"Don’t quit your day job" - A letter to the hobbyist on the ledge.
Alec Holowka tweeted something that rings pretty true when it comes to Going Indie.
I feel like a lot of people are considering going Indie and I’m not sure they really see how much work it is.— Infinite Ammo (@infinite_ammo) June 17, 2013
And I replied:
@infinite_ammo a big one is “i’m making games in my off hours, whoa! imagine if i had the whole time!” and then, that’s not really true.— Greg Wohlwend (@aeiowu) June 17, 2013
For a lot of game developers it’s the dream. Going indie means you probably have a cache of cash. Maybe 6 months worth or more if you’re lucky. Now it’s time to take the leap, put in your two weeks and buckle down.
It’s not a bad idea. I’ve been doing this full time for 6 years or so. I wouldn’t trade it for anything and I regularly encourage people to Just Do Things. I also identify on a deeper level with Full Time Indies but it’s not because we’re necessarily having more fun than everyone else making games. Actually, it’s the opposite.
We band together because we’re often weary. We trade stories of pain and sacrifice and it’s not honorable or anything, this is just Video Games after all, but we have an understanding on this side of the hedge. On the other side that stuff sounds sexy, like a rite of passage. “I could be Indie Game: The Movie!” You could and that’s awesome. But also, that’s a movie. A movie can’t really get at the dejected-forehead-on-desk-praying-it’ll-be-over-soon feeling that lies within. Depression that won’t let you fix anything in your life other than your game. An immortal solitude that’s safe yet destructive. The constant worry that the game isn’t fun enough. It’s not ready to show yet. You’ll convince yourself that what you’re doing is all for the good of the game. It’s all necessary. These chest pains that won’t let you sleep will someday be worth it. It’s not good enough (even though it’s great). It’s really good (even though it’s shit). ‘Which is which?”
There’s a reason that the most celebrated talks every year at the Independent Games Summit are also the most personal tales of failure and strife. Most recently, Matt Gilgenbach’s talk on Retro/Grade, Tommy and Alec’s talk about their struggles as early developers a couple years ago and many other glimpses into the emotional reality of making video games independently. It’s something many of us have to deal with in many different ways, and likely you will too.
Or maybe not. Maybe you’ll manage it. You’ll exercise regularly. You’ll keep to a schedule. See friends. Won’t lose sight of your hobbies, your friends, your relationships, or your sex life. Get heavily involved with the community. Show your game and get critical feedback. Allow yourself to not only work. It’s definitely possible. I know more than a few indies who seem to do this very well. But when you’re starting out and you now have 2 months in the bank and you can’t even see the end of your game, what do you do?
The thing with having a “Day Job” is that it auto-regulates your life. Maybe you work at a coffee shop, the apple store or a snooze-fest software company. For those 40+ hours a week you probably get some decent social interaction in. It’s not perfectly peachy or anything, but it’s not you alone in your bedroom. Scrap that though. You don’t need that. You wake up and just get to work, you’re cooking on 12-14 hour days and it’s great, but after 7 days you’re not sure if the idea is any good anymore. The exhaustion is setting in and you’re not as excited to get up in the morning and work on your game.
That day job you had meant more to your life than a steady paycheck and a barrier to Getting Your Game Done. It was a way for your brain to cook up ideas. To relax. Chances are it wasn’t the most challenging thing for you to spend 8 hours a day on, and so: you dreamt. You fantasized about all the things you’d pour into your game as soon as you got home. It was nearly a guarantee that you were super pumped to work on your game whenever the chance presented itself.
Also! You didn’t have to worry about reality quite as much. Sure you want the game to do well but if it tanks or never gets done then at least you don’t have to find another job, go on unemployment or get evicted.
Your job was a benevolent enemy. A sparring partner that focused you intensely for a few hours every weeknight. When that’s gone, what will drive you?
I know this is really preachy. Going Indie is amazing. I want way more of us to do so. But it’s a serious life decision and not always the best way to make more games. If it’s working for you now, and you just don’t see a way to finish your project without going full time, maybe your project is too big. If you are about to go indie, have 6 months of runway and don’t think you’ll be able to finish your game in 6 months while still working your day job, then I’d say to wait until you can. Then consider quitting.
It might even be HARDER to finish after you quit your job. Changing up your life that dramatically might stymie your motivation within mere weeks and you’re left paralyzed. Work might be an unseen support system for you. It’s easy to overlook the value of your coworkers when you are truly passionate about making something. As an indie, you’ll have none. Maybe one.
This is likely your first game, and if it’s The One, that could be a problem too. Putting too much stock in your first game is often a bad idea. It only compounds the amount of pressure in an already highly pressurized situation. There are myriad of lessons waiting for anyone who ships a video game, free and especially commercial. Some of those are impossible to learn unless you’re full time, but the healthy majority are learnable by taking it gradually.
I could write another thousand words on why you should just jump already. That you won’t know yourself until you just do it. But that’s for those afraid of heights. You’re a jumper.
If you’re excited to work on your game when you get home, you love it and love working on it, why get married?