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“I thought I could ship at least 700 units to stay in business” (gamasutra.com)
585 points by Impossible on Nov 23, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 335 comments



Quitting your job with only 4 month worth of savings, with a new mortgage, to enter an industry known for its oversaturation, extreme competition, and high luck element for indies ? That's insane. Maybe I'm just risk-adverse.

That said, I think he actually succeeded, despite appearances. Managing to release a working game in 3 month, that actually got sales, is a feat in itself. The game will keep trickling sales, if he's a developer he can probably find a job in a few weeks and enjoy the now-passive income so I'm not too worried about him. Keep cranking out games like this one and the income will pile up.


GDC: How to Survive in Gamedev for Eleven Years Without a Hit

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmwbYl6f11c

TL;DR: prepare for this to happen, and build a long tail of games/sales.

I don't want to sound mean but I don't think anyone should buy the game because they feel sorry and he is begging. I can't condone it. It has become trendy for people to make GoFundMe campaigns or write articles begging people to help.

Assume people do buy your game because they are sorry, and you manage to get by. Is that how you intend to create a sustainable business? What about other indie devs who failed, maybe even harder? Should they also write articles with their sad story? What about those who don't make it to the top of Hackernews? Should what is essentially charity support people taking risks?

I take this article as a cautionary tale of what could go wrong when you go indie, one of those that we need more of in face of the wild success stories that saturate media.


It doesn't seem like a business story really, it seems like an artist / craftsman wanted to practice his craft and ran into commercial realities. It's a starving artist situation. There wasn't any market analysis, financial analysis, etc upfront. He wanted to make a game, and he did, so he should be commended for that. It wasn't really a business venture.


> It doesn't seem like a business story really, it seems like an artist / craftsman wanted to practice his craft and ran into commercial realities.

The author does say "I have been warned against going full time indie by everyone on the internet and by my friends and family. I believed I could make it, all I had to do was ship just 700 units of my game on steam." They also say "After more than 10 years of writing games I believed I had acquired enough know-how, knowledge and experience to make it in the industry on my own, on my own terms and on my own schedule." [my emphasis].

That implies they had thought about the financials, and were believed they'd be able to get a sufficient amount of revenue.


I think it became a business story as soon as the developer quit his job and risked his future livelihood on sales. He could have worked on the game in his free time and released it for free, otherwise.


That is exactly why I'm happy working for someone else. I love to code, solve problems and make things. I do not what to run a business. As soon as you are in your own you are running a business.


Same, except that I still sell my game and work on it at home on my own time.


Almost all indie game developers think like this, though.


If it wasn't a business venture, then don't treat it like one. Needing sales means it's a business venture.


Unfortunately we don’t live in a society where people who are passionate about art can pursue their passions fully and avoid starving or otherwise risking their quality of life. In our society merely choosing to pursue your art to your fullest extent is considered a business venture and not an artistic venture, and even choosing not to because of money reasons is itself a business decision.


True, but now is the greatest time in history to be able to pursue art. It's obviously tough, but people can sacrifice for their art and share it like never before. Just think how many incredible artists have lived but spent their entire lives merely surviving.


> how many incredible artists have lived but spent their entire lives merely surviving.

what you describe is basically the entire human condition as it has ever been since time inmemorial.


The idea that art must be sacrificed for is itself a profoundly toxic one.

Art is the culture that underpins society. Normalizing the idea of sacrificing to create it is itself antisocial.


There are plenty of people who are passionate about art and also able to pursue their passions fully and avoid starving. They get grants from the city or private organizations or they sell their work.


following your passion may not be the best advice for anybody. See Cal Newport's perspective on why. One of his examples is Steve Jobs. http://calnewport.com/blog/2015/04/05/what-steve-jobs-meant-...


It's fortunate that society is like that.


lol, of the 11 years he did mostly the same game over and over plus a bit of consulting.

It's a wonder that he survived at all


Seriously. His advice should be "don't make the same game for 11 years, especially when that game is either a generic card game (solitaire?) or a generic match three puzzle game."


I don't know if this makes me sad or angry.

This guy works for 11 years in the industry, aquired a whole bunch of knowledge on how to ship and market games, runs communities for indi game devs and what not and then when it comes to the actual games, he fails hardcore.


I'd say the learning experience should be to manage your own expectations. In my experience in music many musicians set out to ‘make it’ without defining what that is at all. They don't define success, so they'll always feel bad about not having achieved it.

The musicians that actually ‘make it’ are those guys/girls that say ‘I just want to write one song that is my own’ — ‘I just want to make a 5-song album’ — ‘I just want to play my album in a bar’. ‘I just want to sell a copy to someone I don't know’ — ‘I just want to sell 10 copies to people I don't know.’ ‘I want to play my songs somewhere that is not a bar.’ And every time it turns out the next achievement is just around the corner from where they are, so they always feel good about having achieved something and they always feel motivated to achieve the next thing.

This guy better change his blog post to ‘I made a game and I released it on Steam’ and talk about how he's going to take a job in order to fund himself while I tries to sell 100 copies, and then write ‘I sold 100 copies of my game’ and talk about how he will get to 200.


When I started my company like 10 years ago, I also had savings for only like 4 months. However my plan was not to do games specifically but anything that pays the bills. Though I made one game as well but more like for fun and training, not for money. My various products did little money, though I had to look for gigs quite often to support the development. After 1-2 years I made enough money from the products so that I didn't need the gigs any more.

As a developer it is quite easy to find contracting/freelancing gigs if you need money quickly. I don't know in what kind of business environment this guy lives, but I've never felt that those with programming skills need to stress about savings that much, because there is so much short-term work available if you want it. Of course it is not the kind of work that many would want to do, but it pays the bills.


4 month is nothing. I needed 4 month just to get the new version of my already existing project working, that I thought had a chance in the market. If I had had the stress of being without work and home in 4 month that would never have worked. And at that time I hadn't even covered marketing, or having the time for it.

I got 2 years covered before starting this path (not all with savings, there is additional income).


Well of course it is better the more savings you have. However for me when I started my entrepreneurial career, I think the fact that I didn't have much money helped to launch the business. I had to pretty quickly to launch some products to make revenue and/or have contracting gigs. That for me was huge discomfort zone, because I was used to the the comfy life of an employee. I have seen situations where people don't have financial pressure, then they end up building product in garage for 2 years, and in the end not launching it and returning to kind of employee role.


Having 4 months of living expenses should be doable within 3 years of having just about any programming job. Saving 10% gets you there and that's on the low side. X% / (1-X%) * 12 * years or savings / living expenses * time spent savings ignoring interest and taxes.


I'm curious what kind of work you found and where you found it? If you don't mind telling.


I find digital consultancies / agencies always have spikes of work and they need folks to join in for a couple of weeks or months. Just make connections there - send in your cv, ask about part time positions etc. Agencies usually have one or two recruiters they trust so go and make friends with them too, chances are that recruiter is connected to a few other agencies and so forth. It’s all about networking though, and finding individuals that are reliable.


Bear in mind, to address the point about making money "quickly", that if you go direct to a digital agency, they will expect you to do a month's work, and then for you to send them an invoice with 28 day terms, and then they will pay when it pleases them to do so. So that might well be two months between sitting down at a desk and money actually appearing in your bank account - or it might be longer. (Speaking from experience in London.)

(If you go through a recruiter, you might be in a better position, because sometimes recruiters want you to invoice weekly and sometimes they pay more or less on receipt of the invoice. And sometimes they don't, of course.)


Well yeah it is in no way quickly in that sense, you need 1-2 months to actually receive the money. Unless otherwise agreed.

It comes down to have the savings, but as well to have low living expenses or otherwise lifestyle in a way where you can downgrade it when needed.


I had been working as a web dev (full stack) for some years, so the freelancing gigs I found were mostly web programming. One gig was for my ex-employer, other one was for other company. Of course you need to have some selling skills as well and know some people who need to do business.

During that time app stores were a relatively new thing, so the products I was developing were apps. They started making a decent revenue after 2 years if I remember right. The first year I didn't make about any money. I had very low-cost lifestyle, and cheap rent in a tiny apartment, which helped a lot. If I would have kids or some expensive hobbies it would have been much, much more difficult.


It's not that I disagree, especially with the opinion that the gaming industry is over-saturated and that a lot depends on luck in that industry. But I'd say that 4 months worth of savings is in the better end when starting a new business. Most people who do startups or who otherwise become entrepreneurs have much less than that. And I think having too much of a cushion can lull you into a false sense of "doing something right" and that needing revenue soon can be an excellent motivator.

I was about to get married when I quit my job and started by myself, and my wife also had to quit her job because we moved country. And we honestly didn't really work out whether we were in a bit of debt or if we had savings for a few weeks. Sure, the first 6 months without pay were hard, and so were the next few years with low pay, especially when we had kids.

But if having 6 or 12 months worth of savings is a requirement, then you can rule out just about everyone except rich kids and upper middle class teenagers.


Maybe I'm just way too risk-averse, but 3-4 months of expenses in savings is what I'd consider a minimum while in a stable full-time job.


I completely agree. There's a hell of a lot to be said for having a buffer like this for your mental health. When a long-term relationship I was in collapsed and I was struggling with a bad environment at work the one thing that stopped me from spiralling back to a more dangerous form of depression was the comfort and knowledge of having immediate expenses covered. It gave me enough breathing room to know I didn't have to panic or run away from it all. I really couldn't imagine taking on a mortgage with so little cash in the bank and relying on Steam sales. If the author could go contracting instead it seems like they'd be able to carry on with their journey between contracts. It's not perfect but would be preferable to the situation they're in now.

Re. the GP's comment though - I don't understand how you could do this without any savings, there must've been some? At least rent (assuming you don't live with parents), food, internet connection - it has to be paid somehow surely - either by "you" (through savings) or family/friends taking the hit (eg letting you crash, using their facilities). With the right setup and network you could live extremely cheaply but someone is going to be paying for it. I don't think this is limited to rich kids or upper middle class teenagers (not sure of the focus on children rather than independent adults?) - if the average person can save for a holiday or whatnot - they could equally save towards living expenses, even if only "paying for my own food whilst I stay on my friends sofa rent free".


Yes, our mortgage advisor recommended a certain buffer amount in savings, and it was quite a lot. Either one year or 18 months, and I think that was combined income. That was just to ensure the mortgage could still be paid for a while if we both lost our jobs.

I'm personally planning for an exit strategy which will see me working for myself in about 6 months time. I have roughly one year's take-home pay and will ideally have 18-24 months by the time I quit.


It sounds like the mortgage advisor encouraged you to borrow a larger sum, so that she/he could get a larger commission.

There's no need to keep that much money in the bank just in case you lose your job and can't pay your mortgage. Most lenders (at least where I'm from) will arrange a payment holiday if you tell them you've lost your job. After all, they benefit by earning more interest whilst you're not making payments.

Of course, there are many other good reasons to want that much liquid cash in the bank.


1 year in the bank (CD/savings) is for multiple reasons. Mostly it's for that really nasty scenario where there's a major recession leading to household job loss, when it can be particularly hard to find an equivalent replacement salary. And cash equivalent is important because selling assets in a down market is doubly expensive. Worse is a down market may make the mortgage lender even more likely to foreclose in the hopes of extracting some short term gains to offset losses in other investments. So you risk a losing your equity just by missing a single payment.

I certainly don't drop every dollar into my mortgage every month, it's just not worth the risk for a potential 4% return on investment.


I don't know if these exist in other countries, but some banks in the UK offer an 'offset mortgage', where any balance in a specific current account at the same bank deducted from the loan amount when calculating interest. The last time I looked, they were a little more expensive than regular mortgages, but would be worthwhile for someone who keeps 6 months or more of mortgage payments in their current account.


Forget 3 months, the rule of thumb is 6 months for an emergency fund


And twice your salary in a retirement fund by the age of 30, and three times your salary in retirement by 35.

Basically quit your day job only if your side hustle is already making more money per month (not per hour) because odds are even making more per month is still going to result in not being able to survive much past 57.

Side note, how many 57 year old indie game devs are there?


How does the average American put tens of thousands of dollars into a retirement account within 5 years at a point in life where there is a morgage and/or children? That does not seem like conventional wisdom.


This is the conventional "textbook" wisdom. It is obviously desirable, but in real life completely impossible. And the gap between reality and this kind of "on-high" prescription is why so many people/families have no savings and have no real way to get out of their current situation.


It's conventional wisdom in the same way that you're supposed to drink 8 glasses of water and eat 5 servings of vegetables ever day.

The average American doesn't do what is "conventional wisdom".


It's doable if you get 5% annual growth on the balance, and put in 10% of salary. I ignored compounding, and assumed your income was flat.


They don't.


Don't do the mortgage and children.


I would guess a few but they are retired from full time work.


Huh. I mean, I'm in a full time stable job and I don't keep that much in savings. Nowhere near in fact. But then again if the company wanted to fire me it would have to give me at least 3 months notice,so I treat that as my "buffer" to find a new job while still getting paid.


And about that:

> But if having 6 or 12 months worth of savings is a requirement, then you can rule out just about everyone except rich kids and upper middle class teenagers.

If you’re a good Software developer and have no idea how to save some 20-30k bucks in 2-3 years for your plan of your own business you’re doing something wrong.

Like you are bad at contract negotiations, no good contact network in the industry to find someone willing to pay for good people, have too high expenses, too low saving potential, or, you’re just not as good of a dev as you think.

Any of those should be reason enough for you to think again about your plans.

And don’t hate me for being honest, better be honest to yourself...


I don't think life is that simple. Being a skilled developer/engineer has very little to do with the ability to save money.


Aehm yes these are independent qualities. And i didn’t state they are connected. But both (and other business stuff as mentioned that doesn’t come automatically just by being a great dev)are helpful if you wanna bootstrap a small company / freelance business without external funding. You can be lucky and be so well paid for being a so great dev that you never need to save, but it’s good to be able to save when anything doesn’t work out as good as dreamed.

I state you need more that tech skills to be successful. If you don’t have these other skills, better keep in a “safe” employment. But also then i recommend to work on some of these, like at least the negotiation stuff. It will help you.


The post says the guy lives in Eastern Europe.


That'a big deal. EE = most likely no property tax, which makes a vast difference in financial planning compared to the west. Basically if you're lucky to have a house or apt. you're set for good.


Where did you get the info that there is no property tax in Eastern Europe?

Most EE countries do have a property tax, in fact it can be quite sizable if your 50k Soviet era apartment gets appraised for the same tax base price that the luxury 500k condominium next door.

The property tax bill can be a huge problem for retirees who live on Soviet era pensions in old houses next to new developments.

Incidentally this is the problem that Prop. 13 in California set to solve initially.


> Incidentally this is the problem that Prop. 13 in California set to solve initially.

It's the problem Prop 13 was sold as solving, but not at all tailored to specifically address.


Then he earns less but also needs less to save for the targeted time frame to save for...


I mean when the guy is talking about a couple hundred dollars being a month of savings obviously talking about saving twenty thousand dollars easily is not relevant


I mean, I'm 25, married, about to have a kid, a nice house, full-time job, two months emergency fund in the bank (after buying my house this year), and a stupid monthly payment in student loans (larger than most mortgages with my wife and I combined).

I'm also from a poor class family, who worked up, got a job, etc. Because I'm white most burden scholarships I couldn't get, so I got a fair amount from research etc. I wasn't going hungry poor, but I did have to buy my own clothes, pay for school, lunch, what ever, at 14 poor.

Now, I've been planning since I went to school to start my own business. Next year's bonus (which is 2 - 3 months living expenses), plus tax return (estimated 2 months living expenses) gives me right around 6 months living expenses. That's 3 years out of school. There is no reason people looking to start a company cant be patient and get some savings first. I actually have two websites making profit (albeit small) at the moment:

https://easy-a.net/

https://projectpiglet.com/

Both of those were completed while on vacation from work or weekends. And both are growing rather consistently and I should be able to leave my current role in the next year. I grant it's a stupid amount of work (I work ~80 hours a week, or 12 hours every single day), but there is no reason people from a poor background can't have savings AND start a business.

Just a different perspective. Kudos to you for making it work though.


Just because your white doesn’t mean you don’t get scholarships, trust me many minorities don’t get squat


   But if having 6 or 12 months worth of savings is a requirement, then you can rule out just about everyone except rich kids and upper middle class teenagers.
Here you have hit the nail on the head - of why most successful founders come from at least a bit of money. Not all, of course. But is sure helps.

The point isn’t really how many months of savings you have, it’s what sort of safety net yo have in practice. Does anyone have your back if you can’t make rent payments?


4 months savings is nothing in self-employment or for freelancing.

A million things can happen that delay payment and sales coming in. A year to keep personal and businesses cost running is a good and sane minimum that also keeps your mind from the worries you get when suddenly alteady 2,5 of these 4 months are gone and another expected positive sales/payment event didn’t happen for whatever, maybe accidental, reason.

(Says a 10 year running freelancer who started with 12 months savings and currently runs on only 5 for some events in the past 2 years - but luckily with good project and customer base)


> But if having 6 or 12 months worth of savings is a requirement, then you can rule out just about everyone except rich kids and upper middle class teenagers.

Disagree, but I suppose it's highly dependant on location and salary.

The last time I worked for a game company, I made $95k/yr, which equated to $5002/mo after taxes and deductions. This is in Toronto, Canada.

An expensive 1-bedroom luxury apartment steps from the subway was $2100/mo. My share of daycare cost for the kids was another $900 or so. Heating/electricity $100. Totally unoptimized mobile phone and fiber internet, another $220. Car insurance and home insurance, another $300. Gasoline $100. So, $1280 left over for food and random stuff. Let's say I bothered with any kind of cost-control: I could probably save $900 / mo. That's 2 mos salary in savings every year. After 10 years, that's 20 months in savings, without compounding or other windfalls. In fact, I'm now in a 2BR apartment that's $400 cheaper /mo.

EDIT> Forgot Long-term disability insurance, Life insurance, and medications. Call that another $500, but about $300 of that is meds. If you're young and healthy, or have full health insurance, hopefully you're paying less for medication.


4 months of expenses, not necessarily 4 months of full-time-employment income.


It seems the author saved around $2000 before quitting his job. And promptly spent $1000 of it on paperwork and such.

I know 4 months sounds like a lot, but $2000 does not sound like a lot.


Four months is nothing. Especially for the games industry -- you're not going to get outside funding in any realistic scenario. Also people who commit to making an indie game in a short time-frame rarely do service work to fund it.


4 months worth of savings really lowers your chance of surviving the first few customers.

You want to feel safe so you can take calculated risks.


Yes, it's very impressive, and the purpose of the whole post IMO is part of the marketing (call me evil). Also if he didn't quit his job, he probably wouldn't be able to get this far within a year.


He was only a month away from completing the game when he quit. If he'd worked evenings and weekends, and used some vacation time, it seems like he could have easily finished and released the game by early next year. That way he wouldn't have to bet everything on the "magic unicorn" of instant Steam success.

I sometimes think people starting businesses take on an unnecessary amount of risk out of some unconscious belief that, by doing so, it will "prove" to God or the universe, or maybe just themselves, that they really want it.


From the name, I'm guessing he's Romanian; it's not illegal here to have a contract that states "everything you create, even in the spare time, is the company's property, unless you get written manager approval first". I have exactly such a contract. And yes I know it would be illegal in the US.

(I'm not exactly sure how enforceable such a clause would really be, but that's another story, and I really understand him not wanting to take the risk)


Actually, I'm pretty sure it's the other way around. That is the default for the US (see [1]) but I believe it's unenforceable in the EU.

[1] https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2016/12/09/developers-side-pr...


I haven't looked into it extensively, but I believe the EU has no laws about that. It's down to the individual countries, which have differing employment laws.


Nice link. I like Joel's writing. Haven't kept track of it in a while. The last para really rubbed me the wrong way ("sleeping with boss"). Most likely it was in jest but we need to have a zero tolerance to this kind of crap now (men and women).


Wait... you're offended by a non-gendered joke about the fact that interpersonal relationships in an office environment can impact the enforcement of contracts against you?

Do you just look for things to be offended by, or is there a particular reason?


You sound way more offended than the person you replied to. All I see up there is a harmless, well-intentioned critique with a perfectly civil tone. Meanwhile, you sound angry.


The power of the witchhunt attracts a certain kind of creature.


This similar in in Germany: It's not "everything is company property" but you need to ask permission to do "work" outside your employement, need to disclose if you create/"invent" something and allow the company to aquire your invention. Frankly, no idea how/if that will be enforced but something along these lines were in most contracted I had and it always made me feel uncomfortable.


I did some research about "work outside your employment" in Germany and found that the main thing is about the amount of hours one can (or is allowed) to work. The idea here was that working more than the "normal" 8 hours a day, would have a negative effect on the actual job, i.e. you're too tired to do your job properly if you work an additional 4 hours at home. In plain English, if you work additional hours daily on a side project, you'll be too tired the next day at work, hurting your productiveness (and upsetting your employer...). I did not find anything relating to weekends and/or to software created in one's spare time.

Are you aware of any specific laws concerning this whole thing?


If that's really true then I am glad I don't live there. Sounds like coporations want to own their workers completely. O_O


Surely that clause would still apply if he made 90% of the game while employed by the company?


Yes but my understanding is that he (claims to have) coded it all in one month. After resigning.

Quite honestly, it sounds hard, but not impossible. This is not WOW we're talking about.


US has similar contacts actually.


Strange. My US colleagues were surprised I have this clause and said it would be blatantly illegal in California. Guess they were wrong :)


It depends on which U.S. state you're in.


examples?


It's an old link, but here's Apple enforcing that against a developer who developed an app in their spare time, and Apple wanting to take ownership of the app & source code:

https://web.archive.org/web/20060316084454/http://www.thinks...


That app is competing with Apple's iTunes, so that seems more like a non-compete issue. I'd like to see an example of an employee developing something completely unrelated to his employer's business.


Well, this guy was working in the gaming industry...


It's quite common.

My last company required IP assignment of all works that were:

- created on company hardware or

- related to the business in which the company engages

...and that struck me as eminently reasonable as a default. My current company defaults to everything full stop. I'm pretty sure this is going to be the default for most knowledge work in any state that hasn't specifically ruled such provisions unenforceable.


This is normal, and unenforceable, almost everywhere.


It is for sure, and it's fine, the amounts of money being mentioned are only material if you picked the short geoeconomic straw.


I also read it as a success. Developing and selling hundreds of units of software in less than 4 months for mere hundreds of dollars is challenging and iterable.


I wonder how many hundreds of sales he got simply from that article.


Just to add my personal data point of experience...

6 years ago, I took a break from doing webdev freelancing and spent around 3 months developing a kids app. At that point the money ran out so I released the app even though it wasn't entirely finished and quickly went back to doing web freelancing in order to be able to feed my family.

The app sold in small amounts but it was getting great feedback from the people who had tried it. In my spare time, I added to it and improved it and would pester bloggers to try it. Marketing beyond that isn't an option as the costs are too great and if you're lucky you make a dollar per app sold.

It was a depressing and disheartening thing to put something out there which you felt was good but almost nobody was buying but I realised it was a gamble up front. I didn't bet the farm on it. I bet three months wages and immediately went back to regular work as soon as I was in financial danger.

Even if your game is amazing, there's no way anyone is going to instantly and magically know about it. Are there really so many people spending every day looking at the Steam new releases ready to just buy anything that appears? At the Indie level, only word-of-mouth means anything and that can take a very long time to build.

As it happens, after 9 long months of very little sales, my app got a small write-up in the New York Times. The piece was by one of the bloggers I had pestered particularly hard to try it and later happened to have a one-off article published. Since then, somehow the word-of-mouth effect kicked in and I've been blessed to be able to work on the app full-time as my sole source of income.

TL;DR: Don't ever plan on anyone buying your indie-game on day 1 even if it's amazing.


P.S. https://itunes.apple.com/app/my-playhome/id439628153 in case anybody was wondering.


For what it's worth my daughter has sunk countless hours into that game and its expansions, and loved every minute of it. Even though she now considers herself a bit 'too old' for them, she'll still occasionally fire them up and play.


Thanks! It's so nice to get actual feedback from parents. I live in the middle of nowhere and very, very rarely actually get to witness the app being used in the wild.


Completely unrelated, but what's with all the characters having their arms open?


It's essentially a doll house. The characters can hold things. Their arms are open so it's easy to put things into their hands.


I see! Makes sense! Thanks for the explanation


It's clearer in the iPad screenshots. Thanks for asking as I now notice none of the iPhone screenshots show the characters holding anything. I should probably change that...


This is one of my daughter's favorite iPad games. She's been playing it for years and occasionally I play it with her. Did you do the artwork yourself?


:)

A friend of ours does the artwork using actual pen and paper. We scan it in and clean it up in Photoshop.


I used to draw quite a bit and I'm thinking of trying to get into game development as a hobby. Most mobile games have generic or mediocre art, but your friend did a really good job here. You did a pretty great job too. Its a simple concept, but everything works really well and there are lots of little details that make it more interesting.


My son loved this game. He's no "too old" but this was a game I got him to play on my mom's (his grandma's ipad). They really bonded over it.


Great write up, I’m developing for iOS (solopreneur). Is your company UK based?


I feel like relying on a big splash release is an intuitive, obvious, and wrong approach. It's like a kind of waterfall methodology, where we should be doing iterative: Release something early to a limited audience, gauge reactions, fix the obvious mistakes and implement the feedback from players. Then keep doing that. If you can't even get a small audience (like a small gamer forum) to play, then you're already in trouble and should revise your idea. Once the game starts to look like something with mass appeal, start planning a real release. If you want a splashy go-live at this point then change the name of the game and do it as a clean new release, but this time you are releasing something that has been market tested and proven to have appeal.

Also, and this is encapsulated in the ideas above, don't freaking rely on family, friends, or acquaintances, to tell you what they think of the game. Not even other devs. Nobody wants to be the asshole that shoots down someone's dream. Again, if you can't even get actual players to try your game then you have big problems that you need to work on.


Can confirm. Tried big splash release, didn't work, gave up. Don't do big splash releases.


I recommend being careful from whom you take advice.


I'm sure everyone here would be really grateful if you could expand on this a little.


Not jblow but it's rather obvious that anecdotal evidence isn't a sound basis for the sort of general advice given.

That some people fail to make a big splash isn't evidence that a big splash is a tactic that will fail. Particularly if you take a broader view as this has been a successful part of the business model of games for a long time. Whether or not it's right for a specific game and the longer term business of the developer is a much more nuanced question.


Exactly -- some kinds of games are soft-launch-and-iterate kinds of games, but some other kinds are very much not, and if you soft-launch them you make it tremendously harder to build an audience.


Not jblow, but the video game industry is extremely dependent on big splash releases. Something like 50% of sales occur in a game's release week.

A few games have managed to become huge hits growing only organically in early access (factorio and rimworld come to mind), but they are extremely special games. That's not something you can replicate with a relatively generic title.

To be fair, I'm not sure there is any path to success for a solid albeit generic game these days. There are just too many releases.


If you're releasing a videogame and the first the world hears of it is the announcement of your 1.0 release, you've not done a stellar job of marketing.


Not really worth it -- if I put in effort to write a substantial comment here, it's just buried in the noise of all these people who think they can give advice on how to build and launch a game.


Jon, there are many here who would very much like to hear what you have to say. If you think it'll get buried, please leave it as a comment to the main thread.

BTW, Jon Blow is the creator of Braid and The Witness. He is also working on Jai, a programming language.


Thanks for the nice comments.

But I only think this because I have had the experience many times in the past!

I feel the best place to focus my creative energy is on making livestreams, doing speeches, and just on day-to-day programming.

Putting effort into a posting here often doesn't take too much energy, but it does take some, and I'd rather put it into something bigger than mostly toss it away.


I for one usually do a CTRL+F "jblow" on game related articles, since I know you're commenting on HN and have the actual competence to do so.


Same.


Release something early to a limited audience, gauge reactions, fix the obvious mistakes and implement the feedback from players.

That worked for Minecraft. The core group of players was pretty small. Nearly all male geek types for the first year. You had to look up almost everything in the rather chaotic wiki to get anywhere.. which is what made it fun for me at the time.


His sense of what games are "cool" wasn't in tune with the public. That's the cardinal sin. Pixel art dungeon crawlers aren't cool. It's as if he was a musician and decided to release a glam metal album today. Low budget, poor marketing, uncooperative bureaucracy - nah dude, none of that matters, you're just too in love with glam metal and people aren't buying glam metal.


It's as if he was a musician and decided to release a glam metal album today

There's still plenty of interest in glam metal. Steel Panther are doing well, and back in 2014/2015 when Mötley Crüe did their "final tour" they were one of the best selling acts during that period.

It might be better to say that "his sense of what niche to target, and how to target that niche, wasn't as well developed as it should be". In the same sense that you can make money selling glam-metal today, he probably can make money with a pixel-art dungeon crawler, if he can figure out how to target the specific group of people who are into that sort of thing.


That is called "targeting a niche" and makes sense if you can't compete against those big marketing budgets. Even the glam metal niche is still alive: hairmetalheaven.co.uk


Nothing wrong with targeting a niche, IF the niche is willing to pay a hefty sum for their needs. In this case he sold 90 copies on Steam, I think that every pixel art dungeon crawler fanatic on Steam has a copy now.


It's not a hefty sum at all, though. £5 (or the dollar equivalent) is nothing for a game aimed at a niche. If it's good enough, those 90 people would probably have paid a lot more, maybe 2 or even 4 times as much. The real issue though, I think, is that niche markets require recurring payments. So, as others have said, you either release a lot of games (or sequels) targeting that niche, or you move to some kind of subscription model, but that's very difficult with an indie game.


Personally I really enjoy this particular niche but unfortunately this sad article is the first time I hear about the game. Instant buy and looking forward to getting home to play.


But you need to make sure the niche is large enough to support your financial needs and that they want what you're making. Did he talk to his target audience or otherwise pre-qualify his niche? Also, did he promote his game or just rely on Steam? There is so much on Steam these days, what did he do to stand out?


He did some promotion:

"Please note that I did all the marketing I could afford to do on my own and with a halved budget. I emailed 187 reviewers and news website. I tweeted out like mad and got about 50 retweets and >10K impressions on the launch tweet. Before release I even had a mention about the game on Rock Paper Shotgun's german website."


>There is so much on Steam these days, what did he do to stand out?

Write a cautionary tale and get recognition even in auxiliary communities.


That's true, good point.


I love pixel art dungeon crawlers, but the competition is completely insane. I can't build something along the lines of Terraria or Starbound given a lifetime.

Glam metal isn't really a good analogy. I'd say it's more like building cathedrals. The market isn't what it used to be. They're still admirable and today's tools are better for them. But they're monumental work, even for the experienced, and you'd be insane to tackle that with 4 months of savings.

I want to make a game eventually, and I'm a risk taker, but even I would save up at least 3 years before I go indie.


> like building cathedrals

Cathedrals were AAA titles, took generations and the funds of a pope.

Pixel art indies are like Norwegian Stav Kirke, a cathedral made of wood. It’s concevable you could build one yourself.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stave_church


No, they're more like "home churches", which are what they sound like -- churches that meet in peoples' homes and put on their own services and activities with the budget they can scrape together.


The best indie titles hold their own on design and experience against AAA, albeit assembled less expensively.

Not every indie is a stave kirke, some are straw huts. Just as not every AAA is a cathedral, some are just 3 walls and a price list for future construction.

Maybe your example represents the game kit or game builder games.


> Pixel art dungeon crawlers aren't cool.

I bought at least 3 of them. My steam recommendations are full of them and many have big, happy communities. I think "aren't cool" is a bit of an overstatement. They're not AAA level cool, but few things are.


Actually a lot of games make good money with pixel art and with dungeon crawlers. combining both is actually a good combination. You shouldn't just play tripple A games, who btw cost hundreds of millions and hundreds of people to build and then try to give advise about Indie games.

PS: This is not a pixel art game.


Disagree. It's a niche, and the market size is bigger than 700 people. It's just that the 700+ people who would buy his game don't know about him yet. So ... marketing.


Definitely. Although I appreciate this article and him writing honestly about his process, in all seriousness the game is a pixel art dungeon crawler with Wolfenstein 3D -style graphics, how do you expect that to sell ?

The games market is so saturated with actual good, polished content, everybody knows this, making an indie game you need to really stand out from the crowd from the view of game mechanics in a spectacular way, or you need really good graphics and sound, and still you are not guaranteed even to make your own investment back.

Been working at a big mobile game company myself and seeing this shit first hand, you make like 50 games and maybe 1 or 2 were like good or really good, not even great. It's a brutal business, and oversaturated like heck, how are you going to stand out with this kind of game ?


The pixel art thing is quite trendy if the game is also good. Good Night Knight has been getting a lot of hype recently: http://knightdev.tumblr.com/


That game looks like it has some character, unlike the OP's game.


It definitely has. Watch this gif: https://gfycat.com/firsthandwellworndotterel


Yeah, it's the kind of thing I might have been interested in 20 years ago. Now I looked at it as a result of this thread and thought "that's cool!".

But do I want to play it in competition with so many other things I could play? Not really. Sorry :( I'm sure it's very well done and I might enjoy it, but there is no reason to move it to the top of my large to-do list...


>Yeah, it's the kind of thing I might have been interested in 20 years ago. Now I looked at it as a result of this thread and thought "that's cool!".

That also means you're now 20 years older, and perhaps not in the target demographics for games in general.


This is probably true. I don't have so much time or interest any more, but I am in a position to just buy a game without thinking of the cost now if it interests me at all whereas I was not 20 years ago.


The demographics of gamers may be broader than you think - "older" gamers are a significant segment of the market.


The country he mentions is Romania.

Well, bureaucracy is high, but like other said, no need to setup a company in advance. But, he saved anyway way to little money ( I found strange that he is counting in USD, since euro is de facto currency, besides the RON ) to be able to sustain him and an apartment.

Lessons learn: don't quit your job until you have some sale volume.

However, since he's in Romania, he will get a job in no time, there's a chronic shortage of good developers.


I use USD when talking about "money things" on the Internet as well. Translates better to others, even those who don't use USD. Since you can see USD prices on every HW release, software, etc... most people have general idea of its value.


Life costs are quite different in Romania though.


>I found strange that he is counting in USD, since euro is de facto currency, besides the RON

The majority of his sales would be in USD (with EUR second, except if he especially marketed to European customers).

And $ gives a standard reference across the world. For EUR many people around the world need to do the conversion first, but even someone in rural Nigeria or Polynesia would have a good grasp of the value of the $ compared to their local currency.


That highly depends on which city you are in Romania. If you're in one of the bigger cities (Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi or Oradea) then it's going to be ok. If not, then you're screwed, unless you can work remote. At least, that has been my experience.

There's also the thing that the average developer salaries are surprisingly low. They are well above the national average, but it's only the top 1-5% who really pulls in the money. The latest numbers I have seen is an average of 5300 RON net (1185 EUR). While the national average is at 2100 RON (485 EUR). The top 1-5% pulls in more than double the average: 10000 RON (2170 EUR), if not more. You're gonna need a salary like that to live comfortably.

It makes sense for him to count in US dollars because even though prices for apartments and cars are expressed in euros in Romania, the rest off the world is still very much US dollar centric.


You can live quite comfortably, even in Bucharest, with $1200, as a dev. No need to be in the top 10%.


Do you have any (online) references available for the average salaries? I'm quite interested in this but can't seem to find decent sources...


I work for a start-up and when we started we bought research on this. Let me see if I can share the report we got. I'll report back in a couple of hours.


I was in Cluj last year and was surprised to see an ad in the street saying "Are you a coder? Living in Floresti (a neigbothood)? Come send us a resume!".

Salaries are low compared to the rest of Europe (and the US). But it sounds easy to get a tech job there.


I was not arguing that it's not easy to find a job. I was arguing that its hard to find a well paying job.

See my comment down here, 80% of the companies offering jobs are outsourcing companies, which are not the greatest to work for IMHO. Or did you have a different experience? I worked for one for about 6 months and left. I've seen people around me with similar experiences. But those are just my anecdotal experiences.


Afaik Romania's IT is doing very well thanks to outsourcing. Oracle moved a big chunk of stuff there. Education is alright, salaries are low, timezone is European and authorities are accommodating; if you can get over the language barrier somehow, you get a good bang for your buck, probably better than in more expensive Czech or Poland. The country is hungry, so to speak; it's the new frontier of labour-cost arbitrage. Their only challenges are political stability and corruption.


You mean the language barrier between your own native language and English? Because from what I've experienced, most younger people in IT speak English very well.

EDIT: Yeap, Romania has been doing well. However, I'd argue that the biggest risk is not corruption. From the Romanian workforce's point of view, its becoming too dependent on outsourcing. As salary costs rise, it becomes less and less attractive for foreign companies to outsource work to Romania. Right now, in the city where I live in Romania, 80% of the IT companies are outsourcing companies. It's getting better and better, and most good programmers know to avoid the outsourcing companies as they generally pay peanuts and the work is boring and repetitive.


I found strange that he is counting in USD

He probably used USD for the same reason he wrote in english. 'everybody' outside the US knows, roughly, the value of a USD. Few people in the US knows the value of a a Euro.


>>Lessons learn: don't quit your job until you have some sale volume.

Don't quit your job until your side gig is fully self-sufficient and you are being paid enough to cover bills/food/necessities and you have a few months saved up for emergencies and such.

If you can't work 40 hours per week at a basic job (and squeeze in a few hours of at least thinking/reading about your side project, if not actually coding/writing) and work another 20-60 on your side gig, you probably don't like it enough or have enough passion for it to sustain it even if you hit your stride.


100 hours a week is an insane amount to work. Depending on how much you sleep each day (and working this much is going to mean you'll end up sleeping longer) that's probably going to leave you less than than 3 hours each day to travel to/from work and eat. It doesn't matter how much passion you have for something, the majority of the population is not going to be to do this without slowly killing themselves.

60 hours per week is far more feasible (if you have few obligations outside of work), but I think that once that number starts increasing the number of people physically capable of working that long is going to drop very sharply.


I average 80 hrs/week currently; married with two kids. When I was married, no kids, I was working 92 hrs/wk on average (have it tracked), 50 at my main, 42 on the side.

I work three 16 hour days and three ~10 hour days (sometimes I take two days off and work another 16 hour day). One full day with my oldest child, and the other days I wake up very early and get home to do dinner and evening activities.

>>the majority of the population is not going to be to do this without slowly killing themselves.

We're talking about entrepreneurs, aren't we? People who want to make stuff? Yeah, they aren't the majority. I never said they were.


> you probably don't like it enough or have enough passion for it to sustain it even if you hit your stride.

With all due respect, I am obliged to invite you to ingest excrement. Whilst there might be some people out there who have everything they need to spend another 20 to 60 hours a week on a side gig besides passion, I believe that one needs to have a set of not so common circumstances to be able to devote 40-60 hours a week to something other than a job.


>> I believe that one needs to have a set of not so common circumstances to be able to devote 40-60 hours a week to something other than a job.

I worked 50 hrs/week at my main job and another 40 until this one took off. All it took was not having much of a social life outside of it. There's nothing that difficult about it.


Depends on why you can't, no? If it's lack of interest, sure, but it may simply be that you have other obligations (e.g. familial).

Plus, as others have said, releasing the game while employed may expose you to the risk of having your employer claim IP ownership.


Always read the contract very thoroughly, there can be a lot of gotcha's preventing you from striking out on your own on the side. IP, non-compete, and directly prohibiting working on the side as --- according to some --- this distracts you from their business.


I assume part of his problem is the Steam description - some of it reads like nonsense (the twist/USP makes no sense, “fervent goddess,” “20 levels of pure mishap”) and the rest is actually discouraging, describing it as “back-to-basics” (read: not many features) and literally has a section entitled “why you might not like this game”.

Overall the concept is confusing. It’s a “coffee-break game” but also a really difficult roguelike with permadeath? Why? People don’t like to experience frustration in their coffee breaks, in my experience!


It's not even the description, it's the screenshots.

They look like a half-baked demo of a Wolfenstein clone. There's no video of the gameplay either, so it'd be pretty damn hard to convince a random person to sink any time into this even if it were free.

I bet he's losing 99% of the audience at the first image.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/725040/Ebony_Spire_Heresy/

EDIT - There's a video now, not sure why it wasn't showing up before. The first image was just of two stone walls around a flat looking inset door. It looked as unexciting as it gets.


Yes... the pitch seems confusing, and the game itself seems uninspired.

I'd try a demo because this is the sort of thing I might like but I see nothing there worth paying for up front.


The first thing that rang alarm bells, for me, reading through this article was:

> I even released a small 5 level demo on itch (can't afford to pay steam's 100$ fee to get a free version up on the platform)

How much larger is Steam's market than itch's? I'm guessing the answer is "very". How many conversions do they need for the $100 to pay off? 20-30? Seems like a no-brainer to me, and not even being able to afford $100 for what would almost certainly be positive ROI marketing is a pretty big blocker. Heck, I'd even front the $100 myself if I can get some kind of commission on copies sold :)


I am moderately familiar with video games but have no idea what itch is. I have a largish steam library though.

$100 dollars is nothing compared to dev costs. It should have been just counted as startup costs and the demo should have been up since day 1.


Also it seems he quit a job in gamedev to pursue this. He was already a professional in the industry, getting paid, and he was warned but jumped anyway.

It's like he went out of his way to do everything exactly wrong, knowing the chances of failure were against him even if he did everything right.


Even things like referring to the player as “him” – it seems small but it adds up and people notice it.


There is a success hiding in what you call a failure.

You've built a fully working product in a short amount of time. It went pretty much as you have planned it. This speaks volumes to your abilities as a game developer.

You discovered that you are not that great at launching products, marketing, and sales. These are the areas you need to spend a lot of time improving.

It sounds like the plan right now is to get up on your own two feet, financially wise. Get a job that will cover your expenses, so that stress disappears. Start saving up again.

Start learning about sales, marketing, and product launches. They may seem like a second thought to you, but each of these areas is as important as product development.

Another thing to consider is when to quit your job. In general it is said that one should have about six months of living expenses saved up, just in case. This is to cover a situation where you have a job and lose it unexpectedly. That six months of savings will allow you to spend time to find a new job.

To quit your job and self-fund, you need a lot more savings. How much is tough to say. But let's say you give yourself six months to break even in your game venture (no guarantees!), you need to plan an additional X months of savings to find a new job.

The good news is the next time, you possibly will not need to quit your job altogether. You already have a well-built game. Tweak it, redress it, and spend 90% of your time launching and marketing. Perhaps you can do it while you have a job and reduce your financial risk greatly.


The main advice should be: not another pixel art game. Please. We have enough of these. Folks let's move on from the 1970s.

Also this is getting tired seeing honest, hard-working, self-motivated talented individuals push themselves into the same tried and tested crappy old corner of 'indie pixel art games'. It's quite difficult to see anything innovative or even remotely enjoyable from this genre anymore.

It's not Romania. It's not boring buearacracy. Its not the savings. Hell it's not even you.

It's pixel art crap that passes off as indie games. I hate AAA games but now I hate these indie pixel art games even more.


Your advice really just boils down to "mindfulplay hates pixel art, so everyone who likes it should stop."

I personally don't get the appeal of pixel art, the blocky look of much of it seems purposely lower res then the actual sprites they purport to imitate, but it's just an aesthetic choice that has no direct relation to the quality of a game and it doesn't ruin the experience for me.

And, I've seen enough badly done 3D that I refuse to buy the premise that sprites are objectively inferior. The problem isn't the pixel art, it's that most indie developers (myself included, eventually) likely don't have the talent or staff to create a product that stands out, or they might, but want to focus on recreating nostalgia rather than iterating on the ideas and genres they like and creating something new.

Chances are that's exactly what the games they like were doing back in the day, and that's why they became classics.


Completely agree. There's a post on /r/GameDev right now (actually, it's a recurring theme) where a dev posts that their game isn't getting any traction; struggling to market; few social media interactions; and you find it's all down to being "Yet Another Pixel Metroidvania/DungeonCrawler".

A lot of devs are still living with the 1980s "Build It And They Will Come" philosophy. That was great when Elite and Manic Miner were the only games out. Now you've got to onboard your market with Alpha builds, get feedback early - gee, it's all a bit Lean Startup now.


> It's quite difficult to see anything innovative or even remotely enjoyable from this genre anymore.

You probably haven't seen Undertale then http://store.steampowered.com/app/391540/Undertale/


But surely this is part of the problem; Exceptions to the rules, that have succeeded due to an unpredictable combination of luck, timing AND developer inspiration.

Nobody should look at Undertale and say "Yes, this is definitely a good area/style/genre to go into to make easy success.


this is a silly argument, no matter the medium there is room for original creativity, people didn't stop painting because they ran out of colours...


There are pixel art games and there are pixel art games.

Look up "The Last Night".


many of us prefer great pixel-art to 3D in certain genres (RPGs for example)


What gets me about this is the tiny scale of things. This is the first time it really dawns on me just how small of a success a game might have to be and still have the developer going (hard as it may be to reach 700 sold, apparently).

Honestly, this puts things into an entirely new light for me. I feel like buying, playing and then thoroughly interacting in the community of a game can really have personal impact on the indie developer.


That's when your developer is in Romania. If your game developer lives in bay area, that's a full order of magnitude of difference in cost of living.


The developer said he had four months of savings. And then he said $500 of expenses cost him a whole month.


And can you get by on $500 a month in the bay area if you don't live under a highway overpass?

In Romania you definitely can.


Definitely. Even in East Germany, I could get by on about €600 a month as a student.


Oh sure, definitely!


Actually, he played everyone for fools: http://steamspy.com/app/725040

(he already had the "magical 700 buyers" by the time this article was published). Funny thing, it seems some ~700 more people decided to take a go of it, and then refunded.


The biggest mistake was the assumption that he could ship 700 copies in a couple months. It seems this was based more on what he needed to pay the bills, not in any way tied to what demand would be. This is a fundamental mistake in setting business goals, product pricing, revenue estimates, etc. He could have scoped out similar games in terms of quality, complexity, genre, etc. and based his estimate off of this, or looked at other games conversion % of wish list to paid purchases.


Yeah, quitting the job with no savings is a mistake. The things he could have done better are mainly

1) Proof that people want to play this game. Post the gameplay video on /r/indiegaming, see what people say. I remember the early days of Minecraft, people went wild for it, even though it was very basic.

2) Marketing. Tweeting is not enough. Submitting to reviewers is not enough.

On the positive side, he is fast and can deliver. I feel like he can develop minimum viable games even faster, just to prove the gameplay is addicting.


I quit my job a few years back with around $150k in the bank to fund my startup. A few months later, still nervous about leaving full time employment, I took a job interview with a big four. I received an offer with a base salary of $600k. I turned that down and committed to the startup.

A few months on, I receive a letter from the tax department advising that my previous employer provided corrected earnings information and that I now owed them most of what was left in my savings account. Grim news.

That big four job was already gone so I ended up in another interview process. Leaving that interview for the train station, I realised the coins in my pocket were not enough for the train ride home.

I set out walking, it was about 5 kilometers, 30c degree heat and equatorial humidity and then it started raining. I was in a suit. Strangely enough I found myself smiling. I thought "is this all you've got?". I actually felt happy... with nothing.

A riches to rags story by traditional measure.


You're mad to turn down $600K, unless the job really sucked. Even if you project to make millions with your startup, multiply that by the risk of ~90% failure, you wouldn't do much better than $600K/year.

Still, very sorry about the situation, I'm sure you were hoping for the best.


Thanks I can appreciate your viewpoint. The point is money can't buy time. And in the years since, my time has been very well spent.


Why not take the job for a year or two and have a (half) million to fund your startup?


I did consider it. But the lead partner jumped through some hoops to get me admitted directly as an outsider (I had never worked in a big four). To take that job with an intent to leave in a year or two would have reflected poorly on him and me.


I'm really curious why people are downvoting this.

I know there's a sentiment on hacker news that you should take advantage of a company when you can, because they won't hesitate to take advantage of you. Is it that?

It seems like at that level of compensation you are almost certainly in a small enough circle that any grudges you incur could severely affect you down the line.


I think us IT'ers feel somewhat buffered in life just by the fact that it's quite possible to get job offers with $600k salaries...


I'm not sure that it is. 600k total I might believe someone got in the bay area for total comp, but for base salary? You'd have to be on the 1% of the 1% of devs to get that salary. It is by no means a common salary in even the US, much less the world


80% base, 20% bonus. Cyber security practice leadership (not software development).


Previous post said 600k base?


Yes. $600k base (80%) + 20% for hitting assigned targets.


So 720k total? That is in no way a common job that an average developer can feel comfortable about getting


It's not "a" job though, it was a partner position.


Which requires a buy-in, too, at least at the big 4 consulting firms. I've never heard of someone being brought in as a partner without having been partner somewhere else, or bringing over a whole group. (it's not because I haven't heard of it, that it doesn't exist, of course). I call bullshit.


I don't blame you :)

I'm sure I'm less intelligent than the average HN commenter and I'm certain there are many here with greater infosec expertise. So what explains the salary package? It's the combination of skills in this case. People are usually either good technically or good at sales. Rarely they're good at both. That's why most technology companies sales organisations pairs up an account managers with a tech guy. My talent was not being the best at either, but being uniquely good at both.


600k base salary? What type of position is that?

Developer salaries in the big four (I assume you mean Google/Facebook/Amazon/Apple) are high but that is still twice what I normally hear (and have gotten offers for), and that's assuming you're talking about total comp. I'm not doubting you, i'm just curious what type of experience you need to get that.


If I had a nickle every time a HN commenter said they make 500k+/yr as an engineer, I'd make 500k+/yr.


Don't you know? Everyone on HN makes $500k+, drives a Ferrari and has a supermodel partner.


Funny enough, I now live in Bali, earn less than $150k, drive a $3k scooter and have a supermodel partner. She just made me pumpkin soup.


It was a Partner position at a big four consulting firm. Leading up the Cyber Security practice.


What is a "Partner position"?


Something IT people dealing with cyber security never, ever get.


Traditionally, a partnership is a type of privately held company where the partners hold equity and receive a % profit share based on tenure.


> I assume you mean Google/Facebook/Amazon/Apple

He meant "the other big four", i.e. consulting companies.


> A riches to rags story by traditional measure.

If you have marketable skills that at least once (even assuming that it wasn't typical occurrence) lead you to receive a $600k offer, you're not in the rags, regardless of what your financial statement says.


I think for small games like this, there's a lot to be said for building up a corral if releases. Once one makes a decent splash, you'll have a better audience for future releases, as well as people exploring your back catalog. It's a marathon, not a sprint.


On the flip side, even previous success is no indicator of future success. See Scanner Sombre:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4a7K-I-F5s

"We didn't think it was possible to sell only 6000 copies" [after PA sold 2 million].


It's fine to do marathons if you're sure you're going to win, or if you don't care if you win.


I'm a hobbyist developer working on an upcoming large title. For reasons I can't explain programmers make up a huge portion of the demographic.

It's a monster-collecting game, so I really can't figure out what the link is there to programmers.

Thank god I'm only doing this as a hobby because I bet such a connection would be obvious to anyone more entrepreneur-like than I.


1) It's very hard to get proof for good, but not exceptional games. Getting any feedback is hard. Minecraft was unique, it will likely get to a quarter billion sold copies eventually, it's not the game you want to compare your 3-month project to.


It always saddens me when people claim Minecraft was unique, because it was actually a clone of Infiniminer [0]

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwM6OA9DkXI


GP presumably means that its financial success was unique. They're not talking about gameplay.


If people want more infiniminer give them more infiniminer.


Of course given you can crank out a game that quickly it may have been better to not quit your job and release the game on the side. If it had been a success then quit. Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn't it?

There are some strong positives here - you shipped a game! That alone is awesome. You built up a community. You were prepared to take a chance. All great things.

The harsh reality is the casual games market is brutal from a business perspective - that's not your fault.

Better luck next time!


I don’t really see the same positives as you do here. I see someone who really didn’t think through the decision to quit their job, may have lost their house over it, and who still appears to have not found a replacement despite running out of money already.

It also appears he would have launched the game without quitting his job, seeing as he seems to have done most of the work before he quit.

> The harsh reality is the casual games market is brutal from a business perspective - that's not your fault

It’s not his fault for the market being tough, but it is his fault for launching another rogue like 2d pixel art rpg, with no real unique feature into an over saturated market, with no marketing, and not enough cash to deal with a single business expense. He’s lucky his girlfriend put him up afterwards, and this piece might even net him a few sympathy sales, but this is definitely his fault.


My hat is off to anyone who takes a big risk to pursue building a business. You learn so much, so fast. And sometimes you make it. I hope he tries again and leverages what he's learned.

Who cares about who's fault it is anyway?


I don't understand how people still think that just creating and publishing a game is enough to sell enough copies or make a living from it.

Maybe a few years back, that barely worked, but even then, if you didn't have an audience, your game never sold as much.


> I don't understand how people still think that just creating and publishing a game is enough to sell enough copies or make a living from it.

Back in the 80s even the crappiest games sold relatively well. Infogrames made a whole publishing company out of it.


Okay, but the 80s are a bit more than a few years back. When the market is basically empty, i.e. the demand is high, any product will sell somewhat.


Back in the 80s the bar to create and publish a game was incredibly high. That market is nothing like todays.


Yes and no. Back in the 80s you could do a game on your own, from scratch, and it was not completely awful there was a good chance you could get a publisher - if that were not the case how would so many crappy titles find their way to the market back then? Sim City was one person's game. Another World was basically the work of Eric Chahi. And examples like that abound - leading to major commercial success. In 2017, sure, there are still folks doing games mostly alone, but it's rather small teams than anything else, even for indies. It's easier to publish things nowadays, but there's way more competition too.

> That market is nothing like todays.

Of course it's not. That was not the point of my comment at all.


Because a handful made it, and those are the ones that make it to the news, inspiring people to do the same. Till reality hits.


This is very much of a tangent, but I was really surprised by this part: "At the beginning of the year I opted to buy an apartment for myself. [...] The developer behind the apartment did not do his job properly and I found myself having to pay for many things out of pocket (like getting electricity)."

Where I live, nobody owning an apartment would ever expect not to have to get an individual contract with an electricity provider and to pay for electricity based on individual consumption. There are some rental contracts that include a flat fee for electricity consumption, but I don't understand how an owner would expect not to pay.

Maybe the author expected electricity to be covered by other charges? But that would still be a misunderstanding on his part and not mean that the "developer behind the apartment did not do his job properly".


I read that as the apartment was a new build of some sort and had not yet been connected to the main supply. So he was then left with that expense as the owner.

I was surprised he paid for such an apartment, it sounds like he didn't get any sort of survey done before handing over funds/agreeing what would actually be completed before moving in. Combined with then quitting a job with so little savings I think this year will be a stressful but worthwhile lesson in planning and being more long term in thinking.


Hi, OP here! Just now got around to check Hacker News and reply. The thing with the apartment is, I've wanted to buy one for a while and in Romania there's a state aid that allows you to buy one with just 15-25% advancement. At the beginning of the year I had enough money saved up for the advancement and I was making about 1.5K euros monthly through work and another side-gig.

The thing is, a salary in Romania outside of tech is between 300 - 600 euros. With most people who have non-tech jobs (cashier, seller, construction) and even some it jobs being on the low end of that spectrum (even lower). I was making 4 times what most people make. My first job as a game designer gave me about 400 euros. With a 200 euro mortgage nowadays and savings it was a no brainer to finish up the game in the remaining month working full time on it and release it. However there were some problems on the developers side:

- The building had power, via a contract with the local power energy and a written promise from the developer that he will handle all the legal documents to connect me to the power grid properly and handle all the payments.

- The same thing as above with gas.

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail informing me (and all people who owned property in the building) that the contract they had with the power company will expire and we need to get our paperwork sorted out. Now again, I met with the developer and have in writing the fact that he was to take care of things. It turns out, he did but he just applied for all the permits and did all the paperwork but he didn't pay for anything. And I got word of this 1 week before the plug was about to be pulled. In that situation I had to run and pay for everything so I can keep the power up and work on my things. And gas since we all use gas for heating here during the winter - same story.


Jesus, that sounds like a nightmare! Hope you get it all sorted out. Probably even more expensive but any potential of suing the developer collectively with the other people? Sounds like they'll have annoyed a lot of people!


There are 5 other people in the same situations (the other ones had experience with friends/relatives on things like this and sorted everything out themselves). It's costly to sue, takes a lot of time and it's not a guarantee to get the money back (corruption and Romania go hand in hand). And even if I want to sue it's me vs him because the other people cannot afford the costs. Not worth it in the end.

Edit: There's an entire article to be written about buying an apartment here when the developer pretty much has a monopoly in this part of the city. For example, you can rarely find a already-built new building (that's not in shambles and will fall at the next big-ish earthquake) to buy. Most people pay for it in advance (before it's even built) and in the end can end up with a shit hole (it happens). And you pay mortgage on a building that's not even completed.


> a new build of some sort and had not yet been connected to the main supply

Yeah, that's a valid reading of the part that I quoted, and I would have interpreted it as such. Except that he then goes on to say that "the plug was pulled", implying (to me) that the bill for running consumption hadn't been paid.


He simply did too many new things at once:

1. finishing the game

2. setting up a buisness

3. marketing the game

4. buying, setting up and moving into his own apartment

he did good with 1, but underestimated 2-4 and it went over his head. But now he has HN attention, so he should survive (or even prosper). But like others said, the whole thing sounded very whiney and attention grabbing..


Sad as it may be, it's just such an obvious rookie mistake.

Just don't quit your job unless you have enough savings and good grasp on your finances.

It's so much easier to make things than to sell them, even more so from an unknown underdog on a crowded market.


Next article in this series; "How a postmortem gave me enough publicity to help me survive as an indie game developer"


Exactly, this entire article is way too dramatic. The closing sentence with "I won't be able to survive this Christmas" did it for me.

If he's even a half-decent programmer - he'd be able to get a new job in an instant, keeping his business on the side, or doing freelance stuff with it - and maintain the game in his free time. This is way too much self-pity and begging for sales. He took a pretty small risk, it failed to pay off in the short term and now he acts as if it's the end of the world.

I took way bigger risks than that with a lot more money, and was fully aware of the possible consequences the entire time, even though I was in my early 20's. It managed to turn out ok-ish, but that took about 7 years of hard work, with the first 3 being on the brink of bankruptcy and 60+h work-weeks. Looking back on it, financial ROI was pretty bad, but it taught me a lot.


I'm pretty sure most of these "My recently released game failed. Here's why" posts are just self-denigrating ads. I remember a couple years back posts like these blew up pretty much weekly and completely average, boring games got thousands of people playing them who wouldn't have otherwise. It all started after that "The Game That Time Forgot" video on youtube blew up.


"... just getting the business prepared ended up costing me about 550 more dollars than I was expecting. That's one month out of the 4 taken out."

You saved 2000$? OMG I would wait until 10000€ at least (Spain).

At the end, he says: 'I know I can get hired for a good salary again but I don't think it will happen this year'.

What do you mean by good salary? Because if you say you have a low mortgage in a low cost country but that only gave you like 2000$ savings for the game...


I live in Poland, which is more expensive as Romania (as far as I know), but close enough. My first salary as a developer was 750USD net per month and I was able to live out of it easily, partying a lot and not cooking much (and I'm a smoker).

His assumptions were not too unrealistic, he just didn't factor out additional costs and should have had bigger margin of safety.

You shouldn't compare money like this between countries, differences are big and Romania is on the bottom of EU when it comes to income (though they are currently developing super fast, so it will definitely change - good for them).


The average salary for a developer in the top cities in Romania is around EUR 1,000 or $1,100 after taxes (that is about $2,500 in US before tax - yes, taxes are that high, actually a bit higher). A very good developer gets double. $2000 in savings are 4 months of living on the edge, not regular living.

Getting a full time job as a developer in Romania is extremely easy if you have any decent skills, there is a shortage of skilled people, but anyone reading the story will not hire him; he made absolutely all possible mistakes, including the ones specific to Romania (like his new apartment), so anyone that is looking for an example of how you can screw up big time can point to his article as an example.


We don't need to get into difference between countries. The question is, which quantity of money you spend every month and if you think that 4 months of savings are enough for going all in. I wouldn't go all in with 4 months of savings... life is full of uncertainties... just that.


> The average salary for a developer in the top cities in Romania is around EUR 1,000 or $1,100 after taxes (that is about $2,500 in US before tax - yes, taxes are that high, actually a bit higher).

Can you explain that ratio? €1000--€1100 is roughly equal to $1200--$1300, and some quick searches tell me income tax in Romania is a flat 16%. That ends up very far from $2500.


The income tax is one of the many taxes you pay; on average for $1 you keep after tax, the state takes $0.85 on the pay day and another $0.19 when you spend it. You pay 2 health taxes, 2 pension taxes, unemployment tax and some smaller ones. Only a part appear on the payslip, so most people don't know the real cost they have for the employer.

People think that Europe has free goodies - there is nothing free when taxes are 60-70%. The free health care is actually a tax that does not give any guarantee you will ever receive anything, you may die waiting for treatment and it happens a lot.

I have included as taxes everything the employer is paying for you to the state without you having any decision power. Nothing of what I mentioned is optional or giving you anything guaranteed. The pension is also a tax because if you live to get something in return or you die before retiring, all the money you paid during your life are lost. The beauty of socialism is that the state takes almost everything from you and then it gives you some back, making you dependent on the state's good will.


I know nothing about Romanian tax system, but in Russia the tax is flat 13%.

What that doesn't tell you is that employer also pays 30% on top of your gross salary in "social insurance", so maybe Romania has something like that in place.

And you don't even do your own taxes if you're employed in the vast majority of jobs. You do them if you're an entrepreneur or contractor.


He leaves in Romania not in Spain.


Depending on where in Spain, it's not too much more expensive. I live in Tenerife, and here you can live just fine with 700euro a month

But yhea, even 4/5 months of saving is not enough to start this kind of journey.


It doesn't care. I'm talking about income/outcome or savings. The problem here is if you have a bad sense of what you think is 'enough' for going all in.


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