August/September SCO Update — Reflection and Realization

So, what’s the status of SCO as of the end of August? Development has been mostly on hiatus for a couple months while I’m on break — taking time now that I have a side job paying my bills to clear my head and think deeply about my motivations and goals in life and refocus. I’m planning to resume working on it in September. But why so long, and have I actually gained anything from this break? I’d like to talk about that here. Full disclosure: This is going to be a long post, filled with introspective details and some anecdotes about my time working on WoB and SCO, and how it’s brought me here, what I’ve realized, and how it’s affecting the present and future of my development work. Sound like something of interest to you? Read on.

My Break

During my time away from game development, I’ve arrived at some interesting and important realizations. The first month (June) I was trying to find a job, worrying like hell about getting it in time to pay my rapidly approaching bills, and pretty much just playing games in my free time to escape from that. Finally I got the job towards the end of June. For the first few weeks of it, barely even thought about game dev, because going from mostly staying at home on computer (barring my daily walks) to on my feet working doing manual labor for 8 hours a day 5 days a week was a pretty jarring readjustment and I didn’t have much energy outside of work. If I wasn’t laying in bed resting my feet watching netflix or sleeping, I was playing Runescape or watching YouTube (sidenote: Real Engineering and Wendover Productions have some fascinating videos)

Towards mid/late July, my second month away from game dev, I had some thoughts about returning to work and I tried, but it felt like I was forcing it. In the past I would try to push through that and force myself, with mixed results. But for some time now I’ve been reading perspectives from people like @sehurlburt on twitter, who’ve been through the cycle of “working heroically” 10–16 hours a day, 6–7 days a week, for extended stretches of time and burning out. And really when I look at it, it looks like I’ve been experiencing burnout. I tend to have a very “all-or-nothing” type of personality where whatever I’m really currently focused on in life, I tune out most other things. Some periods in life that’s been coding/game dev, some periods it’s been gaming. Some it’s been binging netflix. Combine that with the pressure of unstable income and it resulted in an extended stretch of time where I felt immense pressure to work, and guilt if I took time to not work.

I didn’t want to return to that same type of work environment — feeling like I was pushing myself to burnout repeatedly. So I let myself relax for a period of time, and gave my thoughts time to settle, gave my mind time to quiet and relax, and let loose from the pressure. I was finally in a position where my livelihood was not dependent on working on game dev and I had the freedom to do this, and I felt it was important to my long-term success to do this.

It took the entirety of July and at least half of August before the pressure started to feel like it was subsiding. Halfway through August, I started beginning to look at things with a slowly changing, fresher perspective. My desire for a long time has been “I want to have my own game studio where I can work on games with a team of other passionate people”. But I needed to go deeper and understand my core motivations.Why did I want to work on games? Why full time? And why my own studio?

Reflection

To understand what developed this desire to have my own game studio, I thought to both the development times I’ve enjoyed the most and the moments outside of development itself that felt the most rewarding and fulfilling. There are a few moments/periods of time that stand out from development:

  1. My early days, from when I started learning computer science in 2008, through starting work on WoB in late 2009, all the way until around February 2011, a year into WoB’s development. I was 17–19 years old, still living with my mother at the time, paying little to no rent (maybe a few hundred a month). There was no pressure to succeed, no monetary pressure, and I was doing it purely for fun. Just because I wanted to make a fun game that people would enjoy. Almost every day I learned something new, made something new. It’s not that these times were without challenge — quite the opposite, I had to rewrite the entire code base from scratch 4 times before landing on the version that I actually followed through and launched WoB with. But it was fun. I was making progress and building something cool that I liked.
  2. It’s really important to denote that I was struggling with depression and slowly failing out of junior college during this same time period. That came to a head in the spring of 2011 (May, I think) where I stopped literally everything remotely productive in life: I quit going to college, quit my job part-time at a doctor’s office organizing files, and quit my job teaching Taekwondo/Judo. I did pretty much nothing but play Runescape and a couple other games on the side, eat(way too much), and sleep for 2 months, then moved on to other MMOs for some time before finally getting my life together around August.
  3. The times of heavy collaboration. There have been a few of these, including collaborating with Isago on the barracks update, with Chi on layout/interface updates, with Warusaki on events multiple times, as well as collaborating with Chi, Jack, and other members of the dev team earlier this year for a period of about a month or two where we were all really actively working on SCO. I really enjoy working with an active team.

And the most fulfilling/rewarding parts:

  1. Watching people interact in a world that I created, having fun talking about game activities, what build was better than what, funny things that happened in game like mistakes they made or silly behaviors of NPC, etc etc.
  2. Especially when my friends Legend and Datmuemue visited me for a week and we went around the area up to San Francisco, talking all about WoB on the uber and train rides for hours. I cannot put into words how much this time meant to me.
  3. Watching friendships formed or grown on WoB that extended outside the game, over to other games and even after people stopped playing WoB, or when they took breaks from it.

The last two things really drove it home for me. I love giving people a place for intrigue, joy, laughs, and social interaction/connection. Humans thrive on connection with each other. And games offer a unique way to do this in that you can actually undertake activities with your friends, as well as the fact that you can just be yourself as a virtual avatar, not judged for what you look like, or how much money you have in the real world. But just what you think about and how you act.

I also really love overcoming interesting and thought-provoking challenges. And I love learning new things, and continuously improving myself and my capability

Realization

The desire to bring enjoyment and social connection to people really strikes to the core of my motivation for this. And what I realized was — that has nothing to do with money. I’ve never felt overly driven by money, though I do also have a desire to being “well off” at some point in life — Not super rich or anything, but enough to have a decent house with ample space, one or two nice (50–100k) cars, go on a 2–4 week vacation once or twice a year, and support a family without worrying about meeting expenses. Yet, through making game dev my full time self employed job, I ended up forcing myself into caring more about how much money it made than I really wanted to. Because it not making enough money meant I couldn’t pay my bills.

So I’ve decided that going forward on SCO, I’m not going to rush to reach profitability or support myself full time. I’ll retain a day job for as long as it takes, and if/when the game reaches a level it can comfortably support my expenses on top of funding its own further development (artwork, etc), as well as a bit of savings to build up a reserve fund, only then will I switch back to working on it full time. I may even retain a part time job on the side for some portion of this to help with building up money to help with forming a team. The important thing is — while I will still put ways to generate revenue into the game, I don’t have to be overly concerned in the short term with how much money it makes. If it doesn’t make enough money, I just keep my day job. There is an obvious downside — I don’t have as much time to work on it. And working on it is still work, so I can’t spend all my free time outside of my day job working on it or else I’ll burn out. But for the moment, I believe this to be the best option.

Conclusion

Over Labor Day weekend (Aug 31 — Sep 3) I went to Phoenix, Arizona to visit my sister and attend Saboten Con (her husband is one of the organizers). Getting out to an event with so many other people passionate about anime and gaming also really helped me gain perspective on what I want out of life, as well as the value of connecting with others over shared interests. I know that my past ways of obsessing over work are not going to lead me to long term happiness, I need to strive to maintain balance and take care of myself while pursuing my passion, and make sure to enjoy it and things unrelated to it with others along the way.

I’m really excited to give you all another place to interact and have fun with other people. Obviously there are social networks, discord servers, and (for most of you) friends in real life, but I know that for some of us (like me) it’s not always easy to go out and make friends in person. And while I do still strongly believe that is something everyone should try to do, sometimes it helps to just be able to log onto a game where like I mentioned earlier, you’re not judged on your appearance or financial status in the physical world, but only on what’s inside you. And where you’re not limited to talking with others about outside events, but also having events in game to give you things to enjoy and talk about. There’s a lot of value in that and I actually feel it’s sad that not enough games encourage this.

MMO chat often gets a little too focused solely on finding groups for dungeons or newbies asking for help in between running off to long periods of grinding, and not enough on getting to have meaningful discussions with like-minded people. And social networks can shift the focus too much towards only putting the most attractive parts of yourself forward for likes, and paint an overly false positive image of people’s everyday lives that can make you think your own is lacking. My vision for SCO is to create a world and a space that enables and encourages regular conversations, while also giving you plenty of exciting activities to do and talk about with your friends. A world where activities don’t dominate it to the extent that talking takes time away from gameplay, but where both can be balanced and enjoyed.

I hope you’ll all come along with me for the ride and enjoy it. If you’d like to talk further about anything relating to SCO or found here, ping me on the WoB discord channel (https://discord.gg/0gZ5fMEDRdVfo3BK). I’d love to talk more with you guys about it!

-Levi

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