GameDev Protips: How To Reach The Finish Line And Ship A Successful Indie Game

In the tough world of indie game development, your level of success and self-worth is only as good as the games that you finish and release (or so it seems, anyway). In many people’s eyes, success is largely predicated by the quality of your shipped products. This isn’t completely true, but we’ll roll with it for now. So, in order to be truly “successful”, you need to first learn how to take care of yourself. While this is a somewhat broad and abstract concept, it is highly important that you really do take care of yourself. Many people pursuing their dreams just want to throw themselves into their work without considering the consequences for their physical and mental well-being. While enthusiasm is a commendable trait, the problem is that an initial burst of enthusiasm and success can give way to stress and ennui once adversity sets in. People who don’t take care of themselves make themselves more vulnerable to the hardships they will inevitably encounter on their personal journey. When you’re consumed entirely by work, it’s easy just to give in to exhaustion, boredom, and stress. Burning out well before you can achieve your goals can definitely be detrimental, not only to your work but to your dreams as a whole.

Another obstacle that might stand in your way is anxiety. This can be very difficult to deal with and can present a major problem to pursuing your true passions. It can be a lonely and difficult road as an indie game developer and your situation can alternatively be discouraging and frightening. One of the biggest problems for many people is that anxiety can make decisions very difficult. If you are suffering from anxiety, every decision you make now comes with paralyzing fear and lengthy amounts of time spent obsessing over every detail before you are able to commit to anything.

While a little bit of anxiety can be helpful in preventing impulsive decision making, too much of it is obviously a bad thing. It’s important to remember that while you are paralyzed by indecision, the rest of the world is moving past you. You may miss certain opportunities simply because you were unable to act in a timely manner. Dealing with anxiety is a complicated matter, but the best way to overcome anxiety is simply to act. If you find yourself constantly obsessing over a decision, it’s best to pick one choice and stick with it. Even if you make a poor decision, you can always recover from it later, however, not making any choices means that you will not move towards your goals and the rest of the world will move on without you.

You only get one body, so it’s important to take care of it as best you can. Make sure to take care of your body by getting enough sleep, eating a well balanced diet, and getting enough exercise. Having to take care of your body should not be seen as an extraneous chore, but rather a vital part of pursuing your goals. Being healthy means that you can get more work done in the long run, because you’ll lose less time to preventable illness, and because you’ll be far more productive as a result.

With time and practice, almost anyone can become reasonably skilled at anything. However, time is valuable. Because everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, everyone learns new skills at differing rates. It’s best to learn things related primarily to your personal goals, while delegating or outsourcing less related skills to other specialists. This is because we only can do so much on our own, and the best results usually come as a result of teamwork. For example, in an indie game company you’re better off sticking to your own profession rather than trying to learn how to do everything. A programmer doesn’t need to be designing art assets; you should just recruit someone else for that. Not only will splitting your core competencies result in shoddy work, but it’s terrible for your mental health as well. This isn’t to say that you should be completely clueless as to how to perform tasks you might need in the future, but in terms of what is best for spending your time, it’s better to not learn the fundamentals of art design while your artist is trying to type out a “Hello world!” program.

Life is not a video game and there is no way to truly win. Nor is there a high score, leaderboard, or any other truly quantifiable method of success. Many otherwise successful people never stop chasing fame and fortune; despite their success, they tend to become bitter and disillusioned, since there’s always more to do and more to see. If they stopped to consider all they have achieved in their lives, then they would feel a greater sense of accomplishment. Instead, they are angry with the world, simply because they let their view of other people decide their personal happiness. Always remember that you don’t have to actually ship a commercially successful game to feel successful — it is important to define what success means to you. Success can mean shipping a billion copies of your game and buying a beachfront house, but it could also mean comfort, self understanding, or just pride in having created something all your own. It is also up to you to determine what sort of lessons you’ll learn during the course of your personal journey. Learn from others, but don’t spend too much time comparing yourself to them. Above all, take it easy on yourself. As long as you try your best and better yourself in the process, then everything will be worth it in the end once you ship your game… unless you completely fail at marketing, but that’s a different challenge to tackle.

Important Takeaways: Being incredibly efficient with your work and making games that you’re truly passionate about will mean nothing if you keel over halfway through. The initial burst of enthusiasm from finding the perfect job can make yourself more vulnerable to hardships in the future if you let it control you, and can cause your dream as a whole to sputter out. If you’re struggling with anxiety, simply act; every second wasted could be a missed opportunity, and if you just stick with a choice from a difficult decision, it can be recovered from later if it’s the wrong one. It’s important to remember the physical and mental aspects of your body as well; being healthy will mean more productivity in the end due to less sick days and less obsessing over aches and pains.

Despite your enthusiasm for making games, don’t try to do everything by yourself; hiring people who specialize in other areas allows you to dedicate yourself to your own area and create a better project overall. This doesn’t mean that you should completely ignore other potentially important skills, but there’s very little point in learning something completely new that will only be situationally useful and can be accounted for with additional staff when you’re already proficient with something else that’s always going to be useful. Don’t let a false image of “success” or the lack thereof ruin your life. Define what success is to you on a personal level instead of what the rest of society thinks, and also determine what you’re going to be learning on that path to success. Even if you don’t necessarily succeed by your definition, as long as you’re trying your best and improving yourself in the process, you’ll always be heading towards success.

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About Me

Thank you so much for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below, tweet at me @doandaniel, or send me an email.

I’m Daniel, Co-Founder of Black Shell Media & Co-Author of The Definitive Guide To Game Development Success — a super actionable FREE eBook with the most self-explanatory title. Don’t forget to check it out if you haven’t already, it’s packed to the brim with my personal tips and tricks!