Sometimes I write stuff not about games.

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My Two Lost Years
alpha_two
This may read like a previous post I've written before about quitting professional game development, but I think now I can be a bit more candid about what happened. You can read that post here.

The story of how I had left my last job has been retold by me countless times now, and it's starting to become this weird amalgamation of what I remembered happening and what had happened. Short summary: 2011, company was downsizing, asked me to stay, chose to leave because I didn't feel like the new direction was a good fit (social/mobile). What I had left out is the consideration on whether I should have stuck around and took the pay check as I looked to move on. I had enough people telling me that I was dumb for leaving a job that was still going to pay me, that I should have stuck around and continued to look for a job. I wanted out because I no longer believed in whatever products I would have been working on, and making social/mobile games for me in that capacity felt closer to immoral and against personal beliefs. In the grand scale of things, I would put it on equal footing as punching a baby (making social games).

For the last two years, I've second guessed whether this was the right call. I'm still very certain that I don't want to have anything to do with social games, but for a stable paycheque that lasted for another two years, a "stable" job does look more appealing in hindsight. I've equated to making social/freemium games to punching a baby in the face, and I still feel that is true for me. I do feel that the current slate of freemium/social developers are out to exploit and abuse player trust, and I'm just not comfortable working for a company working in that space. Even though I needed the money, my "game morality compass" tells me I should stay away. A friend had recently asked me what I would rather do: 1)a boring office job or 2)social games, and I was very certain that I'd do practically anything and everything before working at a social/mobile studio.

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After Koei, I dove head first into iOS. My reasonings for it was two-fold: 1)Learn a programming language/relearn programming and 2)maybe gamble on the iOS gravy train. At the time of downsizing (and the months following it), I had pitched the idea of teaming up with a few people (specifically, I would have needed artists and programmers) without any results. Everyone had different financial needs and goals, and I understand that it would have been difficult to ask someone else to commit at the same level of financial instability for a gamble. Using a poker analogy, my attempt at iOS indie development is the equivalent of going all in short stacked with an off suit 2 and 3: it was doomed to fail from the start, barring some miracle long tail effect on the store.

Now of course you can argue that my negative projections of how things went affected the end result, but I think I was being more realistic in the potential end result and not lie to myself about how everything was going to be ok. Knowing that I had to do both the programming and art on top of all other game development tasks means that my attention and resources would have been spread too thin. I can argue that I'll never have a boring day because I'm learning something new everyday, but learning something new isn't productive to producing a product that can generate revenue.

My "first" "game" Sometimes You Just Can't Win was a way for me to bring "closure" to my time at Koei (nope, it didn't), but more importantly, it was a testbed for all the tech and procedures for me to ship an app on the iOS store. Initially I had ballparked a completed ship date of 3-6 months, but the end result was an "incomplete" game that shipped within a year. It was definitely an interesting process, learning the limitations of what I can do from the art, programming and design. That project had taught me about how to scale the development properly, but it also had confirmed my suspicion that a one man team like myself on the iOS needed to have a dedicated programmer above all else, and there was really no way I can compete on both the art/tech side. The subsequent games that I've released were designed around such limitations, and while mechanically they're sound, they're not notable for them to be interesting.

Was iOS the right gamble? Yes. My number one goal was learning iOS development and a new language (and just general programming concepts), and game development was just gravy on top. At one point I had almost bought into the idea that "hey maybe I could hit the jackpot too" with iOS lottery, but let's be realistic, it was a huge gamble with almost zero payout.

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I hate to categorize the last two years as "wasted", but it honestly feels that way in retrospect. I think the tipping point for me was when I started considering what I've done in the past two years. People have gotten married, had kids, bought a house, grown up to be a responsible adult, and I've a shell of a company that shipped 7 apps. I'm not saying that those are the things I want, but it's pretty god damn depressing to see the "scale of progress". It was never about the money, but then it is about the money, and I can say that not having income for two years blow, no matter the type of satisfaction you can have with whatever you can achieve. I keep on thinking, and wondering how this all could have played out differently, and which steps I should have/could have taken, and I really don't know if I've made the right calls along the way. They all felt right at the time, but were they "right"?

Even before I quit Koei, I knew that this would have been a difficult path, and I was aware of the prospect of unemployment and the pressures it would bring. However, I still think I underestimated the stress and anxiety not having a job brings. Sure, I didn't have to worry about having a roof over my head, and I still had some savings that I burned away to chase a dream, but as the days dragged on, it worried me to not know what else will happen. I had the luxury and the option to spend time to chase down a career I wanted and a relatively good failsafe, but it still felt like a giant gamble and caused way too many sleepless nights. Over the last few years, you may have asked me how things have been going, and I would tell you things are fine: things couldn't be further than the truth, I'm not OK, and I haven't been fine for a while.

Now I know what you're saying: you technically were employed, doing your own game development, right? Well yes, and no. Sure, there was a "business" established, but I had all the downsides of running the business (trying to pay my own salary, pay for software and equipment, work a bunch of hours), with none of the upside of an actual job (you know, the actual pay part). I wasn't unemployed, but I was unemployed.

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Now I'm going to do a full NPR (or Freakonomics) and tell you about the upside of unemployment: Honestly, this streak of unemployment has taught me far more about myself, work, and life than I had expected. I'm not suggesting that you should go get yourself fired from your job, but I can't imagine anyone learn these life lessons without it. More importantly, this experience has given me a new perspective on "perspective": it had been far too easy for me to have always defined what is "right", and the same can be said for other people to tell me what I should have done given my situation; but a person's decisions and perspective is entirely based upon their past, their experiences and their analysis of those events. I'm not saying there's no wrong answer (and I'm pretty sure in hindsight, the last two years, I've screwed up in many decisions), but it's much harder to be objective and not skewed by the existing facts and experiences.

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I've rambled on far too long now: Having gone on far too long without pay has been demoralizing, but things are looking up. Let's see what this next chapter brings.

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