Monday, August 7, 2017

Being An Indie Game Developer While Keeping Your Sanity

Debates about the legality and how necessary "crunch time"--  extreme periods of work in order to meet milestones or game launch deadlines where 80 hour work-weeks are the norm-- have been a hotly-contested topic for close to half a decade. I talked about how AAA studios like Blizzard exploit workers' passion and camaraderie to cover up the effects of crunch time 3 years ago. As the perennial debate over crunch time and overwork in video games has heated up once again, I wanted to turn to an area that is often overlooked: the pressure and strain of single-person indie game development.

Writing for earlier this year, Oliver Milne penned "The dangers of passion projects: Staying sane in indie development". He spoke with Josh Parnell, the single person behind the long-anticipated space sim Limit Theory that was successfully crowdfunded in 2012. Parnell worked on nothing but the ambitious space-sim for 3 years straight, handling programming and debugging and reworking all the code himself. In 2015, his regular public updates stopped cold. Parnell seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth. Six months later, he resurfaced, citing overwhelming stress and the need to retreat for half a year for his mental health.

Crowdfunded or not, you might think that control over your own schedule, milestones and owning what you make might make long hours and the pressure of crunch very unlikely. As Milne and Parnell point out, it's more likely than you'd think:
Being in control of their own hours and intellectual property might, on the face of it, seem like it would reduce those problems for indie developers, but Parnell says the indie lifestyle comes with its own risks: "On the one hand, what makes you so great as an indie dev is your passion. It's that you're doing what you love. On the other hand, that's exactly the danger of it, because the minute it becomes work, or the minute you let your life get consumed by it, everything changes. It's hard to see that coming when all you're thinking about is 'Oh, I'm just going to be doing what I love, it's going to be great!'

The entire article does a great deep dive on Parnell's case in particular and what all game devs could learn from what happened, so I'd recommend reading the whole thing.

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