Indie Game: The Movie and Work, Audience, & Motivation

Last week, I watched Indie Game: The Movie (it’s available on Netflix, so check it out if you subscribe). Overall, it was an extremely well-done documentary – very well-polished, very well-produced, and told the story of several developers in such a way that you genuinely care about what happens to them and their games.

But aside from all of that, I loved seeing the similarities between the game developers and the passion that they demonstrated for their games, their fears in building a product and how it would be received, and the battles they fought with people who would simultaneously use their product all the while insulting them publicly via the Internet.

Though these aren’t necessarily take aways, they’re interesting parallels nonetheless. Some I’ve seen in my own life, some I’ve wanted to avoid in my own life.

Indie Game: The Movie

1. People Don’t Notice Details

One of the developers featured in the documentary was Jonathan Blow – developer of the game Braid. He’s one of those developers that’s easy to envy because he’s capable doing both design and development and he does both incredibly well.

At one point in the documentary, he talks about how he sees his game as being a “dialog with the player” specifically around some of the constraints that he places within the game’s environment. As the reviews for Braid came out, he was a little perturbed that people didn’t notice some of these details.

It was a fascinating discussion and I couldn’t help but think a lot about how developers and designers (or developer/designers) work to create these highly usable, polished software products to help guide the user – dialog with them, I suppose – into achieving a certain task.

This doesn’t have to be done within the context of a full product, either. Even something as a simple WordPress plugin or library for an existing application can be attempt to do just this. Some people will notice and greatly appreciate it; others won’t and will simply see it as a means to an end.

There’s a lot more that can be said about this, but that’s not the post for this. The bottom line is that as hard as we try to create easy to use systems, some people just don’t pay attention to the details.

But we’re not alone in this: I think the same can be said by anyone who has attempted to create a movie, a song, a piece of artwork, a game, or a piece of software.

2. For Whom The Software Tolls

This is a bit of a cliche, but I believe that we should all be building things that we’re passionate about. Unfortunately, this is far easier said than done and many have jobs, projects, and/or other obligations to which we’re bound that prevent us from doing just that.

Ultimately, I think that we try to place ourselves in the intersection of working on things we love while making a living doing so. It’s difficult to stay near the center, though.

In the documentary, Phil Fish – developer of Fez – faces a number of personal and professional challenges that result in a delay in releasing the game. Perhaps the thing that struck a chord with me was the paradox of how designers and developers are building things to be used by others, but the very same audience for which we’re building things can have a serious impact on how much we enjoy what we’re doing.

Case in point: At one point in the documentary, Phil discusses some of the hate mail, hateful comments, and other negativity that the gaming community has thrown at him because of the delay of the game.

On one hand, he acknowledges that he’s building this game for himself and he’s extraordinarily passionate about it – much like the rest of us are about our work – but, as a developer, you also want others to enjoy your work, so to read and/or hear such negativity coming from people who want to use your product creates a bit of an odd situation so much so that it can kill motivation to continue working on what you’re doing.

This is the point where I believe where you discover your true motivations for why you’re working on your product: Is it because so much of yourself is invested in it, or is it because you want to deliver something to the market?

There is significantly more that I could share about this documentary as I absolutely loved it, but these were two of the largest things that stuck with me as someone who enjoys what he’s doing, is trying to build things for himself, but is also trying to improve and/or enhance the others experience with the digital publishing space.

If you care at all about the stuff you build, I highly recommend checking out the documentary.

1 Reply to “Indie Game: The Movie and Work, Audience, & Motivation”

  1. Its always been difficult for me to watch movies like that. On one hand, I get very inspired while watching the ideas and successes of other creators, and tend to pause the film to scrible down my own plans. On the other hand, I get rather despondant while watching them put in the hard work that it takes to pull their ideas off, feeling as if I’ll never manage something so complex.

    And yet, I show up at my desk every day, trying to make my corner of the world a better place to interact with online, and fitting in those details that go missed. I think that, so long as you *do* put the details in, someone will notice and appreciate it, and learn from it. And one mind changed is, to me, a project well done.

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