear and anxiety. So instead I look at what I’ve achieved. I’ve built my first commercial video game, something I’ve been dreaming about my entire life. I’ve levelled up my skills in so many areas, in design, art, UX, networking and more.

And most importantly, I’m no longer a spectator cheering on the fighters in the arena, idly arguing over “how I would have done it”. I’ve left the stands, donned my armor, grasped my sword in sweaty hands and stepped out onto the blood-stained sands of the arena. I’ve put myself into the fight. And whether I win or lose my first battle, I’m out there putting myself to the test. I’m learning, in blood and sweat and pain, what works and what doesn’t. Where I need to improve, what my strengths and weaknesses are, and how to take a hit and keep on going.

That is real success. Progress. Challenge. Growth. Loving the process.

When you look at it like that, the last 3+ years are already a success. I know that sounds like some cornball hippy crap, but it’s the truth. And when I hold that firmly in the front of my mind, fear loses its hold. Eagerness, excitement and joy bubble back up, and I’m rearing to get back into the fight again.