A couple of weeks ago I posted my GDC micro-talk titled Why are you making games?. From the feedback I got, it seems that it resonated with a lot of people, and it also made some people stop and ask themselves that question (along with a few sleepless nights).
However, the question I was asked over and over was why am I making games? What are my answers to that question? As I said before, there are no right or wrong answers. Everybody needs to find their own answers, so in that respect, my answers don’t really matter.
On the other hand, since what I write here is purely personal, and a lot of people are curious about it, I figured I would give it a shot and answers those questions publicly.
Another thing I also want to stress is that these are not even permanent answers for me. These are my answers for the projects I’m working on right now. Whenever it’s time to start a new project, I will ask myself this question again and probably come up with different answers. That, I think, it’s key to be able to focus on some aspects at the expense of others, instead of always compromising and trying to achieve a bit of everything.
Why I Am Not Making Games
You thought I was going to get right away to the reasons why I was making games? No, it’s not that easy. I need to start with the reasons I thought I was making games, but turns out I discarded (for this time around).
I’ve always felt an urge to innovate and create something original. Something that would be worthy of getting some awards and recognition. Even back in the Power of Two Games days, Charles and I (half) joked that if we won an IGF award, we would eat a whole cheesecake from E Street. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending from your point of view), that never happened, and the cheesecake remained safe behind the glass. Flower Garden was pretty innovative (even to this day, there aren’t many similar games–if you can even call it a game). Casey’s Contraptions had some original aspects, but its main strength was in polish of execution.
For this time around, I decided that this was not going to be one of the main reasons behind me making games though. I’m sure I’ll come back to this one very soon though.
It’s hard not to think about money when one of your main target platforms is iOS. I know they’re mostly the exception, but looking at the huge financial success of some indie developers, or the revenue of some of the games on the Top Grossing chart, it’s only natural to want a slice of that pie.
Since free-to-play is one of the most profitable approaches on the App Store, I originally started out some of my designs by trying to do “free-to-play done right”. I was going to show the world how you can make a free-to-play game, treat players as human beings, not play any psychological tricks, not make the game suck on purpose, and still make a boatload of money.
Along the way, two things happened:
- It’s a lot harder to design a game that does all those things than to write it out in a neat, little sentence like I just did.
- Chris called me on it. He asked the really pointed question of “if you don’t need the money, why focus your design around that idea when there are so many interesting design aspects out there to explore?” He was totally right! At this moment, I don’t have the financial pressure to ship a game, so why limit my game artificially like this?
Those two things, combined with the fact that I hate most games in the Top Grossing chart of the App Store, means that I should not even try making a game aimed at that audience.
Since money eventually runs out, I will have to consider money more seriously in future projects. Even so, I will probably go the route of making more personal, niche games that appeal to a small percentage of people, rather than try to go after a pure mass-market approach.
I fall in the camp of people who believe that games are (or can be) art. That’s especially true of indie games, which carry the strong creative touch of an individual or a small team. Starting from something you want to express. For this one time, I was going to put that aside and focus on other aspects.
Why I Am Making Games
After removing all those reasons (and lots more that I didn’t talk about), why am I making games? Or rather, why am I making the games I’m currently making? It turns out, the reasons for these game are mostly selfish.
Enjoy the development
I wanted to make a game where I would enjoy the actual development as much as possible. This is a lot more constrictive than it may seem at first glance, and it means many things:
- I wanted to avoid games with large components that are uninteresting to design and implement (in-game stores, credits, managing users, etc).
- I need to be exploring new concepts (to me) and trying new things to really enjoy the development process, so the game needs to be substantially different from other games that I made in the past: no growing virtual plants, or creating physics puzzles to share with friends.
- The focus of the game should be on the design itself, not some technology. Even though most of my past experience comes from programming, I’m only interested in design these days. Programming is just a means to quickly convert my ideas into something the computer can do, but I’m not interested in programming for the sake of programming (as anyone who looks at my code can attest to).
Create something I’ll be proud of afterwards
This is an easy one. It doesn’t matter how much money the game makes, but I wanted it to be something I can be proud of afterwards. Interestingly, the “innovation/awards” point is a subset of this reason, but this point is more general, and I can be proud of the games I make for many reasons.
You would think that this point should go without saying, and nobody should be making games they’re not proud of. Unfortunately, just a glance at the App Store will quickly convince anyone that’s not the case.
One more thing…
Indie game development can be a pretty solitaire affair, but that’s not something that bothered me too much (maybe growing up an only child had something to do with that). I never needed someone else to keep me motivated in or committed to a project.
I am currently working on not one, but two different projects at once. Soon I’ll be able to start talking about them in detail. Both of those projects are collaborations with other people. After working on them for a few months, I have come to realize that working with the right people can be really invigorating: Bouncing ideas back and forth and see them grow into something bigger than they started, or just pushing and motivating each other has become completely invaluable for me. I’m hoping to be able to continue working and collaborating with amazing people in my future projects.