Indie and day job, making it work

A large percentage of the indie developers have to work on their project at night and/or weekends.
In order to pay the bills they have to maintain a day job. There’s no shame in that, many do it, I do it, not everyone can make a mega jump right into fame and fortune with a single project.

The rest of us mere mortals have to gradually build a fan base, learn from past mistakes, do better PR, etc.
Looking at successes like World of Goo, Braid, Trainyard, it all sounds so easy, everyone quickly makes such huge hype that it seems like they only have to finish the game and they are instantly rich.

But it isn’t, some of them started just like the rest of us, working at night till they had a lucky break.

I’ve talked a bit about maintaining motivation on another post but there’s more in that.

First of all there’s the problem with “getting into the zone” or “wired” or whatever you wanna call it. That state of mind where you are immersed into the project, no distractions. It can happen after half an hour or 2hours, but it’s usually very difficult to start right away. Steve Streeting has some interesting thoughts and tips on this.

You just got back from work, you’re tired, you have like 2-3 hours of spare time for coding. It gives time for doing a lot of work, the problem is that you’ll probably waste the first half wondering where you left, what algorithm where you working, trying to get back to that line of thinking from the previous day.

I waste a lot of time too but I’ve realized that leaving functions unfinished but with comments on how to write the rest helps out for the next day. You just have to convert that pseudo code into actual code, after a bit all starts to came back to you.
Making some notes on a notebook also helps, everything you think helps out catching up. Because most of the time when you need to stop is when you are really making progress.

Balancing a social life with this is hard, if you are really serious about finishing a game you’ll probably need to be doing this for several months, or even years, it’s too much time to be cooked at home. Don’t forget there’s life outside, discuss your projects with close friends, have them play and you’ll get feedback. Because if the project sinks you’ll loose much more. Also it’s a great way to have ideas. I never once had any good idea just by standing in front of the computer. Go watch some movies, read books. If you are working on the game with a partner drag him/her to the street with laptops. Working always at home isn’t that fun.

Get a job that won’t cut your wings but isn’t the typical “burger flipping” isn’t easy. If you end up working on IT or worse on a game company make sure not to jeopardize your game and job, most employers don’t like the idea that you are working on stuff of your own. They will tell you something like “You are a liability… because you would rather be doing something else”. So keep your head straight. If you don’t like the job, get another one, don’t hang on to it because you think you’ll be rich in a couple of months. You make have to stick with it for another whole project development before the indie thing takes off. Oh and get something that actually pay the bills in full, so if you start making some side money you can start saving.

Quitting work to stay home working on your game for a couple of months is also a viable option, but make sure you have savings for around 7 months and get back to work after 4. You’ll never know how hard it will be to get another job. It’s not an ideal system but I know people who make it work.

Working as freelancer is something else you can do, but from personal experience is too inconsistent, at least where I live. You can earn in a month money to support you for 3 months but then stay a bunch of time without getting anything to do. Good web development skills is handy, there’s always people looking for a website to be done.

I know this wasn’t the #idevblogaday post you guys were expecting but there you have.

EDIT (16/05/2011): This article showed up at Gamasutra front page as a featured post, so a lot of cool comments and other tips are showing up there, check it out

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  • So true. I try to leave myself a to do list broken down into the pieces of the script left to be implemented. I like to get as much detail into that as I can forsee down to a (grab $x from session and apply y function to display in z view). Otherwise you wind up as you said having to play catch up on your own code.

  • Hello!

    I just wanted to drop by and say thanks for the scenemanager you wrote.

    I am currently learning game developing and I was just about to write my own scenemanager when I found yours.

    Your scenemanager is easy to mod and it works like a charm.

    If you are interested in what kind of game I am making, I am making a youtube-series of it as you can see here;

    Once again, thank you for the great code snippet 🙂

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