29 August, 2015
Blaugust, day 29
So now I have my project. I’ve asked the fundamental questions and gotten my audience, platform(s), genres, and business model worked out. I understand the market and am making a game appropriate for the company I’m with. I’ve got my ideal team working on a prototype of the technology and gameplay, and I’m working hard on the setting that’s appropriate for the game. I’ve raised money to support the project, and I’m carefully budgeting the money I do have, while taking care of the people who gave me that money.
Now, it’s just some hard work and time to reap the financial rewards, right? Well, not quite.
Success is not guaranteed
Failure rates for businesses are high. A U.S.politician said last year that 9 out of 10 businesses fail, but that rate is probably “only” 5 out of 10 if you’re not trying to score points against a political opponent. Still, a lot of new businesses fail.
Success rates for game businesses are even more frightening. Not only do you have to deal with typical business uncertainty, you have to deal with a fickle market. The market going crazy for cars play soccer in an arena might be bored with that concept by the game you release your clone. You might take all the advice that people offer, and still not realize your big hit. As I wrote, before “You can copy the steps and still not copy the success”.
Is luck a factor?
I saw an article a little while ago talking about how There Are No Lucky Independent Developers, implying that the only successful developers are ones that work hard and deserve their success. Of course, I know this is bullshit because I know some smart, hard-working indie developers that aren’t awash in success. One only has to look at the mind-boggling success of Minecraft to see that, indeed, sometimes a developer gets amazingly lucky with the magnitude of their success.
But, the thought “there are no lucky independent developers” is a logical fallacy known as “affirming the consequent”. “I believe hard work brings success. Since this developer has been successful, they must have worked hard.” It’s also a fallacy of a limited and biased sample; the article could probably be entitled, “I don’t know any independent developers who got successful because of luck”, ignoring the fact that any developers the author of the article, a well-known game journalist, might know are likely a lot better connected with journalists than your average person.
So, while luck might not play an overriding factor in success, I think it’s foolish to ignore that some people have the luck of being in a better position to take advantage of elements, such as knowing a game journalist personally, to help their games find success; usually this means helping a game find the audience that will appreciate it.
The Green Lantern Theory
On some social media site, I read an article about the “Green Lantern” theory of the presidency. Yeah, blah, blah politics, but I think the underlying theory is interesting and present in many places in our society. The tl;dr read version is that a lot of people believe success is like the Green Lantern ring in the DC comics, with the right amount of creativity and willpower you can do anything, therefore if you fail at something you simply lack the willpower to make it so.
There’s some obvious parallels here, particularly dealing with luck’s role in success. The “Green Lantern” theory is a reflection of the just world fallacy, where we tend to want to believe life is fair. So, we want to believe that generally good people are rewarded and generally bad people are punished. The reality is that someone who works on a game as a second full time job might not see even a fraction of the success someone who lived off a trust fund and puttered around at a game and knew some games journalists might enjoy. But, it’s easier to believe that second person worked harder because it goes along with the cognitive fallacy we tend to have.
Hard work is still necessary
As I’ve said before, the thing you really need is perseverance. One lesson learned from the world of music is that “overnight success don’t happen overnight”. In an interview with indie developer Mike Bitheell he said, “It’s not my difficult second album – it’s like my difficult seventh or eighth album. You just didn’t hear the first six.” Sometimes people do a lot of work in obscurity before they have their big breakout. And, given the nature of many games, you might not still hear much about them because games are a team effort.
So, once again, don’t let the whole discussion about “luck” make you think it’s an impossible task. Sometimes you just have to keep at it until you find that success. And, on the flipside, sometimes just realize that failure doesn’t reflect poorly on you or your game, sometimes it’s just a question of finding that right audience that appreciates what you’ve done. And, as I’ve said before, marketing is one of those incredibly tough things you that nobody has a good solution for if you’re on a limited budget.