Developing games has traditionally been a group activity. People with different specializations come together to grind away the countless man hours required to produce a digital game. Today however, with development tools becoming increasingly user friendly and cost effective, it is possible for a single multi-talented person to develop a game by themselves; this is the route I have taken. However, being a solo developer and bringing a game from an idea to a commercial release (or, in my case, a Kickstarter campaign) comes with more challenges than simply pulling the weight of your would-be teammates. Remaining objective about your work, motivating yourself with your own progress, and interpreting limited user feedback are all hurdles that a solo developer faces, and must face alone.
The greatest freedom of developing alone comes in the ideation stage.
The greatest freedom of developing alone comes in the ideation stage. You don’t have any stakeholders saying “no” or modifying your ideas to match their experiences or beliefs. All the passion and exciting thoughts that have been bouncing around your head are free to make it into a design document. This can be a blessing as well as a curse. Remaining objective about something you are very passionate about is difficult and, without another designer to sound off, bad ideas can make it into the game. I attempt to combat this by constantly talking to my friends and family about my ideas. As I rant, I gauge their reactions to the things I say. I put greater emphasis on those friends who are closer to the demographic of my game but still considered the opinions of those who aren’t. Applying this technique, it is tempting to push through an unpopular idea thinking: as the developer you know best. Regardless, taking time to rethink a design decision is valuable even if you don’t change your mind about it.
The lack of a team becomes less of a freedom and more of a burden as the game begins to take shape and you have settled into a schedule of work. As a programmer, having a second set of eyes on a problem can turn an hour long head-scratcher into a ten minute solution. Without this priviledge I often switch tasks when I become overwhelmed with solving a bug or programming a complicated feature. Creating art for an hour gives my left-brain a chance to relax and when I return to the problem the solution is often much clearer. Taking a short break from development altogether is a great way to refocus on a programming problem as well.
Maintaining motivation can also be more difficult for a solo developer.
Maintaining motivation can also be more difficult for a solo developer. After working on a two-man team in the past I learned the value of creating a “motivation loop” by feeding off of your teammate’s work. When you are feeling less productive, seeing that your teammate has produced something great can provide a huge boost to your morale. This will cause you to produce good work which, in turn, motivates your teammate. Without a team this cycle does not exist and I seek other ways to both motivate myself and feel that my progress is valid. Posting screenshots on Twitter and Reddit is a big deal for me. Even a single positive reaction is enough to inspire me to push onwards and create the next thing that I can show off.
When it comes to marketing either your finished product or crowdfunding campaign, being an individual developer means two things: you know less people personally that can support you, but also that you can afford to make much less money. This means that individually you may be able to pay yourself as much as a developer of a more ambitious project with a larger team that must split funding among teammates. If your game happens to exceed financial expections however, you alone reap the full rewards.
There are advantages and disadvantages to working on a team, but for me the major factor is that I simply enjoy working alone. I embrace the challenges of solo development because I thrive on the freedom it provides me. I recommend starting up a solo project to anyone who is seeking a rewarding yet challenging adventure.