As an indie developer, it’s almost impossible NOT to compare yourself with others. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do it within my own NYC circle and among game developer friends in other parts of the world. I think the worst was when we launched our campaign on Greenlight and just…crickets.
Before launching I was confident we’d get Greenlit in a week or maybe a month. It took us seven months and only because Valve was closing Steam Greenlight for Steam Direct. Since our game was still in the Greenlight queue we got pushed ahead. It felt like a hollow victory. Especially when seeing other games that managed to get through in a day or less and also reading on almost every forum how “any half-decent game will get through Greenlight.” It was demoralizing to say the least. And for a while, I mentally checked out from The Painter’s Apprentice especially after more and more games sped by me on Greenlight all while griping about them.
In truth, I was just jealous they were able to make it and not me. And why not? We’d spent years working on the game, gotten positive feedback at all the events we showed it and were chosen to showcase at MAGFest twice and be a part of the PAX Rising booth at PAX South. All of this wasn’t enough validation though because at the time it seemed like every other indie game developer, besides us, were just breezing through Greenlight. It wasn’t fair!
That’s what I thought. It took a couple months of grousing and pouting, but eventually I realized I was just hurting myself, the game and the company by sulking. If you’re in a similar place, here are some tips to get you out of that rut.
Stop Making it a Competition
It’s so easy to fall into the comparison trap. And once you do that, game development becomes a competition. While some comparison is necessary (you have to stand out from the thousands of other games in your genre so you need to know your competition), once you’re comparing the amount of social media followers, positive reviews, graphics, etc. you get caught in a downward spiral. The solution – stop competing with other indie developers. Just like in life, every indie game studio is at different points on their journey. It’s ridiculous to compare because you have hardly any context besides metrics. Sure, maybe they’re just beginning, but they may have other resources you don’t know about that gives them a leg up. There are a thousand and one different reasons that you might not know about so stop comparing yourself.
Celebrate the Success of Other Indie Developers
When a developer you know or follow makes it big, be happy WITH them. If you wanted it, chances are these developers wanted it as well. Earnestly congratulate them and rejoice in their fortune. Next time it might be you! This goes back to main point that this shouldn’t be a competition. While not all games or studios will make it big, it’s important to derive happiness from the fact that you are doing something you love. Plus, won’t you want other people to wholeheartedly cheer on your success once you make it?
Focus on the Methods not the Metrics
All right, so you made your first $1,000 on a game. That’s awesome! But then you hear that Joe Shmoe of Shmoe Productions made $50,000 on their first day! There’s goes whatever self-confidence you might have had. So here’s the trick – don’t let your brain lock when you see a big number. In fact seek them out. Find those games that got 1 million downloads or made $500,000 their first week and then see how they got to that number. Maybe the developers have a post mortem blog post detailing their methods. If they do, read it. If not, reach out to them and see if you can’t pick their brain on how they achieved this kind of success. What kind of marketing did they do, how did they make their game trailer, what “influencers” played their game? Dissect their success and see how you might be able to emulate it.
Boast a Little
If something awesome happened – give yourself a pat on the back and post it on your social media channels. Keep a regular tally of the awesome things you’ve done. Heck, keep an ongoing list as to why your game is so awesome and refer back to it when you’re feeling down.
The point here is to boost your confidence to the point where you can actually provide a good pitch to reviewers, streamers and gamers. If you have zero confidence in your game, no one will play it. Just remember, don’t go overboard with the bragging on social media. People tire of that very quickly.
Get Involved with the Community
Game development can be very isolating. You spend hours in front of your computer working on some code or a level. While logically you know other people experience the same thing, it’s another thing to actually meet with fellow developers and discuss the woes of making games. If there’s a local game developer meetup or IGDA chapter near you, join it. You’ll meet a lot of people in the same boat and even meet others who have been able to work their way up. Once you actually get to know the people behind the studio, it’s easier to celebrate their successes and put away the yardstick. You’re all working towards a similar goal after all. Plus, it helps that these communities are generally very supportive of each other. If there’s isn’t a place nearby, join a virtual group on Facebook or LinkedIn.