Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Part Time Indie Game Developer

After reading the 2 excellent article from @owengoss recently talking about being proud to be an indie and the different challenges of an indie I though it will be interesting to have a different perspective.  But this time from the point of view of a part time indie such as myself.  Before I begin I should clarify what do I mean being a part time indie, for me this will be someone that have a regular full time job in a company (could also be a student currently in school) and that do some game development in his spare time on week-nights and week-ends.

Ill be curious to know how many devs reading this blog would consider them self to be part time indie and I would like to hear your experience.  In the meantime ill share my own experience about The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of being a part indie game developer.

The Good
One of the first thing that need to be told about being a part time indie, is that you most probably have a full time regular jobs.  Which mean you will get a stable income, that doesn't mean that all full time indie can't achieve this but sadly from what I've read from fellow full time indie this is not so easy :-(.  And like @owengoss mentioned in his blog the average salary for an indie is around $11,000 USD (from a survey done by Game Developer Magazine).  This is really not much considering that I need to pay the mortgage for the house, the payment for the new car, my wife scholarship (she's currently enrolled in an Accounting Bachelor at University) and other every day life bills.  Currently my full time jobs provide me with a good salary and excellent benefits (insurance coverage, bonus, etc...). 

Having a stable income reduce the stress of your part time indie development endeavor, as you wont have the pressure to have a successful selling game.  You could even put out your game for free if you wanted to, since the financial gain will be an extra bonus to your current regular salary.  Of course this might not be necessarily be a wise choice especially if the long term you are interested to do full time indie game development, as they say money doesn't grow in trees (we all wish it was). 

Knowing that it is not a necessity to have a successful selling game bring in some very interesting perspective.  First you can take this opportunity to learn, get experience and even fail without hurting yourself as you will have a safety net.  For myself I have been learning a lot of different technologies like Objective-C, Cocoatouch, XNA and soon ill experience the launch of my first game Mythlound : Maurlack Tower (ether it's a failure or success, I am already happy to everything it has let me learn so far).  Second it will let you experiment and do what you really like and find fun for yourself, don't worry too much if you really want to make that game about a romantic, intense, RPG, set in a zoo ;-) (more awesome game idea here).  If you aren't interested in doodle, zombie or freemium that's ok, you don't need to follow trends or what make the most money.  The most important part is to have fun while doing it and that failure IS an option which can be a very fulfilling experience.

The Bad
Well it can't be all good right?  From the look of my first section it seems that being part time indie was bringing a lot of advantages.  But to all of those they have their bad counterpart starting with the stable income... How is that even possible to be bad?  Considering your regular jobs income is used to cover your regular life expenses, normally what is left is to put for saving or use for hobby & leisure.  But doing indie development is not free and does bring his own shares of expenses that can add up quickly.  For example you will need to buy hardware (For doing iOS that could include a Mac, an iPod touch, an iPad, an iPhone, etc... ), pay developer program fees, register as a small business, open a business bank account, etc... If this is not your full time jobs requirement it can be hard to justify to yourself and the rest of your family.  Usually it will turn into this kind of discussion : A - "I want to buy this new devices", B - "But you already have other game machine" A - "It's to make some game on it" B - "This is what you said last time, your hobby is too expensive", and so on.  It would have been a total different situation if you were being a full time indie as it would have been more easy to justify those expenses.

As often people say time is very valuable and being part time indie it is even more true as you often don't have much of it :-(.  Since if you have your regular full time jobs and probably do at least 37.5h/week (this is what I do), add to this the time you spend in transit each day (45 mins to and 45 mins to come back home for me), then time to have dinner, by the time you can start to work on your indie shift it's probably after 19h.  Considering you go to work on the next day and still get up early you probably gonna stop your indie shift at 23h, which give you roughly 4h on week-night.  Probably can do more on week-ends, but then also you have to consider that you might have other activity (need to go do grocery, do some other shopping, etc...) and that you need to have some social life (spend time with your wife and kids, visit parents, friends).  So unless you are anti-social and live in a cave, you will find out that the time you have actually left for part time indie is not much, so time management will be very important.

Previously I said that you get less stress to get out a successful game and that even failure IS an option.  Depending on yourself but this can be a bad thing to not have any stress, as it will often lead to not be compelled to follow some rigorous planning (deadline).  I am still struggling myself to write down a project plan and to follow it, if any of you have some good technique/tips ill be glad to try them out.  You might not feel the rush to complete your project in a timely fashion or polish it and spend the time to market it, after all this is not what bring butter to your house right?  Well this is when thing start to get ugly...

The Ugly
If the bad thing weren't enough they can easily turn into an ugly thing if not careful.  They are 2 main monsters that lurk in the shadows while you're weakened to strike which I named Distraction and Procastination.  And those both go hand to hand to undermine your part time indie endeavor.  I know those 2 quite well,  I think they must even consider me as their friends by now :-(.  Having not the stress of the success requirement, I saw myself and the rest of the Quebarium crew to sometime start those enormous (larger than life project) to make a terrifying, music game combined with racing game, set underwater (no not really but you get the point) then realize after a while that we took more than we can chew (time is not enough).  Then of course Distraction of all kinds start to appear all around, it can be a new cool platform that let us easily develop on it such as the CAANOO, a game that hook you to it like crack (WOW, Minecraft) or an addicting TV series like 24.  Then it only lead to Procastination where you will often push back thing to do at a later time, you will say to yourself that you will work on this tomorrow.  A good example of myself being in that trouble, finishing writting my #idevblogoaday at around 00h00 on Saturday night hum hum oops! 

But don't fear, tomorrow is another day and try to work hard to follow your dream, be inspired by other indie devs.  And fight against the Distraction and Procastination but in the end being a part time indie should be fun!

This post is part of iDevBlogADay, a group of indie iPhone development blogs featuring two posts per day. You can keep up with iDevBlogADay through the web site, RSS feed, or Twitter.


  1. Thanks for the interesting read. As a fellow hobbyist game developer, it's nice to hear from another developer facing the same challenges of squeezing in development time between a full-time job and some semblance of a social life. =)

  2. What about a half contract freelancer application developer and half indie game developer? I'm half between what you wrote and half on what Owen wrote.

    If I have contract work going on, I work hard on them (but at anytime, since this is a home office and "I'm am the boss"), earn some money and can totally focus on a game.

    Or I can work some on the client work, some on the games, some on the client and so on, keep waving the daily work routine, which makes everything funnier and relaxing.

    With freelance work I can buy new hardware, I can pay artists (which is what I'm doing right now), etc. If I were a full time indie I probably wouldn't still have an iPad (and I have 2 already). Or if I had a normal day job I probably wouldn't be taking care of 4 games at the same time (as I have now).

    But the most important thing: I'm having a tons of fun and I have to study something new almost every hour.

    And I noticed that so are you :D

    So that is what really matters.

    Alfred R. Baudisch /

  3. One of the most frustration I got for part time indie dev. is the time available for this hobbie. The worst is when you got several weeks with no work, then you feel you're behind your initial schedule and it's even harder to get back.

    This is what I experience now...