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How to Survive as a Solo Dev for like a Decade or so

May 42017

I read a thing recently. Quite an interesting article about ‘how to survive as a solo dev’, but it was written by someone who was releasing their first game (presumably as ‘marketing’) and “haaaaaaang on”, I thought. Yes that’s impressive well done but it’s not exactly advice from someone who has been doing it for a decade and WAIT WAIT WAIT I’ve been doing it for a decade! I wonder what MY advice is to survive as a Solo Dev beyond one or two games.

> Work from home:
I find it astonishing that startup indie devs pay out for an office, with all the extra bills that entails. Work from home, keep your overheads as close to zero as possible. Very rarely have I needed to be in the same room as an artist/ composer/ coder to get the job done.

> Know your Limits:
Yes you want to make a swishy 3D game about spaceships in outer space but maybe make a dirt-simple 2D adventure game with clunky graphics first? See how that goes? Build your way up to it through a series of games rather than lumbering in without really knowing what you’re doing.

> Don’t spend any money:
Do as much as you can yourself. If you can’t afford it, don’t pay someone to make assets that you could do yourself. What’s more, do you really need to hire a full time coder? Or can you just hire a freelancer for a month? If you don’t have money, make the sound effects yourself.

> If you do spend money, don’t spend it on nonsense bullshit:
If you’ve got £1000 to spend, look at it as money to spend it on a composer or an artist, or someone to do a job you can’t. Something that’ll enhance the game. Don’t spend it on printing out a big poster and a booth at a show, and a billion postcards and trinkets to give away. Yes, you’ll get lovely 1:1 time with players but if you want feedback on your game it’s the least-efficient way of going about it. Yes, you might get a thousand people playing your game, but you can get ten times that online for free. Think about where your money’s going. It’s probably better going on a decent launch trailer.

> Actually do some work:
Sit down and do some fucking work. Don’t go for a coffee, that’s not work and you know that’s not work, no you’re not ‘working from the cafe’ stop lying to yourself. Get up, get on and do some fucking work.

> Invest in Yourself:
When your game sells and makes some money, treat it in terms of how many years you’ve got until you’d have to get a ‘proper job’, and tone your next game to suit that budget. Say Game1 brings in £40,000: with rent and beer and socks that’s probably two years’ salary, even if it doesn’t continue to bring in money over the course of those two years. Assume the worst, assume that’s it and make the next game something you can get done within about a year and a half, don’t suddenly decide you can make a 3D space game because in 4 years’ time Game1 will still be bringing in money. Be pessimistic.

> GDC is a big fucking jolly:
And Develop. And all those things. You know it, it’s a big piss-up jolly fun time and it’s not really benefiting your project beyond ‘inspiration’ and maaaaybe some facetime with some journos. Absolutely brilliant to go if you can afford it, and do definitely go if you can, but don’t spend £2000 flying to GDC under the proviso of it being ‘good for business’ because it isn’t, it’s good for blowing off steam and having a jolly. Could that £2000 be better spent on a composer or an artist? Spend it on a composer or an artist, then. GDC-and-the-like are for when you have money.

> Have a proper job if you need one:
I’d released three games before I went ‘full time’, and my 4th was just about ready to launch. The first games were made in my spare time while my Real Job paid for my food and rent, because honestly fuck starving yourself, fuck living on beans and worrying about rent. Go Full Indie when you can afford to Go Full Indie, and not before. The thing here is your game will suffer. You’ll launch it early before it’s well-rounded and polished, and you’re doing yourself no favours and sales will suffer. Take your time and get a proper job if you need to.

> Be there at the beginning:
2006 was a rough time for selling indie games because (get this) people baulked at the very idea of buying games ‘digitally’ they all insisted on a box. It’s true. Getting on Steam was near impossible, to boot. But, it was easier to make a name for yourself so if possible be an indie dev in 2006 and ride that wave into the future, and be aware when writing smug list articles to acknowledge where you’re actually just fucking lucky.

> End articles with dirty promotional material, just in case it reaches the front page on Reddit or Twitter or whatever:
I mean, you never know, do you?

Hmmm there’s probably more. I’ll add to the list if I think of anything but the takeaway is this: don’t be a fucking idiot, be sensible.

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