I know there’s been a lot of writing about indie game companies and startups, so you’ll have to excuse my additional writing on those topic as they are very much what my life is about at present. I hope this article provides some level of reassurance and perhaps help for those of you who might be striking out on your own and feeling anxiety as you begin to foster your dream and grow it into something sustainable. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I can share my journey thus far and some of the things I’ve encountered and experiences I’ve learned from.
Last I wrote, my company, Addo Games, was working on promoting the heck out of our Kickstarter project for our first indie game, Robots Love Ice Cream. Thanks to a lot of help from folks on Twitter who became passionate about our game and our company, coupled with some cold calls to web luminaries and their resulting shout-outs, we managed to succeed in raising funds to develop our game. In fact, the last day of the whole campaign was the least stressful. We had a blast connecting with people however we could manage.
A lot of what I’ve learned thus far during our game project extends beyond the realm of development and resides more in the areas of business ownership and growth as a leader, capable of running a company towards some measure of success (as opposed to right into the ground!). These aspects are vital to acknowledge and understand the importance of, for as a business owner, you likely have creative and development resources depending on you and working to be a part of what you’re doing. They’re counting on you to guide the project through rough waters and see the project to its intended destination. This post is going to cover some of what I call “gut checks” that I have to call myself on and assess myself against to make sure I’m heading in the right and responsible direction with my game and business.
You are the biggest fan your game will ever have
For me, Robots Love Ice Cream is this pent-up release of influence from the games I’ve loved all of my life. I spend a lot of time thinking (sometimes even worrying) about my game. Similarly, your game is probably pervading your mind and life in general and you’re likely very vested in its success every moment you’re awake. Some of you, like myself, have made sacrifices and perhaps even burned some bridges to put yourself in this position to make this dream a reality. This game project of yours is what keeps your mind racing at night (in my case either from wonderment about what the game could be or worry over making parts of it happen as I want).
Given your position and that level of passion, why would you not do your best in spreading the word? Without you getting the word out, your game will likely not succeed. Unfortunately, we have no certain way to ensure our game goes just like the movie, Field of Dreams (“If you build it, they will come.”). My wife and I have had a lot of people ask us over the past few weeks how we received so much media coverage during our Kickstarter. I have no definitive answer as to why these people helped us other than that they’re incredibly generous with their connections, resources, and time. I can tell you what we did that we could control. For a month of our Kickstarter, we lived by the phrase “The answer is always no if you don’t ask.” Get out of your comfort zone. Be sincere, appreciative, and humble in your requests for help. Some of our promotion efforts made me incredibly uncomfortable and required me to get outside of my comfort zone to contact people, reach out to friends and family for support, and the like. Still, I did the best I could and continued cold-calling people and asking them for their help. I used the term “hand-up” a lot in my communications to describe what we needed from game/tech writers and media personalities. They owed us nothing, but we presented ourselves in a humble way and shared our dream. About 90% of the time, we were successful with these efforts. That’s 90% more effective than if I let my anxiety get to me and didn’t try at all! I’d like to speculate there’s a correlation in there between the humble ask and a humbling return, but I don’t like to approach anything as if I’ve got it all figured out. Lastly on this topic, know that just because you have a game doesn’t mean the world is required to care. Find out what is currently out there that your future customers are already engaging and connecting with and figure out how you can relate to them at the same level with your game.
Rolling with the punches
Throughout your project, you’re likely to come across some very challenging things that will stand in your way. How you will fare through these challenges depends on how you deal with them, and more importantly perhaps, the demeanor in which you deal with them. We’ve been constantly forced to ask ourselves, “Is this what we really want? Are we willing to sustain these costs right now to see what it’s like on the other side?” Those questions for us are much more numerous. To note, our Kickstarter efforts aren’t going to pay for everything. Becca and I are still responsible for finding the work we need to pay our household bills. That aside, these experience have really affirmed that this is, in fact, what I want to do for a living. We’ve had a lot of interesting events occur, but it’s been slightly rewarding, even to myself, to see that I’m starting to handle hiccups and setbacks in a more mature way with each passing day.
Getting your ducks in a row
This section addresses the things you usually have control of, but have the full ability to consciously or subconsciously relinquish control of if you’re not careful.
I’m a serial procrastinator. This is perhaps one of the biggest adversaries to having my own company. I’ve found that I work better the quicker I can get myself on record with a deliverable date and my word at stake for each task. In other words, I tend to work better when I tell someone else I’ll have task A done by time X (scary how much that sounds like an employee’s comfort zone, but it works for me). My repeated and regular progress on tasks will likely remain a work in progress for some time, but as I mentioned earlier, you have to be willing to gut check yourself and make sure that you’re growing and maturing in a way that provides your business and your product the best chances to succeed. I’m confident you’ll see the same growth if you consistently step outside of yourself and give yourself am impartial assessment. It’s almost like an entirely different definition of “being your own boss”.
Here are some good questions to regularly ask yourself as you’re working through your project:
- Am I doing everything I can to ensure this project is a success?
- Could I be more effectively promoting my game?
- Do I need help with something and am I being too proud to ask for the right help?
- With my level of effort between now and a given deadline, can I reach my intended goal?
- Am I taking care of myself? This could be exercise, bad sleep habits, partying too much, etc.
- Follow up – Do I need to take a break? Make sure you’re not fast-tracking yourself to becoming burnt out.
- Does everyone know what they’re supposed to be doing?
If anything, this post is as much for myself as it is for you. These are things that I have to constantly check myself on to be the dependable leader our project deserves. If you’re going through this list and you’ve got items you need to work on as well, fear not. We’ve all got things we need to work on to become better at what we do; contractor, employee, or business owner. To take a quick step back and look at how much of my efforts on the project have been spent on the business aspects (and I’m the sole developer on the game right now), I probably underestimated that amount of time by a factor of 3 and that’s a role that I need to grow into faster than I originally expected.
The key is to be honest with yourself. Your dream is at stake and you need to make sure you can call yourself out on your shortcomings and work to address them for the sake of that dream.