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22 May 2014

Unfortunate Truths of Being an Indie Developer

Full disclosure: this post isn’t designed to persuade anyone from being an indie developer. Hey, there’s downsides to any career path – and being an indie developer is no different. Even so, we know of a handful of people (and you probably know even more) that tried to get into developing their own indie game thinking it was going to be full of rainbows, lollipops – the whole nine yards. Like any job where you work for yourself, the advantages seem awesome, and when working for yourself is going swimmingly, it’s amazing. But when you hit that first rock and a hard place? The honeymoon is over, and you need to make a decision: are you going to continue to make this work, or tuck your tail give up?

It’s a reason why so many indie developers give up so quickly. I’ve seen it, and you have too. Thus, by knowing the unfortunate truths about indie development (and really, this can be applied to any job where you are your own ‘boss’), you can set yourself up for realistic expectations. After all, if you know life as an indie developer isn’t going to be Heaven on Earth going into the gig, the chances of you giving up and quitting at the first sign of trouble is less likely. Below are the unfortunate truths you need to know about being an indie developer.


Unfortunately, you are not your own boss

Notice how I placed the word boss in quotations in the paragraph above? Here’s an unfortunate truth about work in general: you are never, ever going to ultimately be your own boss. Rather, the source(s) of your income is your boss. In the case of indie developers, your customers are your boss. Certainly, you have a lot more freedom working for yourself: you get to drink as much of your own coffee as you want, eat lunch whenever you want, work in your underwear if you prefer, and if you need to take a day off? You can swing it much easier than working at your previous dayjob.

But do you have true freedom to work as you wish? Not a chance. You have to develop indie games that customers will want to buy, and if they don’t? They won’t buy. Simple as that. Again, your customers are your bosses – and everyone wants to do a great job for their boss, right? Approach indie development in the same manner.


You become a jack-of-all-trades

As an indie developer, you will also be tasked with running your entire business – from filing taxes to marketing and everything in between. You have to do it all in addition to developing your indie game, and while it may not sound like a lot of extra work, it is. It’s a full time job, and you will find fairly quickly that you need to structure your day that’s reminiscent to a dayjob (getting up early, quitting for the day around normal dayjob hours).

If you don’t know how to do it all? You have to learn. Running any type of business is hard work – even if you are the sole proprietor. You will find that you definitely have your work cut out for you from day to day, but even so, a lot of people like this type of challenge and freedom. You have to have an entrepreneurial attitude to succeed in indie development, and if you don’t? Try to get one.


Overworking and the loneliness of running your business from home

Whether you are thinking about getting into the world of indie development or you have been an indie developer for quite some time, I urge you to please read this post from last Friday that explains what successful indie developers do on the weekend. One of the major points of the post was to find time to relax and socialize with family and friends. Believe me: I work from home as a writer, and it gets quite lonely working for nine hours a day by myself. When my wife comes home around 5-6pm, it’s often the first sign of life I’ve seen all day.

By working alone all day long and not having any human interaction, it can be easy to overwork yourself which can lead to burnout and unneeded stress (and stress leads to health issues). We’re social creatures: we need to interact with others and escape from our daily grind. Spend time with family and friends when you have the opportunity, and you’ll feel refreshed.

Expanding on the topic of overworking some more, it can be easy to work too much too often. I understand: you are developing a part of your game that needs to be finished sooner than later, but does that mean you really have to work 15 hours a day for weeks at a time? Sure, there’s value in hard work, but there’s also value in having a social life, unwinding, and getting your mind off work for a length of time.

I’ll give you an example of how I approach this problem. As soon as 5pm hits, I know it’s time to finish what I’m working on and stop working for the day. My rule is this: if the task at hand is going to take over an hour to complete, I put it aside for the next day. If I have to, I will wake up a little bit earlier to finish the task, but I always, always, always finish up around 5pm and stop thinking about work for the rest of the evening.

Find your own schedule that works best for you, and avoid overworking. Believe me, your morale will stay quite high week-to-week as a result.


Have you found your own unfortunate truths as an indie developer? Let us know in the comments below!

3 Responses

  1. All of what you said resonated with me and in particular overworking. I have found that planning my week every Sunday evening to be very helpful. Setting doable incremental targets for each day of the working week. That way I get a sense of achievement and rejuvenation when I meet each daily deadline. The 2 minute rule is also a great tool. Basically if you have a problem or bug that arises, apply the 2 minute rule. If it can be done in 2 minutes, just get it out the way. Else add it to your to do list for next weeks planning (I use trello).

  2. I like the article, and I can directly relate. I am struggling though to find how any of the truths are ‘unfortunate,’ as opposed to simply being par for the course in any small business in any industry. This is more about ‘working from home’ than ‘indie game development.’ There are some good points here Dusty that everyone can find value in and even benefit from. Thank you!

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