The harsh reality of indie game development
Kamal Aittah
5/12/2020

The harsh reality of indie game development

Today I wanted to talk about how hard it is to be an indie game developer. And surprisingly, it satisfies us.
Being an indie developer means that you don’t have enough money to produce a AAA quality game. Heck, sometimes not having any money at all. So the only option for you is to do a lot of the work yourself. But have you ever wondered how much work actually need to be done? Especially for the majority of 1-5 indie teams. If it was just developing the game, it wouldn’t be as hard as it is nowadays. From my experience, having to constantly market your product even while in development and engaging with the community even if small, all while maintaining time for developing the game and dealing with personal life as well as managing other teammates and constantly checking the market is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. So you might be wondering, why do we do it? Is it the money and fame? If that’s the case, why not work for a big company? Could indie developers be … masochists?!

Well, it’s neither. Let me answer you with another question … Why do YOU play video games? It’s entertaining, right? It’s enriching with different stories and ideologies and emotions. That’s kinda how we see game development. For us, game development is a fascinating subject that we get very excited about to the point where we’re able to walk down such thorny path just to produce something that will entertain people in some way or another. So, care to join me for a little stroll in my daily routine? Here we go…

9 a.m. I’ve woken up, had my breakfast, checked social media and email, and now it’s time for work. The first thing I do is hop on Call to Valkyrie’s dashboard to check for today’s tasks. And as the project manager in the team, I contact my teammates to learn what they’ve done yesterday and what they’ll be working on today. Of course, all done through discord because … Well, COVID-19.

12 p.m. I worked a little on the game, whether it's a new game mechanic, polishing existing one, or fixing a bug. Now it’s time to socialize … and by socialize, I mean writing blogs like this one right here, design new thumbnails, work on different videos or GIFs representing the game, and of course, staring at my phone for two hours and trying to engage different digital communities on the internet to share the word about our game. Some tactics works, others don’t. Nonetheless, without ads, marketing the game feels stale, however, our money is prioritized for development, so we’re on our own when it comes to marketing, at least for this early stage of development.

3 p.m. working on multiple things at once is very exciting but very tiring at the same time, by now I’m as hungry as the wale from Disney’s Pinocchio. But I have no time to waste eating food. If there’s no leftovers, I grab instant noodles or cook something mundane … Pasta for example. At most I spend 10 minutes in lunch break before going back to work. Now, I’m back to more of game dev, meetings with my teammates over design choices or gameplay mechanics, engaging with discord community, and just doing like a billion things at once.

7 p.m. I’ve been practicing martial arts for over 10 years now, and I’m not ready to sacrifice it for game dev, so you know what that means … I have to drag my lazy butt off the chair and go training. Sometimes it’s just a 20 minutes jog other times it’s a hardcore martial arts training which leaves me too tired to train for at least 4 more days … I know, I’m an idiot.

9 p.m. ah, at last ... Dinner time. The way I planned my day is that after 9, I’m free of work, I get to do whatever I want, whether it be watching a series or playing a video game, or even practice my hobby of writing novels. But that, doesn’t happen very often. Usually, I finish dinner and get back to work. With the amount of tasks that needs to be finished, there’s really no time to be slacking off. Also there's no weekends ... It's work all day everyday! Though, I sometimes burnout and have to relax and that's when I don’t work after 9.

1 a.m. It’s time to sleep, I’m getting up at 7 a.m. so I need to sleep now or my day will be ruined and I’ll totally mess my schedule.

Now, and after this brief stroll in my daily routine, you could safely say that my personal life is almost nonexistent. Of course that means no love life and hanging out with friends is minimized, because whenever I have time to spare, I’d rather spend it with my family (Parents and siblings). But for some reason … I’m enjoying this … the fact that I’m doing something new, something unique, and people are acknowledging it is very intriguing to me. The hope to give players a great game and connect with them and perhaps convey some of my emotions through the game is a dream come true and I'm sure that's how many of my fellow indie developers fee like too. So please, when you see an indie game, don’t compare it to AAA titles even with the all the new tech and game engines. And always put in mind that the developers has undergone tremendous amount of work and stress to produce something that is unique and creative. They have discarded the winning formula to experiment with new mechanics and ideas that no AAA studio dare to implement and they’ve found joy in doing so. And if you don’t play indie games, boy you’re missing out a lot!