10 Things I Haven’t Done

1. I have never been to a GDC or similar corporate event or spent days manning a booth. Also never attended a game jam.

2. I have never paid money to enter a competition.

3. I have never willingly attended a business talk (accidentally, yes).

4. I haven’t crunched on a videogame in the past eight years. I’m not starting now.

5. I haven’t spent four years out of my life ‘going big’ and spending everything on a game.

6. I have never been in a 30 under 30 due to being way over 30.

7. I haven’t kept my gob shut though I do, more often than people realise, try to choose more wisely the subjects I shout about.

8. I have never knowingly (hopefully?) worked someone else hard for my game and made them suffer.

9. I haven’t given an interview since not long after I started selling games.

10. I haven’t stolen Timmy’s ducks and if he says I have, he’s a liar.

Old (II)

I released my first (solo) Steam game in my forties.

I’d never really said that out loud before yesterday but there we are, it’s a thing that happened. I don’t think about it because a long time ago, I stopped counting years – now after a couple of close shaves and losing friends and family along the way, I wake every day, check I’m still here and I’m happy.

When you figure you’re never going to see 21 and here you are, decades later – it’s worth being thankful for every day. Who cares about years when there’s a new day to see?

I am not the oldest person in games. I’ve discussed this before (and in a rare case of past me and future me still being on the same page, I still agree with every word I wrote that day) but it’s worth remembering. There are people older than me in games doing the best work of their careers. Whenever I feel spent, which is more often than it should be, I think of these folk doing such amazing things, more assured things.

I don’t believe for a second you have to be old, to be mature, to write assured works. That’d be a rot. Just there’s plenty of folks who’ve had decades to hone their craft into something distinctly theirs and knowing that they can still churn out vital works keeps the black dogs at bay sometimes. Molyneux only knows that videogames are not ours, they don’t belong to us.

I joke about wanting a 30 Under 30 award because I’m just getting started. I made no games in my teens, made only the most tentative of half assed progress in my twenties, began in earnest in my thirties and found comfort with what I make in my forties. So what if I’m not under 30? You can still give me an award. Give me an award. Nobody gives me awards.

Code doesn’t come easily to me. I struggle with numbers and often code is numbers, but through persistence, with help, I wrangle my way to something that doesn’t fall apart. I write using Gamemaker and it’s been a long time since someone called me on it, said I shouldn’t do it. I often find making games way, way, way more excruciating as really, I don’t enjoy code either. It’s just a thing I need to do to make the stuff get out of my head.

I learn slowly, I fall back on the help of friends who’ve been so generous and understanding over the years. I make good things. I make good things with help and assistance.

I couldn’t say that for years but here I am now, old, and happy to say it. I make good things.

I don’t expect anyone to agree with my view of my own work, in all likelihood there isn’t a critique anyone could offer that I haven’t come down on myself harder over – or alternately could give a single fuck about – that’s just where I am. I am happy with my work as work for me. It makes me happy. I see a thousand flaws but I’m proud of it and what I’ve achieved.

I’m proud of it because I know what it takes me to write it in the first place. If only it were made whilst just being old. I have a face pain described to me recently by a pain specialist as ‘one of the worst pains you could have’, it’s almost metronomic in its regularity and I can lose hours a day to it. It used to be weeks and months but I’ve got to know my pain, understand what it’s up to. I still have weeks or months where the pain rarely relents for more than a few hours but I know in that downtime, when I’m not exhausted, I can get something done.

‘One of the worst pains you could have’ is an odd statement though. On the one hand it offers me the comfort that I’m not crazy, I’m not doing anything to make it happen. On the other, pain isn’t a competition to see who has the worst. In that regard, I’d sooner it just acknowledged as pain. (I also remain mildly convinced it’s only considered One Of The Worst by virtue of being slanted towards more men suffering from it, were it women or otherwise, I swear there’d just be an over the counter pill and an ‘off you fuck’ to boot)

So I am old. I am in pain often. When doing anything feels like it’s against the odds, I can’t properly express how satisfying it is to be able to drop a videogame into the world, more so one I’m proud of.

Of course, this means that long multiyear projects are out the window. I’m glad of that. I struggle to keep track of what I’m doing at the best of times, having to take long breaks due to pain makes it all the more awkward. I live with folks who have their own wants and needs and it all takes time away from making things. I’m okay with this. I realise it must be frustrating that I make slow progress for months, burst through some then slow again, anyone who works alongside me must find that lack of haste disconcerting but I get there.

I speak to people who worry they’re too old to get started, too busy, too ill. And maybe, I couldn’t say. That’s not for me to say. But I’m writing this to say that there’s ways of getting stuff you want to do out there, whilst being old, whilst being in pain, whilst having a life that can steal hours from you. It’s not easy and it took me a long, long time to find a reasonable balance but it can be found.

It can be frustrating, it can be difficult, it is difficult. I made small spaces in my life, found tools that removed frustrations and barriers, slowly worked towards a style that played to my strengths (you know, after spending years discovering what they were through a myriad of missteps) and papered the cracks over my weaknesses. I have been fortunate to have, in recent years, assistance to do things I’d otherwise struggle with but I know, where I cannot find help directly from real humans, we have marketplaces and so much help out there to be found.

There’s no shame in admitting you can’t do all the things. There’s no shame in only making small works, things that make you happy. Providing, as usual, you’re not hurting someone else. There’s no shame in starting later in life. Molyneux save me, I’d have made such nonsense twenty, thirty years ago – I was too busy getting into trouble, getting drunk, wearing make up and sitting by the canal watching boats go by. It felt too much like I had no future and nothing to prove, I’d have only made shite. I’m ok with me doing this now and not then.

Being old when you never expected to be old is weird enough in and of itself but it’s not a reason to not try to make games. There’s a hundred, thousand, million, willion reasons to go and do something else. Amongst those reasons is that making games is bloody hard. You’re not weird if you find it hard, it properly is hard.

I started late. I’m only just getting started. I feel like I’ve got such a long way to go too.

Maybe I won’t have time to get there. Maybe I won’t have the health to get there. These aren’t exclusively being old fears though, y’know? I give it a go anyway because it makes me happy.

That’s enough for me. Maybe it is for you too. However old or young you are.

More games, please.

2017, it appears, is when folks entirely forget how stores work and just make stuff up instead. We’re a little over a week and a bit into the year and I’ve already hit upon so much bad store analysis, seemingly divorced from any sort of reality, it’s kind of hurting my head a bit.

Of course, in amongst all the graphs that folk like to pull out, all the truly bad readings of numbers and everything else, you can pretty much guarantee that someone, somewhere is going to go back to The One That Does My Head In, the subject of too many games.

I’ve tackled it, less than tactfully, a few times before. Once to bluntly state, as Doug Lombardi once did, that no – there are not too many games. Following on from that to mention the fairly ridiculous premise that the argument is built on – how, exactly, can you have such a thing as too many games? And if it is that much of a problem, folk can just stop adding to the pile for a bit and let someone else have a chance.

I’ll admit, I find it an entirely unconvincing argument at the most fundamental of levels – it really just doesn’t make sense to me at all. Yet here we are and one of the latest ‘solutions’ we seem to be returning to is some sort of inventory limit. Often going so far as to suggest that we should cull lesser performing titles from the store – where of course, we get to dictate what lesser performing is because of course we do whilst we’re making up arbitrary rules for problems we’ve invented. There’d be little point otherwise.

Yet, I think there is a more profound point to be divined from this nonsense – whilst in videogames (as elsewhere) we’re prone to pointing the finger at folks just getting by and feel something must be done about them (for rarely convincing or accurate reasons), our stores do have some fairly serious issues with them and they’re not really being addressed all that well.

The depressing truth of videogames is that our stores are barely fit for purpose in the main. I’m fairly sure that whilst there’s genuinely people who want to disadvantage others in order to provide themselves more of an advantage (videogames are populated by humans, after all), a lot of the complaints around stores just evade the obvious. They’re mainly broken. Especially, but definitely not limited to, stores on consoles.

Shopping for games online is fairly often a way more difficult task than it ever needs to be. Our best storefront by a clear margin is Steam and whilst Valve’s experiments are bearing fruit for people and slowly improving sales from the bottom to the top, there’s still a great deal of wiggle room for improvement on there. There’s still a legacy of unclear navigation in parts, things are hidden or difficult to find that really shouldn’t be difficult to find or hidden, the necessity of separating the store from the community is a thing that keeps Steam up and running more often than not but still, it makes for a disjointed experience and there’s still a lot of room for improvement navigating outside the recommendation engine Valve have built.

And that’s our best store. Our best store still has an almighty heck of a way to go in functionality and user experience to be the best it can be. Which isn’t slating Valve’s work here so much as acknowledging how much work is involved in building and supporting an online store that works for people buying and people selling videogames. Doing it well is an enormous task.

This is, partly, why I love Itch.io. Aside from its willingness to support folks who would normally be left out by Valve (an essential task), it’s the only store willing to take on Steam on its own terms. Normally, when folks try to build something to rival Steam, what they tend towards is either a more traditional olde style limited inventory storefront (Hello GOG) or just completely ignore all the things that really make Steam work and assume it’s about keeping those eyeballs in client. Don’t get me wrong, it partly is just that but there’s a lot of detail, important detail, that gets lost. You know, like the stuff that makes people want to stay in and around Steam. Most barely get past throwing people some sort of reward scheme or free games bone – which is sort of OK when you’re dealing with your own works but not so much when folks need to make a living from your store.

This is the longest ass way yet of me saying look, there’s a reason Steam is as big as it is and other stores struggle to come close. It seems absurd when I write this but if I click on something on Steam, I can be pretty much guaranteed to walk away with enough information to help me decide whether I make a purchase. This is also true of GOG and… GOG and maybe GOG as well.

The problems here aren’t one of volume, stores are often broken at the most basic, fundamental of levels. They’ve been broken so long, we barely bat an eye and instead go reaching to blame people who deserve to be served better by their storefronts, especially considering that stores take a percentage from these people for carrying their works, right?

Whatever complaints I have about Steam, they all pale in comparison to just how poor browsing for and buying games is on a console. The last time I tried to look for something on the Microsoft store, I found it tiring and frustrating. Sony’s offering is often the same. Nintendo opting for a more traditional store route (and erm, having barely any games) saves them from some of the more pressing issues but still – it’s not a thing you’d go out of your way to describe as a good experience in the main.

I don’t want to single one store out as the worst here, they’re all fairly grim in their own ways. There’s a distinct lack of useful, granular, searching. There’s no guarantee of walking away with all the basic information you need – you know, like a humanly readable description, a decent set of screenshots of the game and an appropriate video. Never mind anything more elaborate. Basic stuff is missing.

Due to needing to have some friction to purchases, buying the things you may want to buy is often way more cumbersome than anyone would like. And then, of course, after you’ve bought the thing, there’s downloading the things and there’s nowhere near enough being spent on providing fast and efficient downloads to people in the way Valve do. I don’t pretend these are simple or cheap issues to address but when I can download a 30-50 gig game on one service in an hour and on another I find myself having to leave a console on overnight or for days on end – the difference in experience is a stark one. This is of course what you get when companies are bean countered within an inch of their lives to maximise profits in ways Valve can afford to set aside but still. It makes for a poor user experience.

Before we ever consider culling titles or punishing up and coming folk for daring to try and sell their work, it seems sensible to me to address the far more serious issues that go towards our stores being less than good places to buy videogames. The fault here doesn’t lie with the people making games, no matter the quality, the fault lies with the stores making filtering somewhere between difficult and impossible, buying a chore and downloading things even more so. You know, let’s request that the folks with the money and the power use the money and the power to make a not rubbish experience for more people, right?

Our problem in games really, genuinely, isn’t one of too many games – it’s stuff doesn’t work right.

Discussing this in term of too many games also ignores just how underserved most people are by videogames. There are a lot of people with wildly varying tastes in games, these tastes come into and out of vogue too and as a result, people find themselves with huge dry spells for new games in genres they like. Some folks barely get anything at all on consoles or in stores that cater to them. I’m not even joking when I say that I make the games I make because few people are around to make that sort of stuff for me. I’m far from alone and far, far from the worst case of not being catered to in games.

The answer to this most definitely is not fewer games, right? We like to pretend that games are one market but really, they’re very much a broad and wide medium with a lot of tastes and wants. There’s probably around ten or twenty people who make the sort of things I do and sell them. I’m working to a small market of folks at the best of times, I chose to work within a niche because it’s a niche I love and I want more games I really enjoy playing because of course I do. I’m lucky if I get one or two a year in my psychedelic arcade corner, right? That’s still more than what some other folk get.

We’ve got so much more room for so many more games, we need so many more games in order to keep videogames fresh and vital or comfortable for many. We need more games to keep pushing out at what videogames can be, we need to be less destructive to our legacy not more because the issues with obsolescence are brutal enough due to the innate issues around our technologies, this one thing alone already culls the pool of videogames as stuff stops working through no fault of the people who made them. We need to remember that most folks are barely being served with the stuff they like but there’s also often stuff out there they might like that’s fallen between the cracks.

Rather than rid ourselves of the works that might interest people, we need to be better at helping people discover that work. To do the other is needlessly destructive and pointless for a medium that already struggles with preserving its works.

Every time someone proposes we get a little more destructive, work harder to remove things from the pool which most people in or around games barely get to see anyway, I’ll admit, it does make me sad. It’s needless and effort that could be spent building more ways for folks to find more things they might like. The problem with selling games isn’t the volume of games made, that’s always, always going to be on the rise. It’s we need to be better at making sure everyone can find the things they might like and supporting people in making those things too.

It’s not an easy task and it’s a long road to get it right but it’s so much easier, so much more worthwhile than trying to destroy livelihoods and our own legacy for no good reason.

10 Great Cover Versions (close enough, anyway)

The Be Good Tanyas: When Doves Cry

Pet Shop Boys: The Last To Die (see also Where The Streets Have No Name)

The Sisters Of Mercy: Emma

Misery Loves Co: Complicated Game (also The Drowning Man)

Marc Almond: Like A Prayer (oh come on, and Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart)

The Higsons: Music To Watch Girls By

Toots And The Maytals: Country Roads

Easy Star All Stars: Let Down (also Time)

Marianne Faithfull: Hold On, Hold On (oh, and Tower Of Song)

As I’ve well gone over 10, it’d be rude not to include Isaac Hayes’ Walk On By really.

And, erm, Charles Bradley’s Heart Of Gold whilst I’m at it. OK. Done now. Maybe.

*sneaks in under the radar* LAST ONE, PROMISE.

Game Developer

“The Last Of The Bedroom Coders”

For a long while, Introversion used this tagline alongside their name and game releases. I don’t think, in all my time making games, I’ve ever seen a slogan upset so many people.

I’m glad they’ve ditched it now but for a long while, it was a thing that made a fair few people unhappy. I know the internet has its story of indie set in stone, I know in a lot of ways I rode it myself for a couple of years too although I hope with a little bit more understanding, but the bedroom coder never went away.

I was, I guess, one of the newer bedroom coders for a while. I found company with others revisiting the works of the first round of bedroom coders. So I knew we were here. The history of videogames forgets people often. It forgets the people who, as the 16bit machines drove us deeper into the machinery of videogames as we know it, continued to make and put out small works. It forgets the hundreds of PD disks and small works because none of it suits the ‘to billions’ story we’ve written into the heart of videogames.

It never stopped. PD morphed into a split between shareware and freeware somewhere down the line, along the way ‘postcardware’,’scratchware’ and more. The bedroom coder never went away. Maybe they found comfort in mods, maybe in hacks, maybe in remakes, in small original works, in messing around because why not.

We just decided that this never suited our Official History Of Videogames, really.

And so that tagline felt like a kick in the teeth to so many people. Being amongst them, I could see the work and dedication people put in, the pride in even the smallest works and the appreciation of the people who stumbled onto them, played and supported them. So yeah, that wasn’t very nice.

It’s picking over the bones of ancient history now, of course. What’s done is done and the tagline long gone now. Whatever upset it caused lost to the noise of a new wave of people entering videogames, excited to be making things.

The difference between the first wave of new indie and the folks who came before? Nothing, really. Just we got people to notice.

I’m ignoring the money thing that came along a bit later here, obviously.

When people lament there’s too many games or try to crush the dreams of people starting out with their first and earlier works, when they pretend that this is a new dangerous phenomena, it’s all rubbish. All of it. We’ve pushed out, expanded, brought new people in along the way but this is a thing that’s always and forever been a part of videogames.

Just folks notice now.

When the media put its eyes towards indie in the mid to late two thousands, to those raised entirely on a diet of retail, it maybe seemed like an explosion. It wasn’t ever really that, it was an extension. Permission in some ways. A bit of a ‘hi folks, we’ve been doing this for years and it’s OK, you can too’. But I remember the hundreds of games monthly that filled cover disks, the hundreds of mods. It was there. Always.

This didn’t come out of nowhere, it’s been an upward curve for decades of more people coming in, more people making games. My remakes archive is a thousand games deep for one tiny niche alone, all the forums nobody cared to look in, all the directories nobody in the press waded through, all the hundreds and thousands of mods we enjoyed didn’t just plop out of mid-air into existence. We made them. People made them.

As long as I’ve been around, people have tried different angles to divide people making games into worthy/not worthy. Into either you’re a real game developer or you just aren’t. It persists still, of course it does. People can’t seem to stop themselves finding new angles to attack this from. Maybe it’s your choice of engine, your graphics package, the size or the form of your work. I’ve had most of them yelled at me over the years by people whose name I can’t remember because who were they anyway? Cheeky folks and all that.

To a degree it works. We’ve written off the contributions of thousands of people preferring, as we do, to talk about six white dudes who happen to be rich as well or whatever as the focal points in our history of indie. We’re reductive in harmful ways because it means we’re forever repeating cycles, trying to solve hard problems instead of seeing the ebb and flow of people in games.

It’s also why it makes me sad when I see someone putting their work out into the world and wearing the label ‘wannabe game dev’ or some variety. No mate, look, you’re making a game – that’s it, the only qualification needed. You’re a game dev now.

It’s not a qualification you have to earn. We’ve been here for years, so many of us. No-one doubts that I’m a game developer but my work is sporadic, weird and small. It’s made in GameMaker. No-one doubts it because I’ve always been clear that I am. I make games. They’re unprofitable for the most part, they’re rooted in a genre few people give much of a care about and they often mess around with stuff taken as essential in those genres.

I’m a game developer though.

I was a game developer the moment I started making games. I was a bedroom coder whilst Introversion said there were none. I was indie before anyone acknowledged folks like me could be allowed to wear the term indie.

All it takes is making a game. That’s it. That’s all the right to be here anyone needs. Not even that, really. All it takes is having a go at it.

I can’t say don’t care what anyone else tells you because I’ve always cared, it’s driven me far more than is ever healthy to be able to turn around and say that I am here and I am not budging and no, I’m not going to be put down by weird arbitrary rules people invent with the sole purpose of keeping me down. I know it’s nigh in impossible not to care.

Just the history of videogames isn’t the one we tell, that’s a folk tale to make some people feel better about their success and some folks feel like that success could totally be theirs too if they just follow the leader.

That is very much what it is.

But if you’re making games, you are a game developer. You’re allowed to be here. Maybe you’ll be lost in the noise but that’s not a weird new phenomena, that’s videogames. Videogames have always been that. I’ve been around as long as videogames, I know.

It doesn’t mean the stuff that gets ignored isn’t valuable, isn’t important. It just means we forget it when writing the Official History Of Videogames and whatever.

You’re still a game developer.

Take that wannabe out of your bio. Own it. Be it.

You’re not alone.