You’re doing it wrong (common indie dev mistakes to avoid)

In no significant order (that I’m conscious of) here are some common mistakes indie devs make (most of which, I am guilty of making):


  • Rewarding your slumps.

When your last grain of motivation trickles down, it can be really difficult and sometimes downright depressing trying to flip the hourglass back over. You finish your latest greatest idea, and maybe the next task isn’t quite as inspiring, so you decide to take a step back–“just for a day or two.” Next thing you know, you’re in a slump. Nothing is getting done and, as a result, you become less and less motivated, so nothing gets done. It’s a vicious cycle.

You feel bad. You want to feel better. So what do you do? You hop on your favourite game dev forum and post something like “What do you guys do to stay motivated?” Then, you get all kinds of advice from helpful strangers and now you’re all inspired and motivated and no longer in a slump…right?

Well, no, not usually.. What you’re really doing is rewarding your depression with dopamine. Which DOES make you feel better.. for a minute. What it doesn’t do, however, is inspire you to stop being depressed and start making games. In fact, it does exactly the opposite. It teaches your brain that it can get a dopamine ‘high’ by actually BEING DEPRESSED (or as Billy puts it, “intoxicated by the madness, I’m in love with my sadness”). This creates a feedback loop that is obviously not conducive to productivity.

Now let’s say you respond to your depressed feelings with sheer determination–just said “Fuck it!” and flipped that damn hourglass over and just went to work on your project. Guess what happens then… Your brain produces dopamine just the same! The difference is, now you’re training yourself to get ‘high’ from working instead of whining on forums.

(Dopamine is like the great, great grandfather of all game mechanics… If you’re going to make video games, you should really learn how dopamine works. There’s plenty of good information on it- a good amount pertaining specifically to game development. Here’s a link to get you started)


  • Oversharing

In indie-game-dev world, the ability to share our work all over the world and get immediate feedback is invaluable. It’s one of the greatest contributors as to what makes this whole indie development thing even feasible. But it can be a double-edged sword.

The mistake comes from sharing work that isn’t ready to be shared. I see a lot of posts from people asking for critiques that come with disclaimers like “but ignore that weird light,” or “it’ll be textured better,” etc… If you already know what’s wrong with it, why are you asking for critiques?

Well, I’ll tell you why: Dopamine.
Making stuff feels good, but making stuff and then having other people respond to it–Let’s be honest, that’s what drives all of us. That’s why we do this. It’s the greatest feeling. The problem is letting your brain experience that feeling with incomplete work. If you can get your ‘high’ without even finishing anything, then what’s the point of finishing anything?! (-asking for your brain.)

So the solution? WAIT. Calm down. I know you’re excited. Just think how much more excited you’ll be when you actually finish the piece. Just think how much nicer the response is going to be to the finished product. If you don’t, you’ll never know.


  • The Hobby Team

There is an entire subreddit at INAT which, as far as I can tell, just serves the purpose of letting us all go through this same failure: the mistake of trying to build a team without bringing (an awe-inspiring amount of) creative value. (Money = value, as does friendship, so this relates more to remote hobby/rev-share teams.) This is epitomized by the almost daily “idea guy seeks team to make my idea for free” posts, but goes well beyond that.

I told my story in another post, but if you haven’t been through it yet, here’s how it goes: Have a great idea, maybe even implement some of it. Now you’re ready to start a team, right? So you make your pitch: “awesome game needs awesome people” etc.. If your pitch is good, and you can show that you’re actually capable of doing some portion of the work, you absolutely CAN build a team of really brilliant and talented people. It works. I know, because I did it. Your artist draws up some awesome concepts, your programmer shows you the cool procedural generator he made just for YOUR game. Exciting, right?

The problem is, your team’s entire motivation to work on the game came from your pitch. Maybe you show off your 900 page GDD and your team stays motivated for another week or two, but after that, there’s nothing left to get excited about. The novelty of the idea wears off and there’s nothing left but to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Next you spend 5-6 months hoping your teammates are doing.. anything. But they’re not.
Why? Because dopamine (notice a pattern?)

Whether it’s true or not, I’ve decided to believe that if people aren’t volunteering to work on your game, then you’re not ready to form a team. If your work isn’t exciting enough to inspire people to ask to work on it, then it’s not exciting enough to keep people motivated to work on it either.


  • Crowdfunding without a crowd

It’s really easy to get sucked into the idea that crowdfunding = free money. For some reason the ‘funding’ part makes sense to us a lot faster than the ‘crowd’ part. This is similar to all of the above in that, it IS a good system that CAN work, but only if you do it in the right order.
There’s not a lot to say about it. Just think about it. Who is giving you money? How much? Why?
If you can’t answer all 3 of those questions very specifically BEFORE you start building your campaign, then allow me: No one. Zero. Because they don’t exist.


  • Waiting to market

Indie dev marketing is ridiculously easy, and ridiculously important. If you didn’t start marketing on day 1 of your project, then you have already lost time and money. There is absolutely no reason AT ALL for an indie dev to wait. I see a lot of people worried that if they share their work, someone will steal their ideas/concepts. Well here’s what happens while you’re not marketing:
No one hears about your game.
No one gets excited about your game.
No one tells their friends about your game.
No one supports your crowdfunding campaign.
No one inspires you to keep working.
and in the off chance your game even comes to fruition,
no one plays your game.
So you’re right, now no one will steal your game idea… No one will play it either, but hey…

In the off chance that your idea truly is so good that no one ever thought of it before and everyone will just pounce on the opportunity to abandon their current project and steal yours, then that is fantastic news! Now get to work… and make sure you execute your idea better than all those copycats (shouldn’t be hard.. it is YOUR IDEA after all).

(Related: Devlogs: what’s so special about ’em?)


Despite the fact that some may seem really obvious, a lot of these lessons really can’t be learned without just failing through them (AKA “the hard way”). I know because I did it.
I don’t claim my ideas & solutions are what’s right for everyone, but maybe identifying these pitfalls will at least help you get a leg up on em.

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