10 Jul 2011

Mail on Sunday Article

The Mail On Sunday article ended up taking a more app-based turn, and so my contribution didn't get featured. Thankfully nice chap Simon Munk (and his editor!) were happy for me to reproduce it on this here blog.

It's all pretty light on detail, being it's for the mainstream press, but might give you some flavour of what it's like going indie.

Summer of 2008 I was made redundant from my IT management job. I'd always wanted to make  games, so I seized the opportunity to chase a childhood dream. But even with years of IT project management under my belt I managed to completely under-estimate how long making a game would take.

Games aren't like enterprise software, because a game can always be better. My redundancy payout covered the bills, which was handy as my girlfriend's employment was also a victim of the economic meltdown. She provided the bulk of the artwork, with us working and living
together 24/7.

Almost immediately after deciding to take the financial gamble of our lives we discovered we were to be parents sooner than expected, which added a whole new element of pressure. Luckily it's pretty hard to be phased by life when as a Jitsu Foundation black belt you've dealt with men wielding baseball bats, chains and knives.

Clover was released to generally strong reviews, but it wasn't as good as it could have been. By the time the low sales were becoming clear I was already in negotiations to revamp the game and distribute it on PC, so it was easy to focus on opportunities ahead. Still, at that point our average spend on a main meal for two was between 70p and £1.50.

Online distribution means independent developers have opportunities unthinkable a decade ago, and phenomenal successes like Minecraft prove that the creative freedom of being independent is viable, but most game sales are made through two or three distribution channels that only pick games suitable for their portfolio.

Large online retailers of other media don't restrict the breadth of available products, so why games? Games portals have vested interests in promoting certain titles and rely on top-ten lists rather than
recommending products based on a customer's tastes.

While Clover never sold enough to make a living from despite good reviews, it has opened doors to me. I now work full-time on upcoming indie games portal IndieCity.com. I can help other indie developers have a fairer chance of being successful.

IndieCity's an online sales portal for indie games, but we're taking the Amazon approach. No-one goes on Amazon and complains there's loads of crap books, because you don't see them unless you go looking for them. It can do this because it's got a strong recommendations engine, and we're doing the same. This means anyone can upload a game for sale, rather than having to gamble on the whimsical nature of portfolio managers who make the call as to whether the public get the chance to see your game.

While developing Clover, the biggest mistake I made was not recognising the value of getting on the front page of the biggest gaming blogs. I should have then taken a step back, sought investment, and made the best game possible. In the end, the original Clover made the same amount as a week's contracting in the City.

My career path is proof that aspiring indies should look beyond selling lots of games. I pursued a dream, broke into an industry, still get to make games, and enjoyed the ride.