What did I learn from 8 years of being a game developer in a third world country? Here’s my perspective.
Eight years ago, making games as a living was nothing but a dream in Indonesia. Game developer was a profession that was never heard of in Indonesia and only a handful of people practice it in obscurity. We have come a long way since then. Today, hundreds of games are released by thousands of people that are proudly calling themselves Indonesian game developers.
I started making games professionally shortly after graduating from university. The year was 2008. I worked as an intern at Altermyth and later as a programmer at the legendary Matahari Studios before starting my own studio, Toge Productions in 2009. Those are two of the oldest game development studios in Indonesia. In my years working in the game-making business, I have seen a lot of things, good and bad.
Here are the things that I’ve learned from my 8 years experience of working as an independent game developer in Indonesia:
The biggest mistake that most game developers in Indonesia make (maybe even everywhere) is that they don’t fail fast enough. What I meant by “not failing fast enough” is that they do not (or choose not to) see the flaws in their ideas or failures in their game and address it until it is too late.
Most game devs I met have ambitious ideas, and most of the time they work on that ambitious idea for a very long time without showing it to anyone or properly testing it. This usually ended badly, either their project failed after X-years of development or it flopped very badly when released, devastating results for the developers financially and mentally. I have seen large studios with huge investments close down because of this.
By keeping projects to yourselves, your perspectives are often distorted and you can’t even see the flaws in your work anymore. Your project is like your baby, and just like any parents, you will never call your baby ugly. You’ll be in such a state of denial that you are blinded. You need others to look at your work with a fresh perspective and give you the necessary feedback to improve.
So build prototypes as soon as possible, find your target audience and test your game as early as possible. Fail faster and avoid wasting time and money on dead-end projects!
Start Small and Iterate
This is actually somewhat related to point 1, but I can’t stress this enough. The game development ecosystem in Indonesia is very young, our experience in developing large scale AAA-games is very minimal. Yet from time to time again I see fresh grad students forming a new studio and taking on a very ambitious project as their first game. I’m not saying that this is entirely bad. But often, they are biting off more than they could chew and they do not realize it until it’s too late.
If you want to stay in the game industry for a long time, you need to focus on surviving and making your business sustainable. Start small, start with simple and manageable projects. This way you can actually finish your game and start to build your recurring passive income from games that you have released.
Having recurring income is a key building block for a sustainable business. Sometimes your projects take longer than expected. Sometimes your game flops and does not perform as you hope it would be. When this happens, your recurring income will become a life raft that keeps your whole team afloat and not sink during violent storms.
[Related Article: Top 5 Indonesian Steam/PC Games Based on Total Owners]
Smaller projects also allow you to iterate faster, and doing something over and over again is the only way to learn to do it well. Practice makes perfect. Through quick iterations, you learn from your past projects and see what went right and what went wrong. It allows you to improve your skills, adapt to the changing trends and produce more games with incremental improvements in a short amount of time.
Over time you will have the necessary skills and experience to tackle bigger and more ambitious projects. When you do, feel free to work on that ambitious AAA-quality MMORPG project that you have been dreaming about.
To be continued in Part 2…
Kris Antoni is the CEO of Toge Productions