I decided to take up indie game dev projects (which I'll compress to the acronym, "IGD," for my own sanity) at the top of 2018, and quite frankly, I love it.  But I've got to say, there are certain aspects of that world that are really frustrating.

Good: There Are a Lot of IGD Projects out There

Too many.  Anyone can come up with an idea, post an ad, get a few recruits, and voila: a collaborative is born.  What's great about that is there are so many fantastic ideas that really end up inspiring you to join and produce great quality work, which you probably wouldn't have unless you were part of a collaboration.  The variety excites you, and it's always nice to have options.

Bad: Most IGD Projects Fail

My guess is over 99%.  The evident downside of having no barrier to entry is that literally anyone can start an IGD project and assign themselves as Project Lead.  Being a Project Lead is a difficult and taxing job, and most who've done the aforementioned don't realize it (and unfortunately, some never do—and are puzzled when projects don't pan out as they originally intended).

Good: Connections, Networking, and More Connections

The BIG lure to IGD is connecting with some of the most creatively magnificent, but tragically underutilized talent out there.  Intelligent creators who really should be working for an AAA studio, but since those jobs are so competitive, are forced to essentially work for free in order to build a portfolio.  As both a Project Lead and a team member, you become the beneficiary of working with top talent, and have the opportunity to learn from them—as well as having the privilege to create art with them before they get their much-deserved break and become industry players.

Bad: No Money / Excruciatingly High Turnover Rate

The prevailing issue of why projects fail is because there's no funding to keep it together.  As a result, there's no financial commitment from the team members involved, and they'll begin to drop like flies at the slightest frustration.  So the project is in a constant state of delay and recruitment, and new recruits who are brought on later in the development cycle have to take over someone else's work, which typically isn't what creative artists want to do (especially for free).  Whereas in regular employment, the attitude is very different, and being paid supersedes ego, creative differences, conflict, etc.  Thus, IGD ends up being a revolving door of people, and as a talent, there's an endless scramble of going in and out of projects until you hopefully land in one where the team looks to be full of experienced, motivated people, and the project has an achievable scope for the unicorn that is game completion.

Good: As Accessible as Can be

Beggars can't be choosers, so in a digital space where Project Leads are lucky to get contacted at all (considering in most cases, there's no money involved), they're really eager to speak to you, and you can touch base almost immediately.  This in some large part has to be credited to the rise of Discord, where a lot of gamers are already congregated, so makes it the perfect communication platform to start, organize, and collaborate in game development servers.

Compare that to the structure of general employment, where you need to have a résumé and cover letter prepared, go through a tediously long application process, be lucky enough to make the cut and have an HR person to contact you, schedule an appointment for a phone interview, possibly do personality / logic tests, do an in-person interview with the aforementioned HR person, then do a panel interview with your potential supervisor, so on, and so forth until you get graced with a job offer.

In IGD, it's talent, desire, and if you don't seem like you'd be a jerk to work with.

Bad: There Are a Few Jerks in IGD, and Guess What? They Start Their Own Game and Become Project Leads!

The fallen angels of an IGD collaborative sometimes trick themselves into thinking that they're not the problem, but everyone else is.  So to "punish" their teammates, they leave the project mid-development and start their own anew—where they have total control and everything can be just right.  But the frustrations from previous experiences carry over, and they project that aggression and distrustfulness onto potential recruits and future team members (in essence, they're still trying to get back at their old teammates from the last project, but are now in a position of power to take it out on people who they have no gripe with).  The few who they do seem to get along with get invited to work on the project, but usually don't last long since the Project Lead is insufferable and doesn't really have the aptitude to be in a position of leadership.  Those projects typically contribute to the 99%+ failure rate.

Good: Personal Development

I wouldn't have had a reason to go back to programming if not for game development.  I'm on several Trellos and Jiras, and doing Scrum meetings for the project management of most of the games I'm involved with.  Getting put on an MMORPG as a UI designer reinvigorated me to dust off my interaction development skills, and do some of the best work I've ever done in UX.  All of these things end up being really useful later on, even superficially if you read some of these job listings in start-ups.  They want what you're doing, and you're building your employability in more ways than you might realize (a lot get stuck on just wanting to develop a portfolio).

Bad: Politics

Everyone who is involved in an IGD group is "doing it a favour by working for free" (I use that phrase specifically, because it's an actual quote from a Project Lead who I'm about to mention—and yes, you heard that correctly: a Project Lead said that), and in some cases, that creates an ego that must be serviced.  If the Project Lead and other team members aren't expressing enough appreciation, threats of leaving ensue.

Alternatively, the opposite can sometimes be true.  I was just involved in a project that imploded in less than a week after I joined because the two Project Leads (one of which didn't want to be identified as such, but his actions spoke differently) were in a civil war that carried over from past projects.  Ironically, in that situation, the rest of the team (which was full of some of the most talented people I've come across in IGD) were the voices of reason, and kept the game development moving in spite of it.  Regardless, one Project Lead was so hellbent in being caught up in a political game, that the other was forced to resign.  But it didn't stop there, and even after that Project Lead left, she couldn't stop burying him, and advised the remaining team members to never work with him again.  Less than twenty-four hours later, she had a meltdown and left because she was severely depressed (boyfriend troubles, which she made sure to let everyone know of on the game dev server), and encouraged the team to bring the other Project Lead back.  The old Project Lead returned, but everyone was so tired of the politics that near half of them left or were noncommittal about continuing, splitting off into other projects, and thus a team of extremely talented people disintegrated.



As I typed this article, I was talking to this incredible artist who I've been trying to work with since January. We were getting close to finalizing an agreement for me to join his collaborative on an equity-share, but he began "slurring" his text (and yes, that's text, and not voice). He claimed his keyboard was missing keys (even though it was fine thirty minutes prior), then something with his girlfriend, and then he hadn't had enough sleep. After a little bit of digging, it turns out he has a drug problem (he's chalking it up to a (banned) supplement). Speculating it might be heavier than that (based on the severe behavioural change), I asked if he's in any risk of OD'ing, and haven't heard back since. And as I just wrote that, I noticed his status went from "Idle" to "Online," so my assumption is that he's fine. And yes, he's now typing something to me. He says his partying days are over, and the drugs are prescribed to him.
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