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10 Jul 2014

Worried About Failing? Don’t Sweat It.

I read an interesting post on Gamasutra this morning that really resonated with me – and it will especially do the same for you guys, too. It’s a quick overview regarding a presentation by Mike Bithell (developer of the hit minimalist game Thomas Was Alone) at today’s Develop Conference, in which Bithell states that although it seems that a new, unknown indie developer releases a massive hit once a month, this is anything but.

In fact, Bithell states that this misconception could actually be dangerous for aspiring indie developers:

“This is a story we keep telling, and it’s a great story – the person who comes out of nowhere and makes a great game. Upcoming devs expect, or at least hope, they will achieve a spontaneous hit.”

Bithell continues:

“There will be indies who look at how I sold 1 million copies of Thomas Was Alone and think ‘My game actually has art, I could sell 10 million copies! If you think Phil Fish’s first game was Fez, or Jonathan Blow’s first game was Braid, that’s going to inform how you make your first games. It’s all bullshit. Everyone has a bunch of games you’ve never heard of.”

Here’s the part of the presentation that really stuck out to me:

“Everyone fails,” said Bithell. “Everyone sucks at making video games. The objective when I get up in the morning is to suck slightly less than yesterday. It’s fine to be a failure – everyone is, and it’s awesome. There is no way to make a guaranteed hit. The best way to make a hit is to fail a lot.”

Guys, that is (in my opinion anyway) some of the best no-nonsense advice you will ever hear regarding not only indie development, but also doing anything in life. Moreover, the advice applies to indie veterans as well. Whether you are working on your first game, your tenth game, or even your hundredth game, the same advice applies:

Wake up every morning trying to suck a little less than the day before.

Alternatively, if you want to put a more positive spin on it: always try to be a little bit better than yesterday.

I get it: we’re constantly worried about failing. Everyone is, and if you’re not afraid to some extent, you’re not taking your craft seriously. As a writer, I’m afraid that my first novel is going to suck and nobody is going to want to read it. If it happens, it happens and I’ll learn from the experience as I write my second novel. Failure is all part of the game (no pun intended), so think of it as a tool for improving your skills.

When Game Academy Radio was still active, every indie developer had indie games under their belt that nobody played. Every single one of them – even the ones that proclaimed they were developing their first ‘true’ game. None of them woke up one morning and thought to themselves, “Hey, I think I’ll make a game today,” and came away with the game they were discussing on the show; quite the latter. All of them had worked on at least a few personal projects, learning what worked, what did not, figuring out how to make a great game and what mistakes to avoid for their first, official game.

Let’s face it: the first game you develop may not be that great. That’s okay! As long as you develop the best game you can muster, you’re on the right path. After all, your first indie game is a learning experience. Even if you end up publishing your first game and only a few people play it, again, that’s okay as well. Look objectively at what went wrong and learn how you can improve your next game.

Do this for the next game, and the next game, and the next game, etc. etc. etc. as you strive to develop the best indie game possible.

Failure goes hand-in-hand with success. To succeed, you have to fail. The trick is to make your failures count for something, and to use said failures to improve your craft better than ever.

“The best thing you can do is survive and wait for that hit to happen,” says Bithell. “Be ready to fail. You’re going to fail over and over again.”

Wise words we should all take to heart.

3 Responses

  1. Philip Caballero

    Above you said, “When Game Academy Radio was still active… ”

    What happened to it?

    I used to listen to the replays regularly, then decided I had better put my nose to the grindstone and stop posting on forums, listening to too many Webinars, doing too many tutorials, watching YouTube training videos and not finishing my games in progress!

    I really enjoyed your show and am sorry it is gone because I, and I assume others, did not stay loyal.

    Rest assured I read these posts daily, and appreciate them and what I learn, even if I don’t comment.

    Hey, Trey’s new app Phases looks awesome!

    1. Pretty much what Trey said. The show wasn’t getting as many listeners as we would like and it wasn’t really accomplishing the original goal of the show: to drive traffic back to Game Academy itself. Certainly disappointing but that’s how these things go sometimes. I had a blast doing the show and I thank you for letting me know you enjoyed listening. Hopefully I’ll be back on the air in some form or fashion sooner rather than later :).

  2. Trey Smith

    Hi Phillip, we put it on hold to focus on other things for a while. Dusty is going to be writing more here too 🙂 Thanks for listening and we will have something else one day. I have been kicking around some ideas to do a personal podcast as well.

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