Money and Motivation

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.

davidgallantarticlefeatureimageDavid 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.

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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.

© 2013, The Indie Mine. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mark McAvoy

Mark McAvoy used to beat his older brother at Joust on the Atari 2600. Now he writes about games and hosts a podcast called Super Gamer.

5 Responses to “Money and Motivation”

  1. April 15, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    Very good read about the downside / dark side of the indie industry, both in losing creative focus, and the… well, dangers, that come with notoriety. We like to focus on the successes because they make for feel-good endings, but the alternative storyline plays out a lot more than most people realize.

  2. April 15, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    If you can’t afford to pay for your living expenses for a couple of years, it seems like a really bad idea to try and do the indie game dev thing fulltime. It IS a hit-based business, so you should go into it knowing that there’s a huge element of risk involved.

    Personally, I’ve built up a considerable warchest that is keeping my going. I also have a part-time job to pay the rent. But it took me over ten years to get that money together.

    This is all before you pay for art/music/legal etc, so unless you do it for fun and have some other way to support yourself, then you have to be realistic about your chances (they are incredibly low).

    That being said, I wanted to do this seriously at least once before I die. So I figure it really is a do-or-die thing. At the very least I’ll have done something for myself once in my life, rather than simply living a life at the behest of others.

  3. April 16, 2013 at 5:59 am #

    I agree with Tim, this is very good read to see downsides in the life of indie game developers. Usually we just read about succesfful projects / developers but we are not introduced to other 99% that fail in that area. We need more like these to have healthy view on the whole indie game dev scene.

    Phil Carisle: “That being said, I wanted to do this seriously at least once before I die. So I figure it really is a do-or-die thing. At the very least I’ll have done something for myself once in my life, rather than simply living a life at the behest of others.”

    That exactly. It may be hard, it may be a high risk but I will regret it if I don’t do the jump one day.

  4. April 18, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

    I can definitely relate to this! Nothing seems to make you want to work on your games quite as much as an unfulfilling day job in an unrelated field. It seems like you get the best ideas when you are at work doing some mindless task. Kind of like David (Gallant) I once worked in a call center. I worked 6 days a week, 8-10 hours a day. All day I would daydream about making games and all the cool games I was going to make. But when I got home I was too tired to do much of anything. My one day off of the week I would usually sleep most of the day to recover from the exhaustion.

    I think it’s a very difficult balance, as the day job can keep you grounded. They always say “don’t quit your day job!” and maybe that’s why. Nothing gives you real life experiences to draw upon like working with the public. I think Gallant should be really happy. He’s made a game, made a profit on it, got his name out there. So a lot of indies would say he’s living the dream! And yeah, I get that $12,000 isn’t going to last forever, but it should buy a few months? I think the urge to quit the day job is very strong. Then you are faced with the game work making money, and yeah, then it’s a job. And maybe it’s not the job for everyone. Or maybe making it a job takes the fun out of it?

    I’ve found the best thing to do is just plan on doing the games because every time you quit doing them you just come back later and start doing them again. If you can relate to that last sentence and it totally sounds like you, you will do this even if there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If that doesn’t sound like you and you can quit and walk away from it then you probably aren’t meant to do this. So just make the games anyway, and if you get paid, great. But if you don’t, you still get paid because you made something.

  5. April 19, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    I can totally relate to this, too. My dev partner Ryan and I are self-funding our game about his son who has terminal cancer. And that money is running out.

    However, I guess in some ways we’re completely different. The fear of financial ruin is not affecting our ability to create at all, despite the fact that running out of money means no paying medical bills, which means Joel is in danger of not receiving care!

    I guess our hope is more powerful than our fear, mostly because it doesn’t come from us.

    I believe in you David. Your story is not over yet.

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