Anecdotal reflections on letting go, being detached and surviving criticism.
I’ve always cherished my game ideas, just like you, I keep believing that my game concepts are profoundly interesting or will somehow break from the pack to propel me into some sort of indie spotlight. But they’re not. Good ideas are often worthless, we’ve all got good ideas – but what happens when your good idea is executed into a mediocre game? What happens when your mediocre game is not even finished? What is the process of reflection when your unfinished mediocre game just sits there, broken, staring at you? What happens when someone tells you that your game is, frankly, a bit shit?
…bad games don’t always mean bad developers.
Game development, to me, is the challenge of exploration, expression and perseverance. In my opinion the ability for someone to finish a game is a rare talent regardless of the end point of the product or the reception from its fans. Obviously a positive resolution to that process is beneficial, but finishing the journey of production is something that requires a massive undertaking – both in professional and personal discipline.
Often we discount this, as consumers and producers, where we forget that sometimes developers work for three, four, six years on a single titles only to receive lukewarm (or worse) receptions, that can make receiving feedback or disassociation, emotionally, very difficult for the developers themselves. But professionally, I believe it is a necessity.
I met a developer whom I respected and commented to him that I had followed his work closely for years – a conversation where I was very much a fan of his. He responded that I was one of the only people who liked his game and did so very casually. Whatever his personal journey on being able to come to terms with that was, I knew immediately that he was a better developer for it. You can, for instance, trust him to finish his next game or realize his idea into execution, but more so, you could trust him to disassociate himself emotionally and be objective on a given project. Honestly, I was even in awe. His game was no longer his baby, it was something he had produced in a journey of being a developer. He was a creator, defined more than just his game, thus defined past the criticism of that game.
I made that door, I can make more doors.
On the same note, actually later that day, I met a student at a drinks who firstly introduced himself with ‘you’re the guy that gave us negative feedback’. I did, at an industry review of student work, give him and his team negative feedback. What would compel someone to open with that line though? It’s totally justifiable, it was their baby, the game was their passion project – but more so, the idea of it’s finished form being a reflection of their ability as developers. That’s important to remember; bad games don’t always mean bad developers. The core of development is response to feedback. In testing, in development, in release and post release.
I’ll touch on that briefly, because it is a highly charged topic. The insulation to emotional attachment to your games can also prevent the burn-out, public meltdown or just anti-social behavior that we’ve seen talented, if not brilliant, game developers engage in. Are they justified to erupt into their barrages of public insults? As artists, yes, but not as professionals. Not without deserved consequences. Not without having exits that define them as developers who are remembered for their emotional outburst, and not by their games or creative outlets.
I have games sitting here on my drive, developed in Chalk In Rain, that I once in the past day-dreamed about as being my golden tickets or expression of artistic ability. I think we’ve all had that to a degree. Building on that confidence in my own journey as a developer, I know I’ll make more games.
When I look at projects we haven’t recently updated, we can now better say ‘that’s not fun’ or ‘the art is terrible’ – and stop working on them with little fear of a loss of opportunity. That door isn’t closing. I made that door, I can make more doors. But I don’t know if I can receive feedback and make better opportunities for myself, or express my art, if I cherish the product over the production. The act of making the game is my passion, the output is the result, but I hope that will equip me to make objective and informed decisions as a developer – a hope that I have for you, regardless of if you take these opinions on board or not.
My game is not my baby, it’s just something that happened on a journey.