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Unraveling Some Thoughts

Unraveling Some Thoughts
I'm currently in the midst of a bunch of traveling before I eventually find my way to San Francisco next week for the big ole Game Developers Conference. I've had a lot of time to just think about stuff, and while I'm not really programming right now I'm going to try to organize some of my thoughts here.

I've been trying to figure out what exactly happened to me after I shipped Offspring Fling, and was part of the team that shipped Snapshot. During the year after those two titles I ended up putting out a bunch more games that I had basically laying around on my hard drives. Then after that I kinda faded away. I retreated to go work on my own game making framework, Otter, which I used to make a bunch of prototypes and released a few more small game jam sized games. Otter gained a small following and there's a small community of really talented people using it, but I haven't really made any solid efforts toward releasing another game on the same scale of Offspring Fling or Snapshot since.

If you've read my general thoughts posts before (the ones around the start of the year) you probably already know that anxiety is a pretty constant aspect of my existence. Along with that I've struggled with depression since I was really young, so I already have those factors working against me, but how do they actually work into this equation that is my current state of mind?

The final result of launching Offspring Fling, and Snapshot, ended up being pretty good for me, and more than I had actually hoped for, but initially both of them were incredibly rough and extremely draining on me. With Snapshot I was part of a team with lessened the stress load slightly, but when it came to Offspring Fling I was totally on my own but I thought that I would be able to handle it no problem.

Offspring Fling started out as just a game jam game that I figured I could polish up and sell to a flash portal, so that's mainly why it ended up being made in Flash. The more I worked on it though the bigger it became and I started to think that maybe I could make something more of it. A few friends of mine eventually convinced me that it was a game that would be worth selling as a commercial title instead of just a free to play web game. I worked on the game more now with this new plan in mind, and started to look into distribution through Steam, Humble, and others. I would take the Flash game as it was and turn it into a distributable game using Adobe AIR.

The Snapshot team had already finalized some distribution deals with Steam, and Humble, so I was able to follow a similar path for Offspring Fling. The Humble Bundle folks were able to get me into their at the time brand new Humble Store widget which I would use on my own site to sell the game. I went through the steps of making a company for myself, getting a business account, and all that stuff to hook into the store widget.

Development for Offspring Fling was incredibly smooth, and I think this is one of the main keys as to why I haven't released anything big and new yet. Almost everything fell into place without any friction. All of the art game out as I wanted it to, almost all of the levels turned out really well in my opinion, and there were just no real major snags in the core development of the game. Alec Holowka made an amazing soundtrack for the game. I just overall felt really good about the game for the entire time I worked on it, and it's a feeling I havent really experienced since.

As I got closer to finishing the game Steam got back to me and told me Offspring Fling would not be accepted for the store. I was pretty bummed to say the least. It sucked to have a lot of my developer friends say that the game was an easy fit for Steam, and have it be rejected. There's a lot of mixed feelings there. My issues with anxiety and self doubt kick in and make me think that maybe everyone was just trying to make me feel better and tell me I could be on Steam even though they knew there was no way. It just sucked.

I went ahead with just launching it on Humble store. I had already come this far so I didn't want to change my plans of releasing the game as a commercial product. I made a trailer, and announced a release date. A few friends sent me their big list of press people to contact about the game, so I tried to send out almost 200 emails to different press people about the game to try to get articles, or anything really about it. I remember wanting to throw up after I did this. I mean someone with extreme social anxiety cold emailing a bunch of people is just a recipe for disaster.

I ended up getting one or two articles out of it from smaller sites, but I also got some responses from people that wanted to know how I got their email or people that just replied with "unsubscribe." Overall it felt not even worth it to do that email blast because it just made me feel like crap.

Fortunately the trailer was received really well on the wild world of Twitter. It got a bunch of attention there, but looking back I think a lot of that attention was contained to fellow game developers who kinda knew me, but at the time I felt really good. Getting praise from my peers was a boat load of validation. Something like "oh okay maybe I do belong here in this community of amazing people that blow my mind constantly with their talent."

The game launched with the Humble Widget and it went okay. I think the first week the game made something around $5,000 which was pretty good but that is not a good number at all when you compare it to other games. I had recently sold Flash games to portals for north of $10,000 so I thought that I had missed my goal by almost half, and maybe I should have just sold the game as a flash game instead of making it into a commercial game. Oh well. At least I checked the box in my game development career of launching a game and having people pay me money for it, which is something I had been dreading for a long time.

I had a lot of anxiety about selling my games, and I still do. When someone pays money for something instead of just downloading it for free I feel like they have a lot more expectations for what that something is going to be. I was dreading launching the game to be honest. What if the trailer set the wrong expectations for people? What if someone pays for the game and just totally hates it, and then hates me for basically taking their money from them? I was asking for $8 for the game which felt totally insane. At the time the king of indie games was The Binding of Isaac which sold for just $5 and had a billion hours of procedural content where as my dumb game just had 120 premade levels, and I expected the game to only last about 2 hours for the average playthrough.

During all of this though I did have a lot of people support me. I was actually surprised how supportive people were in regards to paying me for the game. Up until this point I had been just a freeware developer, and I was afraid that everyone would be angry about charging for the game. I did get a couple of emails about the game not working for some people, but things weren't as bad as I thought they would be.

After the game launched I ended up getting a bunch of articles on it. Some friends really helped me out in this regard and a lot of major publications wrote reviews of the game, and they all had very kind things to say. I was really relieved, but also I think I knew deep down that Offspring Fling was a good game and I was really proud of it. Eventually I was able to use all this favorable press to lock down my distrution with Steam, and it only took constant emailing to do it.

Before the Steam launch I maybe stupidly decided to add a bunch of stuff to the game including a level editor. Matt Thorson helped me with the level editor by essentially making a custom build of Ogmo Editor for the game, and Kert Gartner stepped in to make a new trailer for the game as well. I decided to also make an entire level sharing and replay sharing website for the game too. I went totally ballistic to get the game out on Steam for Mothers Day weekend. I remember working for every second of my day trying to get things togther, and I also decided to add controller support using some barely supported controller extension for Adobe AIR that would end up causing a lot of tech issues on certain computers.

As I'm going through these events I can remember a lot of things that made me feel like this isn't really for me. I had a lot of rough days and a lot of interactions with people that made me feel awful. I think these interactions for relatively normal people are no big deal, but for some reason they are like the end of the world for me.

We had to cut out one of the jokes we had in the trailer because it was an old time looking website for Steam. A Steam rep told me that they didn't want to confuse any potential customers by making them think that Steam looked like an old geocities page.

I'm also pretty sure that I annoyed my Steam tech rep to no end. I had no idea what I was doing, and I needed a lot of guidance, but back in the ancient year of 2012 the Steam store had not really made the full transition to mass use yet. The documentation wasn't as clean and abundant as it is now, and the entire process for launching a game was controlled by the rep. I had to constantly ask questions, and the rep was really patient with me and helped me out, but I felt like I was just making dumb mistakes and she probably thought I was a huge idiot. I did end up meeting her in person once, and she said something like "oh yeah since that I don't give my gchat out anymore," so I kinda felt like all of my fears of annoying her and being a dang idiot were confirmed there.

I think because I was initially rejected by Steam I had a constant fear that I would be kicked off at any moment. It felt like they let me onto Steam out of pity or something and the moment they detected that I was actually just a bumbling idiot that lucked his way into completing a game they would pull the plug on me. Emailing my Steam reps was a constant battle in my mind of horrible feelings. I dreaded hitting send and I didn't want to check my email just incase their next reply was "wow you're actually an idiot and we're not putting your game on Steam anymore." I still have this fear now! Right now I'm sitting on an app ID that I havent used in years because I don't want to use it for something that ends up being dumb and have them be like "wait why did we let you onto Steam?"

Overall the Steam launch went well. I ended up making my goal of getting $10,000 since that's how much I thought I would make with selling the game to Flash portals. Unfortunately though it also meant that with a larger audience came more tech issues and some people not enjoying the game at all. I had a handful of tech issues I couldn't resolve, and I had to quickly patch the game to allow people to disable the controller support since it was causing issues on some hardware, and I had some folks just complain about the length of the game and the price of course. I was happy that the game was out, and that people were enjoying it, but I think every person that puts work out for the public to consume is just more bothered by the negative feedback that comes in. Every negative feedback feels like a failure. It feels like my fear of the game not living up to their expectations coming true, and it just feels awful. As much as I like to try to focus on the positive, the negative just hits so much harder, and it sucks.

Eventually I was able to get a Daily Deal sale for the game which boosted its sales a lot, and both Offspring Fling and Snapshot got into a Humble Bundle over the holiday season which is what mostly made both games worth working on, but looking back at it there are just so many things that felt awful to me. I hated trying to get press for the games. I hated emailing people that were in total control of my potential financial future and feeling like an idiot all the time. I hated disappointing people that played the game and didn't like it for whatever reason. I hated watching videos of the game sometimes because I just dreaded that the person will end up hating it. I hated seeing a new article come out because I was afraid it was going to just be bashing it.

I didn't hate everything though! I loved making the game. I loved watching people play the game and figuring out what I could change to make it better. I loved being able to travel and show the game off at places like PAX and GDC. I loved watching people get sucked into the game and talking with their friends on how to beat a level. I loved the trailer and the level editor that my friends helped create. I loved the music that Alec made for the game.

The thing that stands out the most to me is that I loved making the game, but putting the game out there, and having it be judged by the powers that be like Steam, consumers, press, and whatever else just made me feel horrible for one reason or another.

It seems like other people either just push through this feeling, or maybe they don't have it at all? The more I talk to other developers the more it seems like the latter is true. I've met very very few developers that struggle with this stuff on the level that I do. It seems like others just don't ever get this anxiety or dread when it comes to interacting with people, or putting your work in front of someone to have them judge it, or if they do they don't talk about it. Maybe I'm not cut out for marketing and all that business, or I just don't have the strength to push through all the negative feelings. I mean you'd think that finishing and launching games would get easier over time, right? I think for a lot of people it does, but for me somehow the opposite happens. Whenever I experience something I just learn all the negative things that can happen as a result, and then I feel like I don't want to repeat that thing since I'm now aware of how awful it can potentially feel.

Even now the anxiety from Offspring Fling is still there. I feel it whenever I put the game on sale and I know there's an influx of new players that could potentially have tech issues with the game or just totally hate it, or something like that. It takes a lot of energy to check the forums because I just know it's going to be filled with people complaining even when it probably wont be. When someone emails me about the game I dread reading it because I figure it will be about the game not working or they hated it.

At this point I'm actually not sure how to move forward. I still want to make games, but I still haven't found a project that feels as amazing as Offspring Fling. If I finish another game will I even want to release it? That's the problem with Sky Sisters right now. I feel like releasing a new thing will just open myself up to another huge wave of negative feelings that I can't deal with, but I can't possibly survive that way. I have to release thing to hopefully make money to eat food and keep making more things. I just thought that by now I would have at least put another cool game onto Steam, but I ended up totally failing in that regard, which then just compounds on my negative feelings. Dang.

I didn't mean to drag this out for so long and turn it into a huge bummer post, but I think it honestly does help for me to write down my thoughts and just shoot them out there for everyone to see. Hopefully if anyone out there struggles with similar things that I do they can at least see that they are not alone! If you made it this far, thanks for reading.
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