The last few years have been hard, and not I struggled and overcome kinda hard, but I continually went down dead ends hard. The reason for that was my love of games and making games. I had some success in web games from 2008 to 2011, enough to pay the bills and have a decent life (mostly I just indulged my love of books via Amazon), but I was late to the party from then on. I didn’t jump on the App store gold rush and missed out on the Steam indie golden period. By time I did get around to working in both areas the markets were pretty much locked down, and the indie game development world was a thing of the past. You’ll still read some indie game devs talk enthusiastically about their latest projects but most if honest will accept that it’s almost impossible to make a decent living now as an indie game developer, unless you have a large or dedicated audience from previous games (i.e you are a well known game developer) or you have oodles of cash to throw at advertising (meaning you’re not really indie).

For someone like me that’s a huge problem, what do you do if your main source of income has disappeared into a black hole along with it the use of your skillset? You see I’ve never been a hardcore coder, I learn enough to get things done, so getting coding jobs is not on the menu (not that I would want to do that anyway) and in the past i’ve hired people to do the graphics. That actually turned out to be a mistake, because I can do art myself, but I always wanted to save time. Making a game where you have to code and do the art is a huge undertaking so I wanted to share the load somewhat. But like I say a mistake. Because if had done the art myself I would have had more art in my portfolio, and it would of been easier for me to get contract work as an artist.

Something I was doing as an aside was working on an ebook for indie game developers. The whole indie book self publishing world was something of a murky grey fog to me. I knew there was a revolution happening in the world of publishing, but I wasn’t an author so I largely acknowledged what was happening but never really looked into it in any depth. But I was working on this ebook, when I came across a podcast on YouTube from an author called Joanna Penn and that was the start of my mindset changing. Joanna has a great series of interviews with authors, which I went through as quickly as I could and what I realised were the similarities between the life of an indie author and the life of a indie game developer. I watched interview after interview with authors who had written fiction, self-published and made money doing it. This got me really curious as to how the whole world of self-publishing worked, which led me to the Self-publishing Podcast by Johnny B Truant, Sean Platt and David Wright on YouTube.

Leaving aside how funny these guys are, watching them on their journey really opened my eyes to self-publishing and what can be accomplished. I started with video 25 and I’m currently on video 120. The more I watched the more it became obvious what the similarities and differences were between being an indie game developer and a self-publishing author. Let’s start with the similarities.

The most obvious similarity is lifestyle. Indie game development and being an author (of any type) are pretty solitary pursuits. So much so that I would take a guess that the majority of indie game developers and authors are introverts. They are usually happiest, in front of a screen with a keyboard and creating worlds and characters.

Next is the type of people that do both tasks. Both groups are made up of very creative people.

Communities. Huge communities on both sides.

After that, it’s working for yourself. And that runs from managing your time to managing your finances and everything inbetween.

Last is publishing. Both groups create something largely alone, and then have to upload it to a digital market with the hope of success.

The differences though are where you see how being in one group compared to the other is qualitatively better.

Tools. A writer just needs a keyboard and some kind of text software. The best software I’ve found for writing is called Scrivener, and costs the unbelievably low sum of £35. Compare that to creating a game. It is true that there are a lot of free tools now available for game developers, Unity for example, but if you want to do it seriously it will start costing you money, whether that’s buying plugins for Unity or subscribing to Creative Cloud from Adobe to be able to create graphics (3D graphics creation is usually a lot more expensive than the Adobe stuff). When it comes to computing power you need something that won’t slow to a crawl when there’s lots of things happening on the screen at one time, where as a writer you can get away with an iPad and Microsoft word (Scrivener is evidently on it’s way to iPad).

The actual work. With creating fiction, you definitely need certain skills, grasp of grammar, what makes a good story, etc but most people could write a story if they had too. Making games is a whole different kettle of fish, especially if you are doing the graphics and coding yourself. You need to be able to come up with the idea, and that’s a big ask just in itself because you can’t create something which is exactly like what’s already out there, even if it’s based on another game you still need some kind of twist. Then there’s what platform? mobile? what mobile? Android? iOS? each choice is a huge one, which in itself could doom you before you even begin. Once you have chosen that stuff, then there’s how you will program the game, what language? Javascript? C++, Swift? and within the language, what libraries or SDK’s (software development kits) will you use? Once that’s sorted you have to get on with the programming and deal with building an actual world as you go along. Game development is at the apex of art and engineering. I haven’t even talked about the art side of the game, and all the questions which that brings up, and play testing the game when it’s done, which is akin to proofreading where the text in the book changes as you’re reading it. I could go on, but you get the point.

Lastly and if the previous arguments weren’t convincing enough there’s publishing. In the past being an author was largely about being published by a big publishing house, and that was largely about having an agent. Perhaps you entered some writing competitions, perhaps you got your articles published in magazines and got noticed, perhaps you just knew the right people, but going from sitting in your room creating a story to getting it out to the masses was not a straight path. Then came ebooks and Amazon, but before I go into that let’s look at the other side of this coin and self publishing as a game developer.

I said at the top of this post that the indie game market is dead. The reason for that is partly saturation but mostly the stores and markets that indie games get released onto. Take the App store for example. 12k games are launched on there each month (this doesn’t include apps, this is just games). That wouldn’t be too bad as I’m sure 1000s of ebooks are launched every month on Amazon, but there’s 2 key differences. One is the audience. For games obviously it’s mostly kids/teens, some adults, but mostly kids/teens. This is probably why F2P (Free to play) is the main revenue model for users on mobile. And even though games is a huge market I would presume books is bigger (although I admit I might be wrong about that). Next is how the stores themselves are structured. The view onto the products on mobile and even for PC games is very narrow. People mostly buy what’s right in front of them as soon as they enter the stores. Which is why the App store is more of a hosting company for games, than it is an actual store. The games at the top of the highest grossing charts on the App store have hardly changed over the course of the last few years. That would be akin to the same books across all genres on Amazon holding the same positions (with a slight variation) for multiple years.

Something which was mentioned (and was partly responsible for me wanting to do this post) in one of the SPP’s was how much churn there was on the kindle store on Amazon, but it was mentioned (I think) as a negative! i.e it’s hard for a book to have much stickiness, they fall down the charts fairly quickly. When I heard that I was thinking the complete opposite. Coming from a game developer’s point of view it would be great if the App store had “churn” and that new games would have a chance of knocking the major games off the grossing charts, but unfortunately that’s not the case. The games at the top of the charts are spending huge amounts to keep their chart positions.

It’s now at the point with games that it’s incredibly hard to get enough exposure on your game to make any money from it. You have mostly an audience that don’t want or expect to pay for games, and you have markets that are so badly structured that most people just buy what’s on the first page they come to. Compare that to ebooks and Amazon.

Amazon to their credit have created an ecosystem where every book is not free. Where readers who want quality books are happy to pay for that experience, more than that readers become fans who then champion the authors! That’s pretty much the exact opposite of the experience that most indie game developers experience. Apart from that there are multiple charts on Amazon. The whole experience of finding and buying a book on Amazon is far easier than doing the same for a game on the App store or Steam. And with the whole free thing, Amazon appear to have realised that authors need to make money to be able to create quality work and this cannot happen if every book is free.

A person who won’t pay .99 cents/pence for a game which has taken a few people a year to work on, will happily spend £/$2.99 on a book that has taken half the time by one person to create. Ultimately books are respected, games are not, and that’s reflected in how easy it is or not to make a living in one or the other.

So that’s my comparison of the 2 indie worlds. One is thriving and another did well for a while but is now mostly fizzling out. Games are going in the exact opposite direction to what books are, with the space being dominated by the major companies.

I love games and I’ll always want to make a game, I’ll probably even release a game or 2 over the following years. But you have to pick your battles and games compared to book self publishing, well it’s not even a contest. Of course there are 1000s of indie authors and hundreds of 1000s of eBooks all vying for attention, I’ve watched enough interviews with indie authors and researched a lot of the self publishing world to know that it’s not just a case of writing anything then uploading it on Amazon and making money. You have to work your ass off and actually be good at writing/crafting a story to make a success of it, but at least it seems you have a chance with writing.

Strangely over all these years while I was attempting to get games off the ground, I was also writing down story ideas. It was like at the back of my mind there was a Phil in an alternative reality, who was an author writing fiction for a living, and I kept getting glimpses into his life.

So that’s the new land that I’m sailing too now. I’ve already written 8 chapters of a sci-fi novel which is book one in a series. I’m also removing the rust from my art skills, so on this blog you’ll see posts on how my writing is going, the occasional piece of art popping up and posts on what interests me. It’s going to be an interesting journey.