Happy New Year!
Well, it's been an entire year since Nicholas and I began work on what is now Verus Games. Last year at this time it was little more than an exercise in making a video game. We agreed on our first project, TimeGem, which ended up being nearly unplayable, but the important thing was that we finished it. We didn't know that at the time, but it really was probably our most important lesson: Just Finish It.
After TimeGem we accomplished "a game a month" for two more projects, LightMaze and Calculated Risk, respectively, before moving our goalposts a bit further back and completing Spell Bound in three months. Spell Bound, it could be said, was our first actual "failure," perhaps not personally (as we've had personal failures before) but professionally. We invested a lot of time and as-then-accumulated technical and artistic experience into it, and it didn't do well at all once it was released. Going back and playing it months later now, it is a very bad game, by the standards we've set for ourselves since.
At the turn of 2014, we're now at the tail-end of our "final" project, Shibe Warz, that Nicholas and I agreed would only go until the end of the 2013 calendar year. When we began twelve months ago, you see, we agreed that 2013 would be the year that we dedicated specifically to "figuring out how it all works." There would be no attempt at profit because, frankly, how can you profit from something you don't understand at all? Don't get us wrong, we're not greedy and we have no aspirations of becoming a Triple-A industry titan, nor a multi-million-dollar Notch. But we do have a collective dream of working on video games, GOOD video games, full-time. We want to do this as more than a hobby. We want to help add to the industry, to the unique experiences of all human beings like and unlike ourselves. And the only way to do that in the manner that we wish is to ultimately be able to make enough of a profit in order to survive outside of development.
And so here we are. We're very close to wrapping up primary development on Shibe Warz and to put it out into the public for beta testing, followed by bug fixes and polishing. The Indie scene that is already growing around us has been hugely positive and helpful in our endeavor, and we're trying to be just as helpful as well, and we already have a mailing list for people who have extended their hand to help beta test with us. And for that we are very grateful.
But as we inch our way into 2014 we are coming to a few forks in our path which only a year ago we never knew we'd be faced with. How do we continue? How does this business actually work? There are so many people who want to work with us, especially considering we've "gotten projects done" and we have formed the infinitely-important habit of finishing things. Who do we bring in? Do we need this many developers this early in the business? Do we even know how to make a good game? What is our niche? What are our strengths and our weaknesses? How do we find them and understand them objectively? What is our brand? What do we bring to the "table" of the video gaming community?
These questions are new to us. Really they're just a macro version of the questions we ask ourselves in everyday life, in the backs of our minds as we go through the world individually. But once you form a dyad, or a triad, or a tetrad, these questions become immediate and overwhelmingly essential to answer if the group hopes to progress creatively. We're really trying to answer them as best that we can, but 2014 will ultimately be our "proving ground," as we begin to explore our strengths, weaknesses, biases, and our ability to adapt to this strange new world in which we find ourselves.
These musings are all I really have to say for now. The past few weeks, alongside both my day job and development at Verus, have been fraught with introspection. Before I finish this first post of the year, I'd like to give you 4 things that I've learned through developing in the year 2013:
1. Get It Done!! - Nicholas and I recently did an interview (yet to be published) wherein a question posed to him was "what's something important that you have learned through development?" And "GET IT DONE" was his answer. He is absolutely, 100% correct in this, and I cannot think of a better piece of advice. The habit that you need to form; the ambition that you need to have even for the smallest project; the discipline that you need in order to keep your blinders on against all of the distracting things that try to get in your way... these must be developed. The lesson that you learn through finishing your first project is more important and more powerful than any of the creative or technical lessons of the project itself. I still remember how I felt upon completing TimeGem, and I have long-since forgotten anything I did for that crappy game. I barely remember what it even looks like, but I remember the elation and euphoria of Nick messaging me "We're done." That feeling sticks with you for a very long time, and it becomes a piece of the puzzle, it becomes a "drive" in every other project you do. Not only do you want it to be fun, to be playable, to have this-or-that mechanic... but you now also want to get it done.
2. Network! - Your goal in development should not be to make games for yourself. That can be your goal, but don't expect any kind of social success if you only develop things that you can play and nobody else understands. If you make games for yourself, then you're a hobbyist, not a developer. If you hope to even have a glimmer of outward success, of having other people use what you've developed, then you need to start Networking with people online. Twitter and Facebook are the two favorites of mine that I use, and beginning this year we will be expanding into IndieDB and a few others that I've only learned about through networking. We have been introduced to really incredible people through only the few avenues we've been using so far, and cannot wait to be introduced to even more. Every person we meet is a potential player, and likewise for everyone meeting us. We learn something valuable from literally every interaction, and that is probably the most important part of networking. You cannot skip this part. Do it early.
3. Failure is KEY! - On the television show Kitchen Nightmares, chef Gordon Ramsay often repeats his mantra "You learn from criticisms, not from people blowing smoke up your ass." This is absolutely true in any creative or technical endeavor. We have learned more from what we've done wrong with each of our projects than from what we've done right, and each successive game we've developed carries with it the marks of our previous failures. You cannot be afraid of failure. You must welcome it. For the first few projects it is essential that you prefer constructive criticism (basically mini-failures, as far as I'm concerned) over praise. This is the only way you'll begin to develop a self-critical thought process that will innately force you to look at creative and technical decisions from multiple angles, because you will no longer trust your first decision and you will begin to objectively self-check your own biases. This is crucial.
4. Love What You Do! - It is very, very important that you absolutely love developing, and that you love what you're developing. We have had a few people slip away from helping us develop because they weren't as dedicated to the project as we hoped they were. This is no fault or flaw of their own, but it's an unfortunate fact of working on a project with no financial reward or stability. If you're doing something for free, then you must be in love with it, otherwise when more pressing matters come up involving financial decisions with your rent, or your day job, then those will take precedent over your project.
5. Do NOT Give Up! - Especially when you're beginning your journey into development, it's very easy to lose hope in the first few weeks before you finish a project. The lack of experience you most likely have is a huge part of the overwhelming burden on your shoulders. But it absolutely does get better. Take a look through our "Games" section and see how far we've come. TimeGem was absolutely hopeless. If we were to place our bets for the two know-nothings who developed that slop, we would surely be losing our money. But we had hope. We learned so much from it, and from each failure since, and we've developed a working confidence through it. And if you stick with it, if you welcome failure and learn to finish your projects, if you fall in love with the entire process and with your individual projects, then you just need to remember to not give up. I cannot promise social success, but I can guarantee an inward personal success that is not achieved in our common hours.
Thank you for reading, and I hope some of this helps you on your journey into Game Dev, or to better understand the journey if you're not actively taking part in it... yet. Happy Holidays, and make 2014 one that charts a new path in your life.