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The real life of an indie game developer

How to survive without making a hit

I am fascinated by anything which let's me peek behind the curtain of indie game development, whether it's to see the effort that goes into making games or it's a look at the realities of being in business for yourself. The video below falls into the latter category. It's a 2016 GDC talk, posted to YouTube last month, in which Grey Alien Games' Jake Birkett talks about how he survived in game development for eleven years without a hit. If the name doesn't sound familiar, he's the developer of Regency Solitaire, which was one of our favourite games of 2015.

Watch on YouTube

Regency Solitaire was a moderate success, but the majority of Birkett's career has been spent producing games with far smaller return. In fact, most of them are the kinds of games upon which we'd often casually pour scorn: holiday-themed match three games.

Yet I find a kind of hope in the story. Birkett doesn't necessarily make his dream game, but he's hardworking and sensible, he has a family, he doesn't work crunch until his life falls apart, and through careful management of his previously released games and carefully selected contract work, he builds a business and a reputation that's sustainable and which allows him to eventually pursue more creative projects. It's the antithesis to the 'indie lifestyle' you see in things like Indie Game: The Movie, or the millionaire success stories that get most often publicized. But the most interesting work is rarely the most commercially successful, so anyone who is making it work in the shallows should be commended and studied.

Birkett now makes games with his partner, Helen, and they are working on Shadowhand, a new card game set in Georgian England about duels. Pip previewed the game earlier this year.

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