sábado, 31 de diciembre de 2016

Becoming Indie Developer: A 2016 Retrospective

Hi buddies!

I still remember it as if it was yesterday when I started this blog. It was April 2013 and I was doing my Ph.D. stay in Rennes, France. By that time, I was a full-time researcher at the University of Malaga and my main goal was to finish my stay, write my last journal articles and defend my Ph.D. However, for a very long time I had had an itch for making games.

My experience with games development started surprisingly early, when I was around 14 years old. By that time, my grandfather, who knew how much I wanted to learn this stuff, gave me a Darkbasic pack as a birthday present. I still remember how, during high school classes, I would daydream about the amazing games I was about to make. I can perfectly remember thinking to myself about making a Matrix-style game where the main character would avoid bullets bending over himself, just like Neo, and I would naively think that it wouldn't take me long to reach such level of expertise. Of course, reality imposed itself, and there were so many new terms I had no clue about, that it took me a long time to just make a Pong clone (with some additional cool features like moving obstacles).

By that time and until finishing high school I made some very simple games, and when I started the Computer Science degree at the University, the demanding subjects drifted me away from my dream. Yet I still read about games programming and with the new knowledge acquired I could understand more and more about how a videogame is built from the ground-up. Life circumstances (which were really driven by luck and momentum, as they usually are) geared me to start working in the Computer Science department, where I would take a 4 years Ph.D. grant after finishing the degree. Over this period, I overlapped my Ph.D. with the creation of small video games: in 2014, I released Chubby Buddy on iOS, and in 2015, Limball on iOS and Android (both of them together with Manuela).

All that time was a great experience and I don't regret any of the choices I made, but the truth is that the moment of making games for real never seemed to come. And this is where, during the Ph.D. stay, I made my decision: I would finish my Ph.D., but right after doing so, I would quit research and become full-time game developer. And creating this blog was the first step towards convincing myself of walking down this risky and uncertain path...

And here I am now, after one year, I can really claim that I have become an indie game developer, doing justice to the name of the blog. I wish I could add that it's been a profitable decision, but I cannot claim that, not at least for now. I'm currently finishing Breaking Fast, which I've been developing (together with Manuela, as usual, but also with Oliver and David) for almost a year and which we've financed with the savings accumulated over the aforementioned years of working in the research area. During this time, I've observed some things I want to mention now.

Cool things or things that I think we've done alright

One of the typical problems of unexperienced game developers is delaying the marketing actions to the release date. I think I can clearly claim that we haven't made such mistake. From the very first moment we had a playable version of the game, we attended game events to show it and receive feedback from players. In our case, our first event was PAX East (not bad to be the first one, uh?), and from that event, which took place in April, we have attended more than 10 events over the year. As for marketing in social networks, we have populated our accounts with new contents nearly every day since we started. Believe us: all of this (events and social networks) is a huge amount of work. We estimate that around 50-60% of the time has been devoted to these activities, leaving the 40-50% remaining time to the actual development of the game. The conclusion we draw is the following: if you have the resources, hire someone to manage all this stuff (especially, your social networks).

Another thing we did alright was to establish and adhere to a work routine. This is especially important when you work from home, as we do. We would set weekly goals and monitor whether we fulfill those goals. The only setback is that sometimes we finished working too late, precisely because the border between our personal and professional lives became fuzzy as a consequence of working from home.


Now I want to mention some things that have been difficult for us. First, and as I mentioned before, PR and marketing are really time-consuming activities, especially because we had to learn on the go lots of stuff: how to write press releases, how to find our target audience, how to connect emotionally with such audience, etc.

Our initial plans was to keep this blog and our Youtube profile updated with fresh contents but it hasn't been possible. Maintaining a development blog is a tough work, especially if you're interested in writing about technical details of the development, which requires beforehand planning. In the end, I've basically written some posts about the events we have attended, but that is not what the blog was meant for initially. Something similar has happened to our Youtube profile: creating and editing videos is a harder activity than we had anticipated.

Things to improve

We have identified some things that we should improve either in the next year or in future projects. First, we intend to choose events with more criteria in the future. Attending so many events as we have this year has been a great experience in many aspects, but they require money and time (preparing the material, booking the flights and hotel, etc). In relation to this, we also failed to make some time predictions correctly because we didn't factor in the time of these events appropriately. This is the reason why we first scheduled the release of Breaking Fast in the end of 2016, but we've had to put it off by the beginning of Spring 2017...

Also, although from the very beginning we had built a contact list, we didn't use it until very recently, which has been a wasted opportunity to engage with our potential customers sooner. Sending newsletters is an important activity that we should have started much earlier.

Although we can state that we are more or less well-known in Spain, with several articles in different specialized media, we fail to be known outside Spain. And this is a real problem because most of our sales are expected to be made abroad, especially in USA and Russia. Therefore, one of the goals for the beginning of the year is to contact these international media in order to raise a wide awareness of Breaking Fast.

Finally, I leave you with a video summary of our 2016:

Thanks for being there and reading these posts. We really wish you a happy 2017: the year of Breaking Fast! :D