The pros and cons of solo game development
Being a solo game developer is a pretty tough gig. I knew it would be, but I didn’t think it would be as challenging as it is. Most of the challenge comes from the fact that it’s all encompassing. That’s not in of itself a bad thing, if you have no life what so ever.
Let me start with the story of how I became a full time solo indie dev. When I started developing Infliction (it was actually originally called Karma) I was working a demanding full time design job in a corporate office. You know, the kind of job that expects a ton of overtime for free with insane deadlines, kind of sounds like game development actually. I was also a full time student. You may ask yourself how? How does one study full time, work full time, be a husband (oh yeah, I'm married too) and develop a game. Well, I have no idea. It was stressful and I was in a perpetual state of exhaustion. Then something amazing happened. My daughter was born. Needless to say I was now beyond overwhelmed, something had to give, and something did. My full time design job decided to lay me off and give me a severance package. This was my ticket to becoming a full time Indie game developer.
Once becoming full time I’ve been just as stressed out as I was, maybe even more so. I had shifted my focus from one area to another but maintained the same work load. Being a solo developer has been a huge challenge in many areas. I would not have made it this far without the support of my loving wife and family.
So I’ve been full time developing my game for almost a year now. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons I’ve observed during this time.
Decisions: I can make design decisions and creative choices without having to answer to anyone, except the players of course.
Hours: I can set my own hours. Creatives think best in the dead of night so this is a big one.
Finances: I don’t have to split my very small profits (when/if I make some) several ways. This reduces the stress of unrealistic sales figures to remain commercially viable.
Self-Development: It’s just me. If I need something done that I’ve never done before, I have to learn it myself. This is a huge time sink but I’ll be 1000 times more prepared on my next project.
Limitations: Being alone means you’ll have limitations in things you’re able to achieve. This will force creative thinking in how to get the best results with what you have. I believe the outcomes from this are hard fought and usually better in the end. Just look are George Lucas and Episode IV as an example. Also look at episode 1 for an example of 0 limitations.
Working from home: Not having to commute every day is a dream come true. I watch Netflix while I work; and I get to see far more of my daughter as she’s growing up. It’s awesome!
The Accomplishment: I’m the sort of person that focuses under pressure. This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’m somewhat proud of myself for doing it. Regardless of the outcome, once its done, no-one can take that away from me.
I'm doing what I love: And I wouldn't have it any other way! I'm so lucky that I get to do this. I'm living the dream right now.
You’re Alone: You tend to go a little crazy staring at the same 4 walls, with no one around to offer creative input or feedback. I’m fairly sure if I wasn’t married I would have gone insane by now.
It’s Hard: Everything you do is a challenge and computers have an uncanny way of working against you it seems. Perhaps Skynet is already here?
Wear all the hats: I’ve recently decided to update my AI character. This involves a new model, new sculpt, new rig, new animations, new textures and if I have time, some new behaviors. That one decision born out of being unsatisfied with what I currently have will cost me several weeks and I’ll need to know at least 6 professions to pull it off. I didn’t even mention the other game dev roles like Marketing, QA, Play Testing, Copy Writing and Business Management to name a few! All in all, you need to know a lot about a lot of stuff. (I secretly enjoy this because I'm a control freak!)
Limitations: While I make this work for me, I’d love to be working with an animator and a programmer, allowing me to focus on my strengths. There are some things that I just have to cut from the game simply because of my own limitations.
Motivation: It takes a certain type of person to get up every days after 3 hours sleep and put in another 16 hours. Some days I want to quit, I go through imposter syndrome and decide my work sucks and that the world hates me. It helps to have other developer friends you can talk to since only they will understand your pain and boost you back up again.
Finances: I have 0 income and being poor sucks!
Time: It’s against you and the days aren’t long enough. You’ll be working for long days and feeling like you’re not getting anywhere. I make to do lists for this reason. It’s great to be able to look over what you’ve achieved.
Health: I’m sitting in a chair 16 hours a day, not sleeping much, stressed out all the time and snacking a lot. I look and feel like crap. I’m currently turning this around but seriously, Take care of yourself. My wife is now my PT and shes a slave driver!
No Life: If you like to do anything at all besides working, solo game development isn’t for you I’m afraid. I’m against crunch in our industry but when you’re alone, there is no one to pick up the slack and you’re always behind. I have forgone all hobbies (including playing games) and devote whatever free time I have to my family. Work/life balance is super important. Once this game is finished I’m hope I’m able to experience more of it.
Okay, that's more cons than pros but I have to say, I love what I do. I hope I can keep doing it!