I wasn’t going to spend time talking about this but it is weighing heavy on my heart. I’ve seen too many people throw bad projects on Kickstarter and publish poorly thought out games on The Game Crafter because their motives are mixed up. So, let’s talk about motives. It never hurts to stop once-in-a-while and evaluate why you are in a relationship / at a certain job / starting a company. Why do you want to self-publish your game?
Honestly, are you here for the money or here for the games?
If money is your motive, I am certain this is the wrong business for you, and here’s why:
Unless you are heretofore part of the table top game industry and are just tired of making money for others, you probably don’t already know how to make an awesome game from concept to shipping. Therefore, like the rest of us, you have a huge learning curve ahead of you. An indie game publisher must be willing to work for a minimum of 3 – 5 years before ever seeing a profit. Imagine you’ve already spent 2 years on a game. You fail at every turn. You can’t even launch a successful Kickstarter campaign. Do you keep going? If so, what fuels that fire in your gut? The hope for a payday no longer makes any business sense. Refusal to be labeled a failure will only get you to a measurable success like a funded campaign. After that, there is no reason to continue suffering.
Potential customers will see your motive. Some people may be industrious enough to just get it done, but the quality of the product always suffers as a result. Try to picture in your mind the difference between a class project you were interested in (maybe even your favorite assignment ever) and another project – one that you completed but had no interest whatsoever in doing. Now, which did you work harder / longer on? Which had a more refined end result? Which earned a better grade? Now, let’s say that you are out to publish this one idea you had because you think you can make some money. If you are not passionate about your project, your company, and your customers, it shows. Passion is revealed in a game’s appearance / function and the company’s customer support. Worse yet, if this first project funds and gets published, then what? With money as the goal, you would now be stuck struggling through another assignment you may not be in love with, just to get that next paycheck. And guess what – you’ll hate it.
Which do you think will come out better: the game you are actually excited to play, or the game you put out there because you had to publish something?
Finally, the real kick in the teeth: money can be made, but it can’t be counted on. Right now, you are probably just looking for a funded Kickstarter campaign. Bad news: we won’t make money (money in pocket) from that campaign. That campaign, no matter how successful, pays for product. Most of that product goes out to backers. The leftovers can go out to the retail market, where we can finally generate profit. Of course, profit is only the leftovers after covering shipping and handling fees, distribution fees, etc. So, it’ll be a while before the company is viable (paying its own bills), let alone able to pay us for the effort. And that’s assuming everything works out perfectly. Look at Evil Intent from Christian Strain and Kraken Games. Their first Kickstarter campaign failed. They revamped, tried again, and reached their funding goal. Then, a series of unfortunate events left them scammed out of thousands of dollars and with boxes full of broken pieces of a particular reward item.
This is where a lot of indie developers would tuck tail, try to refund pledges, and walk away. Or say, “Sorry. Bye.” and drop the whole thing. What would you do? Because Christian is committed to his customers and has a passion for games he paid out of his own pocket to finish printing the game. He spent his own time and money repairing the broken products and shipped them out to backers. One indicator I’ve seen of people who aren’t truly committed is when their project page appeals for money so they can justify spending more time making games. Justify. The work itself and the joy of sharing your fun game with the world should be all the justification an independent game developer needs. A love for gaming is the only thing which will pull you through failures and catastrophes, like what Christian endured, and that passion will keep you fighting for years down the road.
So, how do your motives stack up? Where do you stand?
There was a great graphic designer over at The Game Crafter who REALLY wanted to make a name for himself in this industry. He made instructional videos to help less tech savvy developers. He self-published a couple of very basic games (great for children and non-gamers) which really showcased his graphic design skills. Beautiful graphics, but no art. They didn’t sell very well. He spent a couple of years really extending himself into the industry and fighting the good fight. His blog posts began to reflect a man burdened with frustrations and disappointments. Eventually, he figured out that he had more fun with graphics than trying to build a game company. He does great graphic work, so I’m sure he has a bright future ahead of him. If you thought making games would be easy money, or if you think you can simply work and plan hard enough that your lack of interest / passion won’t be an issue, then please walk away. Hopefully, a little soul searching now can save the rest of you from the heartaches he endured.
Think you might be in the middle? If you are excited about the journey but there is a part of this whole battle that you don’t think you can handle, maybe all you need is some help. There are many blogs out there, like this one, offering advice on everything from improving your game design process to increasing your chances of successfully funding a Kickstarter campaign. Also, consider a business partner who can pick up your shortcomings. Jamey Stegmaier has a helpful post on that, here.
Let’s finish up with an illustration of someone with the right motives. Some time ago I met a fantastic artist who runs a blog, posting images and poetry multiple times a week. This person is very pleasant to deal with, flexible with the product, communicates often and well, and works fast. The ideal artist. BUT this is all side work – NOT a day job. Sometimes work is completed without any expectation of pay. When an artist is willing to work in their free time and do it for free, you can be certain they simply love their work. Would you continue making games if you knew you’d never make money? Would you keep putting in the hours and mental equity with no hope of fame? If none of these troubles scare you, if you are still stoked for every step along the way, then you are in the right place. Welcome to the brotherhood! Good luck with your games, your company, and your amazing journey.
Where did you line up? Let me know how this helps you