Two months ago, Bird of Light released on Steam.
During the build-up to release, I was thrilled and nervous. I was curious to know what would happen when the world had the opportunity to play my game. My mind rehearsed several scenarios ranging from complete commercial and critical failure to runaway success.
Examining the results of the closed Beta, which comprised 70-odd individuals from across the world, had given me a semblance of confidence in the game; the largest number of players had given Bird of Light an 8/10.
Sixty days later, I find that the Beta results were remarkably accurate. Bird of Light has eighteen positive and one negative user review at this point in time, and roughly a dozen sites have reviewed it with similar results-an average rating between 7 and 8.
We also have a publisher, so one would have imagined that the sales would be good.
We haven't sold a hundred copies yet.
If you had told me six months ago, (when I was working a day job, coming home to help bathe, feed and put my kids to bed and spend the late hours of night polishing Bird of Light) that sixty days after release the game would have not even sold a hundred copies, I would have been pretty bummed, and possibly stopped working on the game altogether.
I'm surprised at how less the financial failure of my game has affected me. I've realised that these are extraordinary times for the profession of making games-the competition out there is incredible, and It is possible to make a game that does nine out of ten things well, but fails because of that one thing.
In way of postmortem, I have been forced to take a hard look at the what and why. I just spent thousands of hours over a two-year period on something that made me almost no money. Even though I spent very little to make the game, but I put in many. many hours that could have been spent with my family, or perhaps reading, playing video games or even sleeping.
I regret nothing.
I've figured out why I do it; it's because I have something to say.
I have lived for forty-two years, I want to express my interpretation of my experiences and I choose to do it through video games. This is vital to me; I need it like I need to breathe. I don't know if everyone has the same need for expression, but I do.
To create something that is allowed to fail commercially is a precious luxury. To allow myself to take crazy creative risks, I have painstakingly arranged my life in a way that my bills are paid, I have a day job that I actually like (design head at a studio that makes online casino games), and I also work part time as a game design instructor/mentor at a local game college.
I find the process of conceiving and developing games simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting; as a designer that can't code to save his life, or for that matter create any art, I have to depend on others to create what's in my head. There is tiny thrill even in opening an email with an attachment of a character sketch or even a half-done icon or UI asset, or when my programmer teammate succeeds in adding a new feature that we took many hours of Skype calls agonising over and discussing threadbare.
The feels when something that existed purely in my imagination materialises, and can now be experienced by others, is a drug that has neither rival nor antidote.
I'm back to the board now. Lessons have been learned and internalised, and another game is starting to take shape. It is, as is usual, an ambitious and experimental project that I construct in my mind while going about my life. It has lain in a blazing, tempting haze in a corner of my mind for many years now and I feel the irresistible pull of creative adventure as, quite shamelessly, I plug the idea to those I think may help me to create it; I bounce ideas off all and sundry until the gaps in the design become visible and then I plug them with devices that arise in my mind at the unlikeliest of times, such as walking my dog or showering.
This is a wonderful phase in the making of a game, not unlike the heady days of a new romance-the possibilities are endless and hard reality is still far away in the future.
The truth is that I do not know enough, and that I have much to learn of the art, science and commerce of making video games. I hope that someday soon I will be able to make a living from games that I have created.
I'm willing to work and wait for this day; as and when it does arrive, it will be on my terms.