Hi. I’m E McNeill, and I am an indie game designer.
I’ve been making that claim for a while, but only now do I feel like I can really mean it wholeheartedly. About a month ago I finally took the plunge. I went indie full-time. Of course, I’ve been doing my own work in games for a while (and even released a game commercially), but it was never my primary occupation. Not until now.
As you should suspect, going indie was not the original plan; I had expected to break into the industry in the usual way. I got my CS degree, worked in QA, got some internships with big companies, and most recently spent a year with the title of Lead Game Designer (though I didn’t actually make games in that capacity (long story)). It was a good job, a cushy job! But the indie scene was inspiring me day after day, and cushiness doesn’t satisfy for long. I was, and am, a true believer in indie games. So I saved up, quit, packed up all my stuff, and drove across the country to set up my new life in San Diego. (This move really had nothing to do with games (I was following my girlfriend), but it turns out that driving westward for five days straight feels very poignant in this circumstance.)
I’ve been indie for a little over a month now. I can’t claim much wisdom, but I figured I could share my thoughts and worries for anyone else contemplating a change. I know I appreciate getting to see personal looks at indie development, and finally I can offer a glimpse from the inside.
1. I’m arriving fashionably late. Indie games have been booming for nearly five years now, and I find myself worried that I may have come at the start of the decline. I don’t think that it’s truly too late to find success, but I remember that independent developers used to be the rare, daring few, whereas now I’m just one of the many. The primary obstacle facing indie devs used to be the obscurity of the scene; now the problem is how crowded it is. Meanwhile, I feel like I’ve only just begun to develop my own skills, when instead I need to be at my peak. I’ve heard it said that “very good” is the enemy of “truly great”; I won’t be able to afford many “learning experiences” in my shipping projects. And if the golden age comes to a close, the quality bar will be set that much higher.
2. Thank God for Unity. After years of working almost exclusively in XNA, I decided to give some new engines a try. After trying Unity3D for a week, I stopped looking for anything better. I can keep programming in C#, deploy to almost any platform, and have a huge dev community surrounding me. That’s a sweet deal if ever I saw one. Not to mention the excellent extensions for everything under the sun (shout-out to 2D Toolkit). I finally get why everyone has been flocking to this engine.
3. This is awesome. So far, at least. I’m still in the fun prototyping phase, so I can’t claim too much, but I finally feel like I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I had a strange experience on my first Friday after going indie. Normally, I would work all week and make games on the weekend. On that Friday, having just spent five days making games, I felt like it was time for the weekend to end and to get back to work. I couldn’t internally accept that the weekend was instead just starting. This feeling hasn’t entirely gone away; I find myself looking forward to Monday mornings and it feels weird. Weird, but good. Mostly good, actually.
I realize that this may be a cliched portrait of the excited and idealistic newcomer. But that’s honestly what I am, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m proud to be doing this. And I hope that I can do it well enough to keep calling myself an indie game designer for a long, long time.