Monday, 8 January 2018

Looking back at 2017

So 2017 is all done and dusted and everyone reading this has made it to 2018, congratulations! It's also been a year since I left my last job and took up coding full time, so it's a good time for a look back. To cut a long story short, I started last year with a bunch of assumptions which mostly turned out to be wrong but wrong in ways which largely cancelled each other out, so the plan I started with is still pretty much intact.

Assumptions made an ass out of me

The plan boiled down to making my savings last a year while I made and released games for web and mobile. Hopefully I'd make a living from this before my savings ran out, but I was aware this was a long shot. By making HTML5 games in JavaScript (using the excellent Phaser engine which I really can't recommend enough) I'd hoped to improve my coding skills to the point where I could find work as a web developer if it became clear I wasn't going to make it in game development, and to aid in this I was also following the Odin Project curriculum to learn web dev. As I mentioned earlier, this plan relied on a series of assumptions, most of which turned out to be wrong.

Assumption 1: My savings would last a year

Pretty straightforward really,  I'd worked out what I tended to spend and factored in how much of that I'd no longer need to spend when working from home. It soon became clear that I don't spend nearly as much as I thought I did though and even without any money coming in my savings were good for 16-17 months. 1-0 to me.

Assumption 2: Coding might be too hard

I'm not sure if this counts as an assumption, but it was certainly a consideration. One possible way my plan could fail was if I just wasn't good enough. I couldn't make a game that would run in other peoples browsers, it would lag, it would crash and do horrible things to their pc/phone etc. Or I'd be able to put a game out there but the technical difficulties of various monetization methods would overwhelm my fledgling coding skills, it wouldn't work on games portals or with ad platforms and I'd have no way of making any money.
As it turned out, none of this came to pass. I certainly had a lot to learn, and I've encountered my fair share of problems, but it turns out I'm a decent coder. I enjoy problem-solving and I haven't come across a single technical issue that I haven't been able to get past either with a coding solution or by designing my way around it. Yay me, 2-0.

Assumption 3: I'd have a lot more time

For about 18 months before I quit I'd been working 30 hours a week and putting in another 10+ at home on web or game dev. Adding that together with time spent commuting and I assumed I'd be able to make games, learn web dev, teach myself Spanish, start playing guitar again, something something exercise and anything else you can think of, while also taking over primary childcare responsibility for my little boy. Obviously this was nonsense, I do about the same amount of work now as when I worked in an office, and the things I didn't make time for then I still don't make time for now. 2-1, damn you reality.

Assumption 4: If I could overcome all the technical hurdles and release a working game, I'd be able to make at least a small amount of money

My thinking was that if I could make a game I was happy with and release it in working order I'd make some money to supplement my savings, then I'd refine the process with everything I'd learnt for my next game and do a little better the next time. Rinse and repeat until I was bringing in enough to stop relying on my savings before they ran out completely. The idea that I could release a decent game and make no money at all from it never really occurred to me, but there's so much competition in gamedev right now that the most likely response to a new game is basically 'meh'. I'd say this was 2-2, but it's such a big flaw in the plan that it's more like 2-3.

Assumption 5: My only choices were making games for myself or doing web dev work as an employee

I'll go into this a little more later, but by the time I'd released a couple of games and got a decent looking website up and running I had something I could show potential clients who wanted a game making. It's client work that has really saved this year for me, in fact I make more in 10 minutes of client work than my own games made in 10 months. So, 3-3. everything still to play for.


The Year in Brief

January

I spent my first month working on finishing my first game, Super Endless Kingdom, polishing what I could and boosting performance. I also created the first version of the Rubble Games site and built an overly complicated site for Super Endless Kingdom using Ruby on Rails to lock access behind a password. This later proved to be totally unnecessary and I stripped out the backend and remade the game page as a static site.

February

I started(!) to think about marketing, I created this blog and the Rubble Games Twitter account. I struggled to get playtesters for Super Endless Kingdom prior to launch and wasted a few weeks waiting before giving up and deciding to push ahead with release anyway.

March

I released Super Endless Kingdom on Kongregate and it basically sank without a trace. I eventually got some feedback and made some improvements but it was too little too late. To date the game has 610 plays on Kongregate earning me (in theory) a grand total of 55p.
A few weeks later I released on Newgrounds, where things went much better in many ways. I got more useful feedback and a lot more interest. It got around 5x more plays and a much higher rating than the Kongregate release but monetization for HTML5 games on Newgrounds is almost non-existent. However the feedback was pretty postitive, which I really needed after a disappointing month, and the game was also featured as staff pick in the Phaser newsletter.

April

Having learnt a lot about what didn't work I set out to make a new game. This game would be made and released in under 2 months and designed with mobile in mind (eventually released in August as Zombie Cannon Attack!). However this was also the first month I'd had to deal with working through a lengthy school holiday and my productivity suffered while I adjusted.

May

As Zombie Cannon Attack! took shape I tried to find a way to earn from it. I contacted various games sites about the possibility of them licensing the game or sponsoring it but didn't get any interest at all so I decided instead to go for a mobile release on Android.

June/July

I spent the next few months getting the Android version ready using Cordova, much of the time was taken up getting plugins for adverts and in-app purchases to work. I added some polish to the game itself, but nothing that made a major impact on the way it played.

August

Zombie Cannon Attack! released. I've almost finished the Zombie Cannon Attack! postmortem that covers this in more detail, I just need to find time to edit it. In brief, while it did noticeably better critically than Super Endless Kingdom it can't be considered a success by any means. It's currently 'earned' me £2.85.

September

I continued with post-release work on Zombie Cannon Attack!, but by this point it was clear I wasn't on a path to earning my way as a gamedev. I started putting much more time into my webdev course.

October

I put Zombie Cannon Attack! to bed with a Halloween update and started work on a new project, but I was still concentrating more on learning webdev. I went down a bit of a blind alley with a prototype for a clicker/idle style game before eventually settling on my current project - a sci-fi shooter/crafter. By the end of the month I had a semi-functioning protoype.

November\December

I got my first paying gamedev work for a client and everything else was basically put on a hold. It's been a great few months personally and professionally, but as far as solo indie gamedev stuff goes you could be forgiven for thinking I'd vanished off the face of the Earth. I've had very little time to work on my own game, so I've had very little to post about on this blog and so very little to promote on Twitter etc. I'm hoping to spend a little more time on my own stuff, but as I'm writing the end of year round up for 2017 a week into 2018 you can draw your own conclusions about how that's going so far.

So, in conclusion. Can you make it as a solo indie with no professional coding experience? Maybe, but you need to bear in mind that all your assumptions are wrong and to make it you'll probably end up working for someone else.

Thanks for reading. If you want to keep up to date you can also follow me on Twitter.
My latest game, Zombie Cannon Attack!, is available on all these platforms:
Android
itch.io (desktop download)
Gamejolt (web & desktop)
Kongregate (web)
Give it a try and let me know what you think, feedback is always welcome.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

This is just to say...

Just a quick post to say I'm still busy with client work so there's nothing much to report right now. I'm planning to do an end of year round-up and release the long promised Zombie Cannon Attack! postmortem as soon as I can (hopefully next week). I'm also hopeful I'll be able to spend at least one day a week on my own game in the new year which should give me enough material to get back to something like my normal blogging schedule.

Hope you all had a great Christmas and have an equally great New Year.

That's all for this week (and year), thanks for reading. If you want to keep up to date you can also follow me on Twitter.
My latest game, Zombie Cannon Attack!, is available on all these platforms:
Android
itch.io (desktop download)
Gamejolt (web & desktop)
Kongregate (web)
Give it a try and let me know what you think, feedback is always welcome.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Weekly Development Progress Report, 04/12/17

In last week's brief update I wrote that I was too busy with client work to spend any time on my own games and I'd be posting less frequently until I had more to show. It will therefore come as no surprise to those of you who have read this blog before that I pretty much instantly contradicted myself and actually managed to make a bit of progress with my own game inbetween making a couple of games for my client.

Space Crafter: Crafting in Space!

For those of you who haven't read this blog before, my latest embryonic project is currently going by the working title of Space Crafter (catchy I know). It's a pretty simple side-scrolling shooter/rpg with a crafting/trading/equipment management section to provide more depth. I still don't have a huge amount to show but I've bought some art assets I've had my eye on for a while and swapped them for the rubbish placeholder art I was using. There's still a long way to go but here is the official first screenshot.

Very early days, but I'm going for a ruined/abandoned colony look here. I need to rough up some of the assets and cover some of the empty space but it's a start at least.
November Stats

So November was a great month. Getting a nice chunk of client work is great for my morale and bank balance and I'm really enjoying it. However the metrics I've been keeping track of mostly took a bit of a dip in November. This blog especially took a hit, I didn't have much to write about so I didn't have much to promote and it shows in the viewing figures. My hours worked were down slightly, but this is partly down to an illness at the start of the month.

Twitter followers: 1810 (+80)
November blog views: 939
Blog views/day: 31.3 (October was 38)
Hours worked: 116 (3.9 / day) (October was 4.2/day)

That's all for this week, thanks for reading. If you want to keep up to date you can also follow me on Twitter.
My latest game, Zombie Cannon Attack!, is available on all these platforms:
Android
itch.io (desktop download)
Gamejolt (web & desktop)
Kongregate (web)
Give it a try and let me know what you think, feedback is always welcome.



Thursday, 30 November 2017

Weekly Development Progress Report, 27/11/17

Just a quick note this week to say that I've got nothing to show for now as I'm still focusing on client work. So, as I said I was considering last week, I'm putting the weekly posts on hold until I've got more to write about.

The client work is going really well and I'm both enjoying it and learning plenty. I am hoping to take some time to make progress on my own projects but paid work comes first, especially in the run-up to Christmas.

I'll have a monthly round-up next week and the long-promised Zombie Cannon Attack! postmortem is almost ready.

That's all for this week, thanks for reading. If you want to keep up to date you can also follow me on Twitter.
My latest game, Zombie Cannon Attack!, is available on all these platforms:
Android
itch.io (desktop download)
Gamejolt (web & desktop)
Kongregate (web)
Give it a try and let me know what you think, feedback is always welcome.



Monday, 20 November 2017

Weekly Development Progress Report, 20/11/17

I spent most of the last week doing client work. Getting my first game for him to work on his site was a little stressful and distracted me a little from my next project for him and my own projects, it's all sorted now though so I'm looking forward to getting on with it this week.

Mathematical!

The work I've been doing is for a website called Mathsframe that specialises in making maths-based games for primary school children. They have a large catalogue of flash games that I'm helping to update and remake as HTML5 games now that flash is pretty much on borrowed time. My first game is here and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, but more importantly the client is happy too which means more work for me. The games are all pretty small, well under a week's work each, but I've really enjoyed the change in pace and scope and learnt a great deal in a short space of time. It's also pretty great to get paid for gamedev work.

More (really pretty good) excuses

As I said last week, the client work has meant less time for my own projects. I've been too busy to do anything at all on my next game and although I've nearly finished a rough draft of the Zombie Cannon Attack! postmortem it's still not quite ready. This has led me to have a bit of a rethink about this blog, as exciting and interesting as the client work is for me it doesn't really make great content for posting here. Unless I make a lot of progress on my own projects over the next week I'm considering switching to a fortnightly or even monthly format for now. It's been really useful for me to collect my thoughts at the start of the week and look back on the progress I've made, but it's needed less when I already have a client to hold me to account.

That's all for this week, thanks for reading. If you want to keep up to date you can also follow me on Twitter.
My latest game, Zombie Cannon Attack!, is available on all these platforms:
Android
itch.io (desktop download)
Gamejolt (web & desktop)
Kongregate (web)
Give it a try and let me know what you think, feedback is always welcome.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Weekly Development Progress Report, 13/11/17

I've had a really busy and exciting week. I did some work for a client remaking a flash game
as an HTML5 game. It went really well and has led to at least one more project and probably more afterwards. I'm still putting finishing touches to it and making sure everything is compatible with the client's site so I'll post more next week but obviously this is great news and I'm pretty chuffed right now.
Backseat coder

Paying work for a client clearly takes priority over my own games and even over my web developer course so those will have to take a bit of a back seat for the duration. I'm still hoping to spend a day at least on both these but we'll have to see.

Having been so busy, I've not been able to make any progress on the Zombie Cannon Attack! postmortem. I really would like to get it done though so I'll try and find time over the next few days. Progress on my next game project (a sci-fi shooter/crafter) was also limited, but I have now finished coding all the artisans and equipment. It's pretty rough still but I generally find that once the basic code is in place the hardest part is mostly over and I can then use a more focused approach to make continual incremental improvements.

So as I said, an exciting week and things are a little up in the air right now. When they settle down a bit I may need to reconsider the format of this blog but for now I'll see you next week as usual.

That's all for this week, thanks for reading. If you want to keep up to date you can also follow me on Twitter.
My latest game, Zombie Cannon Attack!, is available on all these platforms:
Android
itch.io (desktop download)
Gamejolt (web & desktop)
Kongregate (web)
Give it a try and let me know what you think, feedback is always welcome.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Weekly Development Progress Report, 06/11/17

I spent a good chunk of last week trying to shake off a stomach bug, so only managed a pretty poor 20 hours work. After the solid 35 hours I put in the week before I'm a little disappointed, but these things can't be helped and I'm better now and raring to go.

Postmortem postponed
I've pretty much run out of things to say about this title screen, so I really do need to get that postmortem done!
Unfortunately that means I haven't had chance to get much work done on the Zombie Cannon Attack! postmortem I've been meaning to do for a few weeks now. It'll be a separate post to the weekly devblogs though so I can just post it as soon as it's finished.

That new game smell...

Work on my new project also suffered a little, but I did manage to tidy up the code a bit to cut down on some of the repetition and hopefully speed things up going forward. In terms of new features I managed to add another artisan (a heavy armourer) and the ability to sell weapons and armour. Although I'd planned to get the gear crafting part of the game coded first, I also spent some time working on the shoot 'em up section. It's still very basic so making a few improvements was a pretty easy win while I was still recovering. The crafting section is what's interesting to me at the moment, but it's obviously going to be the shooter section that will provide the gameplay screenshots and gifs to pull players in so I'll need to start fleshing it out more pretty soon. 

October Stats:

Twitter followers: 1730 (+81)
October blog views: 1178
Blog views/day: 38 (September was 35)
Hours worked: 130 (4.2 / day) (September was 3.4/day)

I'm pretty happy with how October went, with a bit of a push towards the end I just managed to hit my hours target. That's actually a new record for a calendar month, although I've beaten the hours per day in some of the shorter months. I'm hoping to at least match that this month despite not being off to a great start as you'll have read earlier.
Twitter followers continue to grow but at an ever decreasing rate, perhaps growth will pick up again when I have something to show from the new project but as things stand it's growing with very little effort on my part so I can't really complain.
This blog also grew again, it's a bit more modest this time than the 50% month on month growth in August and September but it's still really nice to see and to be honest that sort of level didn't really feel like it was sustainable forever.

That's all for this week, thanks for reading. If you want to keep up to date you can also follow me on Twitter.
My latest game, Zombie Cannon Attack!, is available on all these platforms:
Android
itch.io (desktop download)
Gamejolt (web & desktop)
Kongregate (web)
Give it a try and let me know what you think, feedback is always welcome.