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Climbing Mt. Everest in sneakers and shorts: My attempt at going pro

KramerGames

  • Posts: 399
About two weeks ago I downloaded Stencyl, a few hours after that I decided to become a professional Indie-Developer even though I have no experience in programming nor drawing nor design. I am making this journal so it can serve as an inspiration, or more likely as a warning, to others. I assume there are quite a few people who are considering/dreaming of doing the same, so it will be interesting to see how an actual attempt goes. As the title implies, I am aware of the odds, but for me not trying and always wondering “what could have been” is worse than spending a few months and realizing nothing could have been and its time to move on.

This state of “what could have been” has actually been a dark shadow over my head for many, many years. Though I haven't played much in the past 10 years or so (the last mobile game I played was “Snake” on a Nokiaphone), I have spent countless hours creating games in my mind. So I decided I have to try it at least once, and luckily I discovered Stencyl, which made the first steps so easy.

About myself: I am in my late 20s, have been traveling for the past 8 years around the world playing online poker (and feel kinda reminded now of when I said I will make a living out of that and noone believed me). Currently I am living in a bamboo hut on an island in Thailand with monkeys all around, but I will soon return to Northern Thailand.

I do not have a time frame for when to give up, my savings are not a lot but my costs of living are very low. Right now I just want to make one game and see how long it takes me, what the result is, how it will be received and if it makes any money. Even if it fails on every level, I will likely make another game to see the progress.



My first game is a comedic tycoon type game where you have to manage a very shady factory for frozen foods. Unfortunately I went a bit overboard with ideas that I wanted to put in and ended up with quite a lot of stuff. So far I'm counting over 100 lists and many more attributes. I have not yet started with the design, I just drew one building on paper and realized I have to learn more about perspective and drawing in general so it wont look like an untalented 5 year old drew it.
So far a lot of my time went into trying to understand why this or that doesn't work as I had planned, and why the hell now that other thing that used to work doesn't work anymore either, whole days were lost on that. But every time that happened I learned something and I'm already starting to see some progress, I am making less mistakes and have become better at finding them.




PS: I have put it in this forum since the one for journals seem to be all about a specific game, while I wanted to give more of a bigger picture view, like ceosols thread about his income. I'll leave it to a mod whether this thread should be moved or not.
Parasites United  (Idle Parasite Game)

ceosol

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Welcome to the club. For your's and other's reference, check out my various threads documenting me doing the same thing:
financial transparency thread: http://community.stencyl.com/index.php/topic,43678.0.html
which was a continuation of: http://community.stencyl.com/index.php/topic,38536.0.html
talking a little bit about the future of ceosol: http://community.stencyl.com/index.php/topic,44584.0.html
talking about my past and current indie background: http://community.stencyl.com/index.php/topic,44890.0.html

Here are some words of advice:
1. Unless you are extremely lucky, it is going to be really tough starting out. The projections for starting a new business state that the first two years of a start-up company will be a net loss. By year 5, you will find out whether the business model is viable - meaning you will either be making enough money to continue or you need to stop or start over with a new model.

2. If you want to go the contract route like I have, you NEED a portfolio. That means doing a bunch of small games. Pick concise mechanics that you can bang out in a couple of weeks. It doesn't matter if those games are big hits. Your clients will like that you have gone from start to finish on a project. Make sure that the games also show different mechanics from each other to indicate how adaptable you are to your client's needs.

3. You have to think business before having fun making games. Here is a link about that topic: http://www.gamesbrief.com/2011/02/12-business-tips-for-indie-game-developers/ (imo, number 1, 2, 10 and 12 are absolutely essential!!!). Like number 10 said, work with the community. I started out doing collaboration projects with other Stencylers. Unfortunately, only one of those projects led to a published game, but I still learned a lot.

4. (Similiar to 1) It can be very tough. There was an article I read about indie development (sorry, I can't find it now). One thought in the article stood out to me. It read something like, "You will hit some rough patches along the way. If you have a passion for indie development, do whatever you can to make it through those times." I hold that to be very true in my own experiences. Contract work sucks - just being honest. The clients are almost all crazy and some try to screw you out of money (and quite a few have succeeded). I've had a few jobs where my hourly rate gets down to $2/hr. However, I know with my current skill level that I would not produce a successful game on my own. Contract work is a necessity for the time being.

5. Even with all of that said, I absolutely love it. I was so beat down and stifled in my old career as a professor (sorry merrak hahaha). Now, my time is my own. If I feel like working on one game over another or even just taking the day off, I do it. Almost all of my clients (probably because of being crazy), let me have creative freedom on the projects. I am so happy with the decision to become an indie developer.

Since I am writing these kinds of posts inspiring people to become full-time Stencyler, I want them all to succeed. If you need any help from me, please let me know.

« Last Edit: April 27, 2016, 11:57:42 am by ceosol »

KramerGames

  • Posts: 399
Thanks a lot for that great post! I have read it several times and learned a lot from it.
Parasites United  (Idle Parasite Game)

ceosol

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No problem. A lot of times I get offered collaborations for these absolutely massive projects. For the most part, I decline. However, if you have some idea for a small game and want to work with me on it, please let me know.

merrak

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5. Even with all of that said, I absolutely love it. I was so beat down and stifled in my old career as a professor (sorry merrak hahaha). Now, my time is my own. If I feel like working on one game over another or even just taking the day off, I do it. Almost all of my clients (probably because of being crazy), let me have creative freedom on the projects. I am so happy with the decision to become an indie developer.

Since I am writing these kinds of posts inspiring people to become full-time Stencyler, I want them all to succeed. If you need any help from me, please let me know.

Haha--education definitely has its moments :P It's the right fit for me, but I can certainly see why someone would feel that way.

Speaking of which, these sorts of threads are very valuable. Every so often I have a student tell me they want to do game development. It's good to have some sources on what challenges they might face, what realistic expectations should be, etc.

Having been around the forums for a while now, it seems one of the more common mistakes newcomers make is starting out with a massive project in mind. Think simple.

ceosol

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  • Posts: 2094
Having been around the forums for a while now, it seems one of the more common mistakes newcomers make is starting out with a massive project in mind. Think simple.

The other biggest mistake that newcomers make is thinking that they will get rich. I will admit, I did not think that it would be as hard as it has been when I first started. However, I have been around startup companies enough to see the 2 year/5 year rule in effect (#1 in my advice post above). I was a consultant in one of those startup companies. They had the backing of three venture capitalists to start up. Some time in year two, there wasn't enough money to pay the employees. I actually worked for free for 3 or 4 months. Finally, I left. About six months after I left, the venture capitalists all pulled out and the company was gutted. It was surprising because they had a really great idea. Unfortunately, the starting materials were bad and they could never take it all the way to a finished product.

Long story short, even if you have a great idea, you might still fail. It happens. Even though I have revenue right now, I might still fail. It is just the way the business runs. I don't have any data to support this, but here is a rough guess on how indie developers fair:

1. 0.01% of indie developers become millionaires. This seems more based on a game going viral or faking 10,000 downloads to get started (like flappy bird allegedly did). If you go wild spending money without making any new products, I suppose you could fall into #2.

2. 1% of indies make a significant amount of money. I do not know their exact financials, but I think AdventureIslands and Colburt's gang fall into this. By significant, I mean enough to pay rent/bills and still have more money left over to play around with and/or hire out work. If you play your cards right and work really hard at expanding your business, you could eventually move up into #1. Your revenue might hit a dry spell also and drop you into 3.

3. 10% of indies make enough to survive. This is where I fall in. It basically means you can pay rent and eat, but not much else. Trust me though, this is still an amazing category to fall into as an indie :) Just keep backup plans in mind if the revenue stream dies. Hopefully this is just a phase for your business and you can move up into #2.

4. 50% of indies make some money, but still need to find employment elsewhere. Having a full time job and making some money on the side from video games is still awesome. It simply means that you might not be making games all of the time. If you are doing full time indie and fall into this category, make sure you have backup plans or enough money in the bank to cover expenses for a while. Start thinking outside of the box for ways to make money as an indie. Talking to local business (like what jorannpe did) or your town's officials (like TheIndieStation is doing) is a fantastic idea.

5. The rest of indies make next to nothing. Although, you might still make enough to cover production costs/subscriptions. If you fall into this category, that is fine. Just keep making games for the fun of it. The pitfall of starting out with big projects when going full time indie is that you might fall into this category and not even realize it for a few months or years. I was in this category for my first 9 months as a full time indie (although I did take 3-4 months off for family matters shortly after starting). Now looking back, I am glad that I snapped out of my stupor. :D

Super Meat Boy seems to be the go-to for newcomers expecting to make millions. Keep in mind, McMillen had been developing for 8+ years and Refenes for 9+. It still took them almost 2 years to develop the game (even though the Indie documentary covers the last 6 months). They also had Meat Boy as a starting prototype and initial fan base. To be fair, I also used Indie Game: The Movie as inspiration to start developing. The difference is that I did not look at the sales figures for inspiration. Instead, I saw how passionate all of the developers were and I wanted that in my life.

gurigraphics

  • Posts: 688
My estimate is less than this. I think that is unless of 1% of indies make enough to survive.

In this community, for example, developers over two years, there is not 10 of each 100 who live of this. Is much less. And increasingly less.

Because games is not a profession as teacher that there job for those who are average.

Games is like athletics. There is only place for the bests.

When launched iPhone and Android you could earn millions with making wallpaper and snake game. Now not anymore. Because everyone does it. And the revenue is divided among all.

As in any market, the time of "games handicraft" tends to disappear. And only groups and companies will can compete in this market.

Even though there are always the exceptions.

ceosol

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My estimate is less than this. I think that is unless of 1% of indies make enough to survive.

In this community, for example, developers over two years, there is not 10 of each 100 who live of this. Is much less. And increasingly less.
Yes, I can agree with that. Like I said, I had no data to base those numbers on - I just made up some figures. Truthfully, the picture probably is more bleak. That shouldn't stop anybody whom is passionate about indie game development, though. Read #4 in my first post. If you are passionate, do whatever you have to do to make it through the rough times. If you cannot see yourself still wanting to do indie dev when/if things get rough, it probably isn't the best career choice for you. A fellow Stencyler told me something that his mother said, "if you want to be an indie game developer, be ready to sleep on your friend's couch or live in a garage."



KramerGames

  • Posts: 399
I'm gonna try to make weekly updates in here to have an overview of my progress.

First of all, I would like to add myself to the list of beginners mentioned by merrak, my first game has really gotten out of hands in complexity and amount of work required. It's been 3 weeks now and I still haven't actually designed anything. I've had many delays because things just didn't work correctly and fixing them cost me an entire day. Often times I woke up and thought “today I'm gonna do A, B, C and maybe even start with D”, flash forward to 3am and I'm half dead in front of my laptop thinking “I want to at least finish A before going to sleep”, and eventually I have to give up because my brain stops grasping things.

I've had some physical setbacks as well. Clicking, scrolling and dragging all day has caused inflammation in my hand and wrist, it got to a point where it was really painful and rest was required to not make it worse or even chronic. I had to switch to my left hand, which delayed my work even more.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel though, and hopefully in a week actually get an idea on how long it will take me to finish it.

As for the drawing, I have started with various books, one on general drawing, one on cartooning. I did some tutorials and also picked up random stuff on the street to practice real life drawing and improve my feeling for perspective. I've seen some nice progress and was able to draw some cats and rats (those were not the things I picked up from the streets) that only seem to have slight birth defects, compared to my first attempts that if they were real life, probably would not have been able to walk.
Though my plan was to spent as little as possible, I have decided to buy a graphic tablet which should cost about 100$ and even if this project here goes wrong, I might use it for other stuff or simply sell it. Drawing with a mouse is just so much harder and takes a lot more time for a worse result, not to mention the unnecessary strain on my hand.

I am very soon going back to Northern Thailand where I have a printer (with a manually added tank for almost free printing), a decent office chair, can order the Graphic Tablet online and buy a decent triangle for drawing (I have checked pretty much every store on this island without luck). It's just that every time I go swimming at the beach and have a nice long walk in the evening enjoying the sunset, I can't help myself but to extend my stay for another day.
The moving itself will cost my quite some time, I have to take a bus, a ferry, a plane, a tuk tuk and then find a new apartment, all in all loosing as much as 2 days. And since my laptop doesn't work on battery, I can't do too much while sitting around.


Parasites United  (Idle Parasite Game)

gurigraphics

  • Posts: 688
Quote
(... )sleep on your friend's couch or live in a garage (...)

It is already more professional than do it alone in free time. ^ ^

Quote
(...) As for the drawing, I have started with various books, one on general drawing, one on cartooning.

You need to choose: drawing, animation or programming.

With $100 you buy graphics that in two years you will not be able to do better.
Even that you use one whole month doing only this.
Even the graphics free, you will not be able to do better so early.
You will work one month for $100?

Better to learn it later.
And focus on learning only programming and game design. That is also a lot of things.
And for that, no there need to create any game. Only prototypes.

But if this is just a Hobby, okay.


ceosol

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Here's another guy who posts his income reports. I have been following him for a couple of years. He was my inspiration for posting my own financials:
http://www.truevalhalla.com/blog

Keep in mind, he is lightyears ahead of me in the business :D

KramerGames

  • Posts: 399
@ gurigraphics:
I agree that it would be much more efficient to buy the graphics, but I enjoy doing my own. The drawing aspect is one of the main reasons I am trying game design. I mentioned it earlier, I am not going for maximum efficiency but what I enjoy the most, otherwise I could just do something else and make more money there.


Update:

Another week (and some days...) has passed. I have relocated to Northern Thailand, took the first apartment I looked at and minimized the lost time. I'm still working hard on my game and only had one big setback when my windows started acting funny and I couldn't use Stencyl for a day. Nevertheless this week has been the smoothest in terms of “things working the way I was hoping them to work”, I usually need a few attempts to get a new mechanic to work but it's no longer an almost unsolvable puzzle to locate the error but a simple routine.
It also dawned on me that I spent 4-5 days on something that could have been done in a day and use less resource, meaning I had to redo it. That was pretty frustrating but I guess it's part of learning. From now on I will try to watch at least 30 minutes each day of Stencyl tutorials.


I am very close to putting the game I have been working on for a month now on hold. It has gotten so complex that changing a few details takes a huge amount of time, possibly more than it would take me to make a new game. I give myself until sunday morning and see how close I am to finish the mechanics, and then decide whether to finish it or start a new one.


My quest to become good at drawing is quite a roller coaster. On the one hand I managed to copy a nice drawing of Jimi Hendrix (that is definitely recognizable as Jimi Hendrix) on the other hand I fail hard at copying cartoon faces. I still haven't bought a graphic tablet, I will do that in a few days, just have to move some money around.
Which brings me to my next and last subject, I haven't worked for 31 days now and as always my savings are slipping away much faster than I expect them to. I might have to start making money soon, but hate the thought to progress only half as fast with my game. I will also make a decision about that on Sunday.

« Last Edit: May 11, 2016, 12:12:54 am by KramerGames »
Parasites United  (Idle Parasite Game)

ceosol

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First off, I think it is a fantastic idea keeping a "blog" about your progress. As merrak said, a lot of new developers would be inspired. You are inspiring me and I am thinking about starting my own blog (aside from the financial transparency thread).

I think it is very insightful of you to step back and look at your progress this early. I fell into the same trap in my first year - games just kept getting more complicated and I began realizing that it would take me months of years to finish them. When you are starting out indie and draining down your bank account, it is a very sobering experience. I began to feel like I couldn't handle it.

What saved me was taking a step back and evaluating my prospects. I spent a couple of days writing out all of my game ideas. I included what was missing from each and how long it would take me to finish. I then ranked all of my games by estimated completion time. It really helped me focus on what I was doing, putting the larger games on the back burner.

KramerGames

  • Posts: 399
After a few more days of working on my Tycoon Game I made enough progress to see that the end is indeed far away. I did what Ceosol suggested (Thanks!) and thought about the different games I was planning to get a bigger picture, and decided to put the Tycoon game on hold. It truly hurts not to see the actual game soon, but it would take me too long to finish it and the risk of it not working in the end due to lag or an unsolvable error was becoming too high. Besides that I have a plan to combine my ultimate goal in life of becoming a writer with my foray into gamedesign:I want to write a short novel for every game I make and publish it as an ebook, so I can spread the word about it in the game and circumvent what has always stopped me from selfpublishing, which is having to spent a lot of time and effort for advertising (instead of spending that effort into writing a better book). Though I do have an idea for a story that is centered around a factory for frozen food, other games offer much better stories.

I decided to work on my Shooter where you have a static character shooting at increasing waves of enemies. I though it would be funny if it was a Chef standing on a restaurant shooting at rats. I spent a few days making the basic dynamics and got it to work, though one of those days was spent running in a circle as always... I had found that the bullets were too slow, but when making them faster by switching to simple actors or, another attempt, increase the limit in the engine as suggested by forum members, the collision wasn't as precise. Since I want to differentiate between headshots and body shots (in a tiny rat), it had to be very precise. In the end I decided to simply create a 1x1 invisible actor at the location of the mouseclick and make a fake bullet fly there for the visual effect. The downside is that the bullets only hit exactly where the mouse was clicked, which might feel a bit strange since you would naturally expect them to keep flying and hit everything that is in their path.

With the basic mechanics done I switched back to drawing, and that's where the trouble started that ended with me hammerfisting my laptop and throwing my cellphone against the wall. Both survived, but I might have screwed up my harddrive. The pressure started building up when it dawned on me how different gamedesign and drawing are. Once I have a mechanic figured out, it is working. There might be better ways to do it and I will get faster over time, but it is working. Figuring out how to draw something doesn't get you nearly as far. Knowing how to draw a house in perspective doesn't mean you can draw a house, you still have to practice it over and over until it starts looking decent.

One week ago I bought a graphic tablet and was pretty much blown away by the new possibilities. I spent one day just drawing colored things to see the effects and try out different programs, but when I tried to do some actual drawings, I realized that my lines where really shaky. I thought it's just the different resistance of the tablet compared to the paper and I just need some practice, so I spent hours drawing straight lines until I realized that something must be wrong. I googled and found out that I wasn't the only one, and when placing a ruler on the tablet it confirmed that it didn't work. Google further confirmed that it is a software problem, so I spent an entire day trying to get it to work with no success. At some point I decided to just return it and get one from a different company. Since the shops here in Thailand only had Wacom, I wanted to order one online. After I had looked through every online shop here, I couldn't find anything that wasn't wacom and didn't have a delivery time of 30 days. It was after that and around 4 am after another unsuccessful installment of a different driver combined with a different program that I blew up. At some point I just had to accept that I have to work with a badly working tablet and poor drawing skills, but at least the shaky lines aren't that bad when I zoom in a lot and draw them fast. That night I managed to stay up until dawn even though I had told myself to go to sleep before midnight.

The next few days I spent writing my novel where things always work smoothly. If the pen doesn't write, it needs more ink, that's all. In less than 4 days I finished a first draft of 90 handwritten pages. I am now typing those up and edit along the way. I will probably print them out to make notes with a pen and do a final editing round with those notes. And then I have to translate the whole thing into English (I am writing it in German, my native language).

It sure isn't high literature, but just like the complexity of the game and the quality of the drawing I have to do the best I can in a somewhat limited time frame and improve over time.

Parasites United  (Idle Parasite Game)

KramerGames

  • Posts: 399
It's been pretty much a month now since I started working on my “rat shooter”. A good part of it was writing the novel, which stills needs to be edited and translated, and another “good” part was doing things that I could have done way faster or shouldn't even have done in the first place. But every time I get frustrated because I just did a lot of work without results, I have to remind myself that I skipped the whole learning part and jumped right in, and now that learning part is chasing me and occasionally biting my ass. That's fine though, learning is inevitable. I did hear a voice that suggested to just give up this whole game design a few times last week, but so far I haven't really considered that. Especially now that I am getting close to...

...present you a first version of my rat shooter, called Pasta Hero. The goal of the game is to defend your pasta restaurant, where the dough is made fresh every day and the sauces are heavenly, against an invasion of mutant rats. There are 8 weapons and 7 different types of rats: Except for the gray one they all do different things. e.g. the red one is a communist and is stronger the more other rats are around, the green one gains strength the longer it is alive and the black ninja rat becomes (almost) invisible and might even kill one of your cats if it gets inside the restaurant.
Cats can be bought and trained to fight off rats that got inside. Since the game is only lost when there are more than 10 rats inside, they might save your ass. Training them means essentially letting some rats inside for them to kill, which should be done with caution...


I also decided that loosing a level means game over. I don't like those games where you just grind your way up by replaying an easy level over and over and then blast through the levels with the best weapons, though I'm aware that those are quite popular.
As you can hopefully see in the video, there is a difference between shooting the body and the head. Getting a lot of headshots is essential to beat the game since they will improve your skill for each weapon (=higher frequency and faster reload times) and give you more money...because you sell those dead rats to some fast food chain for burger meat and a headshot leaves more meat in one piece :-) .
Some rats are wearing rockets that boost their speed, some are wearing pillows on their back (and as we all know, a fluffy pillow can stop AK47 bullets...) or a little helmet. While the ideas for equipment were endless, I am glad that I drew the line very early. Those 3 little things took quite some time already...


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ii-DzuJSns4

(I can't figure out how to add en embed version in the forum)


This is pretty much the first time I did animation since I drew a flipcartoon on the edges of dictionary when I was 16, and enjoyed it very much. I am unhappy with all of it (especially the walking cacle of the rats=moonwalking with crippled legs...) and my to do list includes “do that again” for every animation. Nevertheless I have decided to leave it as it is because I don't want to keep raising the stakes. I am a bloody noob in this business and maybe I realize after I have published that I made huge design errors and almost no one can play it or I manage to upload the game to a fake site where it get's stolen or...whatever can go wrong will go wrong. In that case I would be incredibly glad not to have spent more time on this game. If everything goes well, I can make a sequel and use everything I have learned to produce much better results per time.

Please feel free to criticize my game, I have a thick skin and as long as it's constructive I don't mind if it's rough.
Parasites United  (Idle Parasite Game)