Success or Failure Sign

The Surreal Mix of Prelaunch Emotions

This is a quick post…just to capture the experience I’m having. I’m sure it hits all developers when they’re close to launch so I wanted to try to put it in words.

I’m quickly approaching the launch of my first indie game…well, my first serious, complete, indie game at least. It’s a bucket of emotions, to say the least. One moment I’m exhilarated to finally be close to finishing the project I’ve been focused on for 6+ months of my free time. The next moment I’m terrified that the launch will be a disaster and users will hate it.

My soon-to-launch game is Thru-Hiker’s Journey, an Appalachian Trail backpacking simulation game which will simultaneously be released for Android and iPhone. I have a well defined audience, a popular blog willing to feature the game on release, and a small number of super passionate fans. I released a simple web version of the game 3 years ago and it has over 60,000 plays by 27,000 users. To this day, with no updates or marketing, the game gets 10-20 plays each day. I’ve done everything “right” but I’m still terrified of failure.

How I’m Fighting My Fear of Failure

  1. I have a well-defined metric of success. This is a little easier for me than most first time developers, since I have my old game to use as a reference. It’s very important that your success metric is a scale rather than a Pass/Fail. No matter how much data you have, there’s no way to truly predict what will happen when you launch. And you don’t want that metric to be a cause of more stress if your launch day is a bit slow.
    • You can measure success in a variety of ways. Revenue, downloads, social media shares…use the one you have the most information about and is easiest for you to track! I’m using downloads, since the app stores provide that information. However, I’ve also converted downloads to expected revenue. All of my assumed variables will be wrong, but money is what resonates with me.
  2. I’m focusing on the positives. When I hear my brain spit out a negative thought, I attempt to counter with “Yeah, but the graphics are awesome this time!” or “Yeah, but I did no marketing with the web game and it has 60,000 plays!” Your opposition thoughts will have to be unique to your game and situation. This won’t solve your launch anxiety, but perhaps staves off the depression that could follow all the negativity. Fight fire with water!
  3. I realize a bad launch isn’t the end of the world. I knew there was a risk when I started working on the game. Hopefully more people than my friends play the game, but maybe not. In any case, life goes on. I can start working on my next game or follow another passion project. I’ll be proud that I made something and released it for the world to see. Obviously I’d be happier if more of the world sees it, but at least I will have made something tangible that I can be proud of.
  4. I’m planning actions to avoid failure. I’m converting my anxious energy into planning my marketing strategy. I’ve already started reaching out to additional media sources. Sending someone a tweet or an email isn’t hard and you’ll be feel better knowing you’re improving your game’s chances of reaching the next bar of your success metric.


The Hardest Part of Making a Game

If you peruse any game development forums, you’ll see the same themes popping up over and over again. The first is obviously people who are interested in developing their own game but have no idea where to start. The next seems to be people who have released a game and deemed it to be a failure – usually blaming their marketing efforts. The hardest part of making a game doesn’t often gets its own forums threads though…how to actually finish a game.

The hardest part of making a game is finishing.

You don’t see people ask ‘How do I finish a game?’ because it seems like such a dumb question. But every successful developer I’ve met has an archive full of projects they never finished. And if you read the comments on /r/gamedev, you’ll see devs line up by the dozens to offer the advice of “make something simple and finish it.” They’re desperately pleading for newcomers not to chase their dream game first, despite their passion for it.

Making a game is hard. Making a game when you don’t understand everything that’s required to finish it is nearly impossible. All it takes is a moment of self-doubt while looking at your never ending to do list, and your game is lost forever.

I recently had to take a couple “mental health” weeks away from game development to get my sanity back. As you can imagine, working full-time and then spending a huge portion of your free time on a game that may not be commercially viable is quite taxing. I had to step back to gain some long-term vision before I could continue.

The crazy thing is that my game’s not that far away from being completed. The core gameplay exists, the basic art is done, background music is functional, analytics/ads/IAP SDKs are included and functional. All that’s left is finishing the remaining artwork, fixing obvious bugs, and adding some fun extra features. For me, it’s not the to do list that’s the problem; it’s launch date anxiety.

I arbitrarily pulled mid-January out of a hat as my launch date. Now that it’s creeping closer, my brain is in full-tilt “FUCK YOU” mode. The squishy void of information I call my brain finds avoidance as a viable coping mechanism, even though it works against itself.

Let’s work on some solutioning to this game completion problem that exists.

How to Finish a Game

  1. Scope down – You need to avoid scope creep, but you also will need to cut things that you thought would be included. Weight features against each other and the level of effort and chop that shit right out of your project. Think “What does this stupid thing accomplish anyway?”
  2. Stay organized – I track all my projects with HacknPlan. Some people prefer the list centric methods provided by Trello. The point is, find one that works and actually use it. This way when you inevitably lose momentum, you can come back and still understand what needs to be done to move forward.
  3. Deadlines – Love them or hate them, you need them. Even if their only purpose is to make a whooshing sound as they fly past, it at least draws attention to your production. You can measure your progress against them and then choose a reasonable launch date that will scare the shit out of you in the future.
  4. Flexibility – Deadlines, launch dates…you’re going to miss some of them…and that’s okay. Especially if you’re a solo developer, life just gets in the way sometimes. No one runs at 100% all the time. Well, some people probably do, but they’re total douchers.