Free time isn’t always a good thing.
Game developer David S. Gallant has had lots of it since losing his job with the Canada Revenue Agency in January but he hasn’t found his situation one conducive to making games.
“I realized that this kind of free time is actually my worst enemy. I haven’t had a solid project to focus on that is immediate and demanding my attention the way I used to. And the concept of needing to make a game in order to make money and keep my head afloat is a very toxic one. It’s not a good environment to make games under,” says Gallant.
David was fired from the CRA after an article was published in the Toronto Star about his game, I Get This Call Every Day (IGTCED). The game is about a (sometimes) indignant customer at a call centre. It was Gallant’s way of expressing his frustrations at work. He was careful not to give away any confidential information. He doesn’t outright say where he works, but some of the questions in the game suggest it’s tax related.
When Gallant learned Star reporter Valerie Hauch brought the game to the attention of National Revenue Minister Gail Shea, he knew his fate.
“Unfortunately I was not made aware that the reporter would seek public comment from the Canada Revenue Agency. Had I known, I most likely would not have consented to the interview. When I first saw the article, I knew that consequences would be inevitable.”
There was an upside. Gallant got a lot of press and incredible support from the indie gaming community. His game’s sales sky-rocketed. Before he was fired, Gallant’s game had made $1300. Since then, it’s made about $12,000. As well, it gave Gallant an opportunity to focus on making games full-time. But as Gallant tweeted the day he was fired, that doesn’t necessarily pay the rent.
The boost for IGTCED is over. Sales have trickled down to an average of seven purchases per day. Gallant needs a new source of income.
“I need to find gainful employment within the next couple months if my wife and I are going to make ends meet in a continued manner.”
The fear of financial ruin is affecting his ability to create. The natural deadline of having no money isn’t inspiring Gallant to do good work.
“It’s almost the antithesis of what a deadline can do to a game development project. It’s leading to some very bad ideas and stuff that I’ve tossed out and things that I haven’t pursued.”
This is a problem lots of indies face. How, financially, do you switch from part-time to full-time developing? And how do you stay motivated?
“Luck or rich parents, in my experience, account for 50 per cent of indie game devs making the jump,” says developer Michael Todd, adding that luck tends to strike hard-working people more often.
Before he made the jump, Todd was working for minimum wage in a crack shelter spending his free time making games in a cheap bachelor apartment. He spent a long, lonely year making a game that was eventually picked up by a Russian publisher. He lived moderately off the money that game made for the next five years. By that point, he had other profitable projects underway.
Todd says a big part of development is being able to push on even when it seems hopeless, but also knowing when to quit a project and move on.
Motivation is another problem for Gallant. Learning new skills has been more frustrating than he expected, and development is becoming a chore.
“When I had a job, I was motivated to make games because it was a productive thing I could focus on that wasn’t my job. Being freed from my day job has kind of left me with nothing to escape from, which makes game development the job,” says Gallant.
Developer David Maletz offers motivation advice on his blog. He says to avoid being overwhelmed, you need to set small, stepping-stone goals, and reward yourself when you reach them. Stay where you’re comfortable, and slowly introduce new platforms and algorithms.
Gallant says he’s not sure how to define a small goal within the context of what he’s building. Small goals often turn into big goals, fraught with challenges.
Currently, Gallant isn’t working on anything immediate. He has built a Pong prototype, made a Mac version of IGTCED, and even made a captioned version for the hearing impaired. His fans have told him to add more to IGTCED, but he’s not interested.
He still likes making games, but he’s struggling.
“There was this cushion where I could give the full-time games thing a go. It hasn’t really worked out. I’m not sure that returning to the workforce will help, but it might. It’s hard to tell until I’m actually there, you know?”
To buy a copy of I Get This Call Every Day, click here.
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