An Honest Reflection On How Tough Life Can Be As An Indie Game Developer

Three cheerful young designers working on new project
This picture isn’t even remotely representative of what it’s like to make a video game. It’s very lonely, there is no smiling, and there will be no reward or feeling of success when the game is finally complete and released.

With Teragard now released, you would think that I’d be very excited. And while I sometimes am excited, I want to write a post about how launching a game, as well as the years of work that goes into making one, is actually really unpleasant and demotivating.

On Critical Reception

A frustrating thing about game design is that people will give the same number of shits (zero) regardless of whether you’ve made an ambitious & innovative game, or a mediocre by-the-books game.

I could release utter crap, or I could try to make something genuinely new that brings the genre forward and that represents my passion for this work, but either way, very few people will buy the game, and the same “potential” players will complain about the same dumb things (usually graphics). No matter how much work I put in, no one ever seems to care.

On Balancing Game Development With Another Career

I’m not a full-time game developer. My “real” career is in higher education as a college administrator. Supposedly, that’s the thing that’s paying the bills. However, I’m job-searching at the moment, and it hasn’t been going well.

Being a game designer says so much about my work ethic, my adaptability, and my willingness to learn new responsibilities, but no one I’ve ever interviewed with for a job has ever understood just how uniquely valuable my skills are, thanks to my experiences with game design.

For example, I am perfectly comfortable taking on a wide variety of roles, fixing systems that are broken or improving the ones that already work, and I know my way around a spreadsheet better than anyone because I’m also a programmer. But because no job interviewer can relate to video games at all, they are just bewildered and confused why I even have being a game developer on my resume. In every job I have ever applied for, I feel like the transferable skills I have from being a game designer couldn’t be more obvious…

But no matter how clear my resume is, or well I articulate that I can lead massive projects through from beginning to end and beyond, job interviewers just do not understand the relevance.

I don’t mind that interviewers don’t understand the planning, programming, writing, editing, troubleshooting, art direction, graphics design, music composition, marketing, customer service, and post-launch updates, that go into each game… because that stuff is unique to being a game developer. But it should go without saying that if I can do all of those things by myself, and am always learning ways to get better, and can bring such a huge project with many different components to completion, that I would be a damn good fit for any employer.

The worst is when job interviewers assume that, because I am willing to do multiple jobs and am in the habit of working very hard and outside of work hours, that me being a game designer will DISTRACT me from doing the job I’m applying for.

And of course, I have tons of experience working in the field of education. So when I apply for these jobs, those are the experiences and skills I highlight first, obviously. My being a game designer is at the bottom of my resume, and complements all of my other experiences well. But they do not care. In most job interviews I’ve had, the interviewers either ignore that I have game design on my resume, or they ridicule it.

I have always been so committed to being the best educator I can be (and the best game developer I can be too), and yet neither of those “careers” have ever lead to any success.

On Trying To Get Friends Excited About Your Work

I have zero friends or family who “get it.” Absolutely no one understands just how much work goes into each project.

When I say that making a game takes more than 1000 hours, that’s an amount of time that people simply are not able to comprehend. “It takes years,” I will say, “and the work is very lonely and tedious. It’s extremely challenging.” But still, they don’t get it.

Despite me doing game design for a few years now (technically 15 years, but I kept game development as a secret hobby until I “made it” when my first commercial game was published), I still get the same dumb questions and unrealistic expectations from people that are supposedly “close” with me. It honestly bothers me.

And to top it all off, most of the people close to me are not retro gamers like I am. They’ll play current stuff, here and there. It’s tough that I’m surrounded each day by people who are absolutely not the target audience for my games and have no real interest in what I’m doing.

In fact, I don’t know if I have ever met someone in real life who is as into retro gaming as I am. Thank goodness for the Internet, because it is extremely rare for me meet people in real life who like RPGs, let alone retro ones.

Anyway, it’s tough. I work really hard on my games, and then excitedly talk about them with my friends and family, and they just say some variation of “that’s nice” because they don’t really care and it’s not for them.

On Wanting To Matter

I guess the reason I’ve been ranting about all of this, ultimately, is because I work so hard at everything I do, and I desperately wish that someone cared, that it meant something to someone, anyone.

Instead, I have NEVER felt appreciated or recognized as a game designer, nor as an educator for that matter. I feel like it doesn’t matter how much effort I put into literally everything I do, people will only ever treat me like I’m invisible.

It makes me want to shut myself off from the rest of the world, not even bother trying… But I just can’t do that, because I’m extroverted and only thrive when I’m around people. But when people, both offline and online, don’t care about who I am or what I do, it’s tough.