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  Shipwright=Starboard 05:28 PM -- Mon July 5, 2010  

Let's engage in a thought exercise:

You are a ship builder. It takes you a year to build a ship, and when it's done, you sell it to somebody for $10,000. Nice money for one sale! On the other hand, that's a year of your life, and you only made $10,000 total. That doesn't even cover the rent on your shipbuilding dock for the year! If you continue this way, you'll lose the dock, and obviously no longer be able to make ships at all. On the plus side, Shipwright Weekly speaks quite highly of your ships, so hey, you got that going for you.

Then one day, an eccentric rich man comes to you, rutabaga in hand, and says "You make excellent ships! But I like rowboats! Now a rowboat is much smaller than a ship, so I cannot pay you the same as you get for a ship! However, being eccentric and mentally off, I think $9,000 is a fair price for a rowboat, because I somehow see that as lots less than $10,000! Will you make me rowboats? I am a rich man with many bags of money, so I sink them routinely, and will want many."

A rowboat takes you a couple of weeks to make. Should you make the $9,000 rowboats every couple of weeks, or continue making the $10,000 ships each year?

I present this exercise, surprisingly enough, as an analogue to my own situation. My situation, in fact, is really nuts. I don't want to go over every detail of my personal life, but let's genericize it a bit and hopefully explain some things.

Step 1: Let's say there's a value N, which is how much money I make from a big epic Hamumu game like Loonyland, over its entire lifespan. Keep that number in mind, imagine it to be whatever you want, though you can figure out its general range pretty quickly with the following discussion.

* It takes a minimum of a year to make something like Loonyland or others. That's very conservative and 1.5 years is more realistic. So if I make one of those games, I spend a minimum of a year getting $N.

* My mortgage plus property tax for a year is about 9/10 of $N. That's just mortgage and property tax. No utilities, no internet, no food, no car registration, gas, car insurance, health insurance, clothing, haircuts, replacing things that break, repairing household problems, or fun of any kind. Obviously, with all that stuff attached, we're far beyond $N (more like $N*3 or more).

* My first tentative attempts at getting flash games sponsored (which other indies found very unimpressive - they thought I could've gotten a lot more) have earned me about $N/2 per game, between the actual sponsor money, prizes on Kongregate, ad money, and side jobs like implementing some site's trophy system into the game for a little fee.

* The games in question took about 3-4 weeks to develop, including all testing and polish. They also have led into bigger opportunities where I can make even larger amounts for doing even less work.

* That makes (without the extra opportunities, or doing better at getting sponsors or ever having some big breakout hit), 6.5*$N per year.

* In addition to that, I get flash sponsor money without having to do marketing. If all I did was crank out big games, and somehow that was enough to pay my expenses instead of 1/3 of enough, I wouldn't have any money to market them, and I'd be... well, right where I am, with a teeny but strong fanbase and nobody else on earth who even knows I exist! So, $N or 6.5*$N per year? My expenses are $3*N. What would you do? But there's more.

* Making an epic year-long (plus) game is exhausting, boring, and agonizing. It has fun parts, totally, and especially the end result is a blast for me. But it is a slog. Mentally ruinous. If I were in your position, I too would be hoping for new Loonyland games. But hoping for something because you want to play it is not at all the same thing as it being a remotely good idea for the developer to be doing.

* Making a little flash game is ultra super duper pooper scooper fun!!! I get to jump in and try out some specific crazy idea and see how it goes, and then move on. If I am into it, I can expand it with sequels or more levels or features. If it works decently but doesn't move me, that's okay, because I'm done and can go do something else! If it doesn't work at all and it's a horrible idea, no problem! A couple days wasted before I find that out, at most. I'm rediscovering the joy of making games and getting excited about coming in to work each day, instead of trying to hide in an alternate World.

* My wife used to make the money for us by teaching (for the record, Hamumu has never made enough for what a normal person would call "a living", though it has been my living for 12 years - good thing I had her help most of that time!), but in the past couple of years, she quit her job and started up her own tutoring business. She's indie like me! But as she builds up her business from scratch, she is currently making even less money than I was pre-flash-games, instead of quadruple what I made.

* My dog has cancer, so far having cost me 1.5*$N. Between that and our car that finally died for good and had to be replaced, I currently sit at absolutely the most broke I've ever been in my life, and yet making the most money I've ever made in my life. Interesting combination. And very lucky that I found this way to make money just in time. I'm really hoping that I can keep it coming in fast enough to get through these huge expenses, and maybe, just maybe, come out the other side still making good enough money that we can actually live comfortably instead of scraping by!

* On the flipside, I hate that this flash game stuff is so UN-indie. I have always been so glad that I don't rely on anything else, it's just me direct to consumers. Of course, on the other hand, I really like that thanks to sponsor money, I can now make money from my games without charging my players a cent! I get to make a living, you get to play games for free. That's a deal! But I do hate having to rely on external companies to make that happen, and make changes that they want instead of making my own decisions from start to finish. And because it relies on other people, it could vanish anytime. Honestly, the games business is a terrible one, on an endless boom and bust cycle. Currently we're in the midst of a price-war crash. Lots of big names are gonna die. But Hamumu ain't going anywhere. Making games is what I do. I'm just really hoping to not ever have to supplement it with a real job. I don't work well with others.

So there won't be some big 3D game surprising you out of the blue this year, and I'm writing this so you'll stop saying there should be. There can't be, if I want to live in a house. There probably won't be one next year either, or the year after. Whenever it does come, it won't be a surprise, because I'll have talked for months and months about developing it! What there will be is dozens and dozens of flash games, that I will personally find very amusing (Have you seen bonus battle #5? I thought not!). And until I can get out of this hole and up to the tiniest bit of fiscal comfort, I won't be doing anything else.

I know there's this total misconception out there that the big games are this huge pile of money. I've seen people say things that translated to "If he'd just release one big game instead of making a bunch of little ones, he'd make so much more money!" I hope the information above proves that utterly false to you. I make more money from 2 little flash games than I do from one multi-year epic. Making big games is a terrible way to make money. I did it because it was in my nature and I liked what I was making, not because it was the best way to make a living (I wouldn't be an indie developer if I was seeking that!).

Someone was jokingly suggesting I punch in big games into my project-selection formula, so just for fun I did. Setting the interest to 10/10 (not true, but just to be nice), and everything else to realistic values, my sample game (Kid Mystic 2) came out with a score of 0.04. The lowest previous score on the list was 0.52. The average score? 108.51. So, I could punch them in, but it wouldn't have much effect!

So... does all that make sense to you (the 3 people who read this whole thing)? It's not what the Lunatic-obsessives want to hear, but it's what I've been trying to tell them for years. Hopefully this is straightforward and detailed enough to lay it out for you. It doesn't matter how many times you say it, it's a terrible idea in every way for me to focus my energy on unprofitable exhausting labor instead of highly profitable fun messing around.

P.S... As I was writing this, I discovered Sol Hunt was writing something almost the opposite on the forum! Well, it's not opposite, but this post seems to be all about making money while she was saying I don't do it for the money! Well, she's right. As I said above, I wouldn't make indie games if I was trying to make good money. When I speak about making money in this journal entry, I hope it's clear that I'm trying to make enough to live, not that I'm grubbing around for the maximum cash I can. Sure would be nice to be comfortable enough to buy video games every so often once again, though.
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