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Games Entertainment

Why Game Developers Go Rogue 214

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the be-your-own-boss dept.
cliffski writes "Jay Barnson interviews the new crop of indie game developers. How could anybody abandon the steady paychecks, access to the best tools and engines, large teams of skilled colleagues and the glory of working on one of next holiday season's blockbusters for a chance to labor in relative obscurity on tiny, niche titles? Steven Peeler was a senior programmer at Ritual Entertainment. For him, leaving and forming the one-man studio Soldak Entertainment came down to a desire for creative freedom. 'I really wanted to work on an RPG, and Ritual only made shooters,' he says. 'There were some annoying politics going on that was really frustrating, I disagreed with the direction the company was taking, I was really tired of pushy publishers and I just wanted to do my own thing.'"
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Why Game Developers Go Rogue

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  • Because we can (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @10:31AM (#24496385)

    'Nuff said.

    • Re:Because we can (Score:5, Insightful)

      by twistedsymphony (956982) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @12:01PM (#24498001) Homepage
      It's no different than anyone else who leaves a company to start their own business. Lets play Mad-libs.

      Version 1:
      "I really wanted to work on Performance Parts, and Auto Parts Company X only made roof-racks and cargo-nets," he says. "There were some annoying politics going on that was really frustrating, I disagreed with the direction the company was taking, I was really tired of pushy investors and I just wanted to do my own thing."

      Version 2:
      "I really wanted to work on graphics apps, and Software Company Y only made custom data management software," he says. "There were some annoying politics going on that was really frustrating, I disagreed with the direction the company was taking, I was really tired of pushy clients and I just wanted to do my own thing."

      Why should we care just because they're a game developer?
      • Re:Because we can (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mcvos (645701) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @12:21PM (#24498427)

        Why should we care just because they're a game developer?

        The Escapist cares because they're about games. In fact, so is games.slashdot.org. And at the moment, while big game titles are working with multimillion dollar budgets, indie games seem to be thriving. A look inside that part of the industry is certainly interesting.

        But why there's no customdatamanagement.slashdot.org, I have no idea.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          I realize this is the games section, but my point was more along the lines of the fact that this article is nearly devoid of worthwhile information.

          Someone left a company because they were unhappy... Really? I'm shocked.

          It's analogous to an article stating that a lot of game developers use cars to drive to work, eat food for energy, and laugh at funny jokes.

          Maybe if there was some more interesting details as to the specific situation, or some kind of examples of the corporate politics that lead to
        • Re:Because we can (Score:5, Interesting)

          by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @02:26PM (#24500493) Journal

          If there are any indie developers here,can I add to a little wish list? Please?

          How about a nice little indie FPS,please? Hell,you don't HAVE to have the uber super Crysis thing going,a lot of buds and I still are quite happy playing Soldier of Fortune I. What we are tired of is the same damned stupid as a stump bad guys,zero realism,cookie cutter WW2 crap. I want a game where the bad guys are smart enough to make me work for it. I want a game where I can shoot the gun out of the bad guys hand,or make him have to limp because I put one in his kneecap. And some really good sniping,as opposed to shooting around a guy half a dozen times while he stands there would be nice too.

          How about some horror FPS like Nosferatu? Or maybe an end of the world and I have to fight my fellow survivors kind of thing? The point is there are a lot of ways to make a FPS stand out that don't involve monster graphics cards. But all we get from the big boys with the exception of one or two titles are the same old tired themes over and over. I would personally love to try and buy something new and fresh,even with SOF I or II graphics. Because as the Wii has shown us,it is about the fun. And the last half dozen games I've demoed are anything BUT fun,just more stupid AI wrapped in flashy graphics. But as always this is my 02c,YMMV. And if you'll excuse me I'm going to play some SOF II or NOLF II. Now THOSE were fun.

      • by Machtyn (759119)
        I think the interest is along the same lines of:
        Why Actors Go Indie Films
        How could anybody abandon the multi-million dollar paychecks, access to the best directors and writers, large teams of skilled colleagues and the glory of working on one of next holiday season's blockbusters for a chance to labor in relative obscurity on tiny, niche titles?

        An example would be Samuel L Jackson in Snakes On A Plane. (Because there are *** snakes on *** planes.)
        • by Moraelin (679338) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @02:31PM (#24500579) Journal

          hink the interest is along the same lines of:
          Why Actors Go Indie Films

          Err... not quite... let's go through those one by one:

          How could anybody abandon the multi-million dollar paychecks,

          Heh. Some people are under the impression that game programmers end up millionaires, like John Carmack, but the vast majority are actually paid a piss poor wage. And it becomes even less tempting once you do a total of the time worked, including unpaid overtime (some companies don't even just do it for the final crunch, but most of the time), and divide your wage by it.

          The inside joke is that they haven't offshored games to India and China yet, because those guys don't work for _that_ little.

          So trying for indie, I dunno, seems a lot less of a loss. You don't even need to sell many copies to make the same wage as before.

          access to the best directors and writers,

          1. Not everyone works with a Sid Meier or Will Wright. There are a lot of game programmers working for a lot less talented designers. In fact, your average entry job probably will be for some no-name company making a flop, and with a designer who makes up for less skill by having a bigger ego.

          2. The movie will show _you_ and get you a bunch of fans, if you're a talented actor. Those best directors and writers will make _you_ shine. If you're a talented game programmer, the best you can hope for is that you'll be a name by the half of the credits, and the designer is treated by the press and fanboys as the only one who mattered. It's more akin to being the third cameraman on the credits of a movie. So it's a bit easier to break away as a game programmer, because the ego factor to keep you in line just isn't the same.

          3. Those actors are often allowed a lot more creative input, to those directors and writers. Harrison Ford is the perfect example with his changes. Probably the best known being the scene where Indy shoots the swordsman. As a game programmer, probably nobody will give a shit about _your_ vision. The testers have more of a chance to change anything than you do, and God knows that for a bunch of companies the testers are ignored.

          4. Up to what age do actors get to play and be worshipped? The average game programmer is chewed up and shit out by the games industry, as a burned out husk, before reaching 30. A lot of them even earlier. Sometimes having celebrities shit on you, still is just being shit upon.

          large teams of skilled colleagues

          While the games industry does have a couple of very skilled people, the average programmer there is there only because he wanted very little money and generally didn't mind the overtime and being treated badly. And again, will make up for lack of actual skill, by being legends in their own minds.

          and the glory of working on one of next holiday season's blockbusters

          Most games won't even break even, and end up subsidized from the profits of EA's sports games and the like.

          Plus, there's a lot to be said about the "glory" of being one of the guys whose code was launched buggy and untested, and had reviewers and players ranting about poor quality ;)

          And again, most of the glory will go to the game designer, while you'll be lost in the credits.

          So to sum it all up, being a game programmer is very very unlike being a super-star actor. The whole ego thing that works for actors... well, as a game programmer you're probably more motivated by either (A) a misguided sense of altruism, as in, "ah well, at least I'm doing something useful and making it possible for other people to have fun," or (B) being unrealistic enough or in outright denial about your position and chances for something better. Or often both.

          • by Machtyn (759119)
            I think you missed my point and what I did there. I used the same technique as the parent to change a few words here and there from a section of the topic and made it match the theme of my message. The theme being that, to an outsider looking in, isn't it curious that a developer with a steady income goes to another, startup/indie company with not as steady income. This is the same as an outsider/fan looking at a person like SLJ and wondering why he took a role in a movie like SnakesOAP.

            Yes, I know the
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              The difference is that SLJ is Samuel L Fucking Jackson and has millions from his other movies to fall back on: he doesn't have to work ever. Random game devs are just working stiffs with a somewhat interesting job.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @10:39AM (#24496523)

    You can be the greatest programmer in the world, but until the realities of the market are well understood, you're going to be starving.

    The fact of the matter is that very few independent programmers make it big. Those that do either got lucky or had a good understanding of business. It's easy to go off on your own and create what you want, but it's a completely different thing to garner interest in the product and sell it for a profit.

    The reason why game developers "go rogue" is because they are inherently a seat-of-the-pants type personality who see personal pleasure and freedom as the highest attainable goals. While those are fine goals, without a solid business understanding, those goals area farther away from the independent game developer than if they stayed at a large employer.

    • You can be the greatest programmer in the world, but until the realities of the market are well understood, you're going to be starving.

      I think you're barking up the wrong tree a bit here. History is chock full of studios founded by programmers, artists, and designers that broke off from their employer to do something interesting. In many cases, it was to escape the employer's risk aversion. i.e. It's not that games other than First Person Shooters don't sell. It's that large companies know that FPSes sell, so they don't want to take a risk on anything else.

      The smaller studios, OTOH, have an opportunity to pursue new gaming styles and lines of games that don't have to align with what the big executives THINK will sell. Sometimes they make it big. More often, they manage to prove out the market before being folded back into a larger company. That larger company then sees "hot new opportunities" that didn't exist before. Could the large company have opened up the market to begin with? Sure. But why take the risk when someone else will do it for you?

      The end result is that these smaller studios (these days often referred to as "Indies" partly due to the low investment capital needed to start making modern games) make their money in a tried and true business fashion: An exit strategy.

      The fact of the matter is that very few independent programmers make it big.

      The fact of the matter is that very few small business owners make it big. (Investors like to tout the "90% of small businesses fail" number.) There's nothing inherently different about the gaming sector.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by obergfellja (947995)

      in todays society, if you are programming for a company, you will have to put up, or no paycheck. In atleast 90% of america's economy it is political and ego stroking. Making someone look good. Only way you can get away from this, is if you are the Sole Programmer in a company of One... and at that, you will have to stroke someone's ego to atleast sell your code/product.

    • by phrenq (38736) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @12:04PM (#24498057) Homepage

      The fact of the matter is that very few independent programmers make it big.

      I think that's exactly the mentality many developers are trying to escape by "going rogue". Many of them would be happy making a modest living, never "making it big", while creating the games they want to make.

      There is another article [escapistmagazine.com] in the same issue of Escapist that describes the history of Kingdom of Loathing. Nobody's getting rich there, but they jobs a ton of game developers would kill to have.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What is insightful about this comment?

      There is a lot of space between a starving programmer and "making it big". Their goal is not to make it big, but to make a living with what they love.

      You don't have to be Picasso to make a living with painting. You don't have to be Metallica to make a living with music. And you don't have to be Sid Meier to make a living with your games.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by immcintosh (1089551)
      This statement is absurd. Starting your own independent company and business acumen are not mutually exclusive. Have you ever worked at a large developer? Sure, their titles bring in an order of magnitude more money, but they also COST an order of magnitude more money to make. Any indie developer who makes a one, two, three man project that becomes reasonably popular, even in a niche, is going to be making some very nice profit. At a big developer you're working paycheck to paycheck. It's solid work,
    • by mcvos (645701) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @12:48PM (#24498965)

      You can be the greatest programmer in the world, but until the realities of the market are well understood, you're going to be starving.

      The fact of the matter is that very few independent programmers make it big.

      Another fact of the matter is: independent programmers don't need to make it big. They just need to make a decent living doing what they love, and that's certainly achievable if you know your market well. That last bit is important. You're no longer just a programmer, now you're suddenly also a marketer.

    • by Synn (6288)

      The fact of the matter is that very few independent programmers make it big.

      They really don't have to make it big though. If you made 60k a year at EA, you only really need to make 60-80k a year selling your game. Less if you're working from home and don't have to deal with the expenses of driving into work each day.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by kv9 (697238)
      how about a car analogy?
  • I am an indie game developer, and I want to develop games that can be played by more than one person at a time on a single machine. This can be either a split screen (like Mario Kart or Tetris) or a fixed or semi-fixed view that shows all players (like Bomberman or Street Fighter). There are three ways to do this, each with their own drawbacks:
    • Video game consoles have multiple controllers and a large monitor. But the consoles sold in English-speaking countries have a lockout chip and historically anti-indie policies.
    • Multiple PCs provide enough space for each player. But most families of four aren't willing to spend $2,000 to fill a room with four PCs.
    • One PC would seem to be the closest counterpart to consoles for the indies. But most people don't know that USB game controllers, USB hubs, and video cards with SDTV output exist. Without them, sharing a keyboard and a 17" monitor is painful to say the least.

    Should I just bite the bullet and develop my prototype for Windows?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geminidomino (614729) *

      Should I just bite the bullet and develop my prototype for Windows?

      No, just do it literally. It's been years. If you haven't solved it yet and you're still posting the same old crap, your prototype isn't ever going to be made, much less a finished game.

      Stop trying to hide your QQing under the guise of actually doing something development-related

    • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @10:58AM (#24496857) Homepage Journal

      You're missing the best way to do it, IMHO: contact an Asian microconsole manufacturer, and work with their ROM to develop your own game.

      There are numerous (maybe hundreds?) Asian microconsole manufacturers, and all of them are happy to license their subsystems cheaply. The one I think of most often when I come up with my brilliant (and soon forgotten) video game idea is Jakks Pacific. They have a great subsystem that can probably unite more than one player, and it outputs to SDTV standard. I'm fairly sure (but not 100%) that they even have expandability options so you can even offer updates via a plug-in cartridge.

      Contact one of these companies and see what they can offer you in terms of licensing their subsystems. Get their backend code structures, and start developing. Yes, I'm sure they're limited in resolution, game size, etc, but it's a great way to get your foot in the door for little money, and see if you have what it takes to develop an entire game from scratch.

      Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I was a "developer-producer" of a series of BBS doors that ended up multiplayer. This was an amateur hobby, but one of our doors ended up successful enough (about 100 installations multinode). It took seriously 15 designers to make this text-based game, including copywriters, ASCII graphics artists, C or Pascal code developers, integration developers, alpha testers, beta testers, customer service people, and one MASM assembly language programmer who I don't think had any social skills or even knew how to dress himself. It was a BIG game to implement, and it had no real graphics or high end interactivity. So I'd think a video game with multiple players means a HUGE leap of faith, a big risk, but maybe a big reward.

      Good luck.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Rycross (836649)

      Make a prototype. Develop it for the PC but make it portable. Pimp your prototype to smaller development houses. All three major console developers are trying to promote indie games through their download services, so if you have a solid prototype and are good at selling your idea, you'd have a shot.

      Alternatively, grab the XNA development kit and a XNA Creator's Club membership, and target your game to the 360. Your audience will be limited to other XNA Creator Club members, but you can go on to pimp yo

      • Develop it for the PC but make it portable.

        One platform only runs C#, Visual Basic, and other CLR managed languages.[1] One platform only runs Java and other JVM managed languages.[2] One platform only runs JavaScript.[3] One platform only runs ActionScript.[4] One platform only runs C++ well because it has small CPU and small RAM.[5] What's the best way to make a video game engine or other program portable across multiple virtual machines whose sets of compatible programming languages do not overlap much?

        [1] Xbox 360 XNA
        [2] Mobile phones with J

        • by Rycross (836649)

          It was an OR not an AND.

          Plenty of people do games in C++ on the Wii, Playstation 3, and XBox 360. So if you want to go the route of prototyping and pimping your game to companies, code it in C++, run it on Windows, and then sell your prototype.

          If you want to have a hobbyist game, then pick a platform that supports that and use the language they want you to use.

          You can always do something like target it towards Linux on the PS3. Yes thats going to seriously limit the kind of graphics you can put out, but i

    • Video game consoles have multiple controllers and a large monitor. But the consoles sold in English-speaking countries have a lockout chip and historically anti-indie policies.

      Historically != Modern Approach

      * WiiWare
      * XBox Live
      * PlayStation Network

      These are all services that Indies are able to break into these days. For a small investment (free - $600 for XBLA, $2000 for a WiiWare dev kit) you can make your game for one of these consoles, then offer it for download for a small fee.

      Case in Point: Defend Your Castle [wikipedia.org] went from a single-player flash game to a local multiplayer title that happens to be the third most popular game on the WiiWare service.

      Now if you mean "Indie" to mean "Homebrew", you're barking up the wrong tree. Go get a copy of DevkitPro [wiibrew.org] + a copy of Twilight Princess for the Wii. That will allow you to develop local multiplayer for a console. Another option is to support XBox 360 controllers on Windows PCs. They are designed as USB devices intended for plugging into either a computer or a console. You can then encourage players to purchase these controllers.

      Assuming your homebrew title is good enough, that is...

    • by Westech (710854)

      • Video game consoles have multiple controllers and a large monitor. But the consoles sold in English-speaking countries have a lockout chip and historically anti-indie policies.

      Check out the newly announced Xbox Live Community Arcade [joystiq.com].

    • by p0tat03 (985078)

      But the consoles sold in English-speaking countries have a lockout chip and historically anti-indie policies.

      Am I missing something? Aren't the consoles sold in Asia (PS3, DS, Wii, etc.) all anti-indie as well?

      Oh, and XNA would be perfect for your purposes, just FYI.

    • by Krater76 (810350)
      From what I've been reading, MS has opened up their Live service to more indie developers. You can build the game you want and then sell it on Live, and they will take a cut. I don't know how profitable this is or any other ins-and-outs, but you can check out the details here [xna.com].
    • by rtechie (244489) *

      Should I just bite the bullet and develop my prototype for Windows?

      Do you actually want lots of people to play your game and/or do you want a possibility of a chance that you might make money?

      If the answer is "yes" you're going to have to bite the bullet and work with the consoles. Anyone who says differently is setting you up for disaster. I'd go with Microsoft, they have a program called "Microsoft XNA" for indie developers.

  • by Lord_Frederick (642312) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @10:39AM (#24496529)

    A steady paycheck looks good on paper and many people are perfectly happy working on someone else's ideas for their entire lives. Eventually though, people with a creative streak have to have an outlet or they go insane. Sometimes a part-time hobby is enough, sometimes it means quitting the steady job.

    • by thermian (1267986) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @11:22AM (#24497205)

      Speaking as someone whose done it (not in the games industry, but a similar life changing career move), there can come a time when you'd rather be happy and poor then well off and having to do what someone else says all the time. This is especially true for people of a creative flair.

      Besides, if things go well, the period of time with little money will eventually end. Even if not, you won't have that constant feeling of 'I should have done that thing' for years afterwards.
      Believe me, that's a killer. I've worked with people who chose the safe path over their dreams, and they tend to be unhappy about it.

      In one case, the guy was so openly bitter (in his case about not having risked going to medical college), that he was quite unpleasant to anyone else who talked about taking a chance with their own careers/lives.

      For myself, I spent several years perpetually broke, but undeniably happier then I'd been for years. I'm not broke any more, but I'm still happy.

  • by DCFC (933633) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @10:40AM (#24496543)

    I'm not sure why anyone refers to employment as a games developer as "steady". They are precarious outfits, pathetically dependant upon "hits" that may or may not come again, until they burn you out and drop you like a stone.

    An easy explanation for developers "going rogue" is that the pay is so very very bad that the difference between unemployment and salary whilst you write the code is so small that it is not as hard a decision as in other lines of work.

    • by antirelic (1030688) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @11:10AM (#24497025) Journal

      Not steady pay checks. How do people miss this easy to find fact?

      - Mages take almost 3000 xp to make level 2,
      - Rogues take only 1250.

      Do the math.

    • by Doc Hopper (59070) <slashdot@barnson.org> on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @11:54AM (#24497867) Homepage Journal

      Having worked in a computer game development studio for two years and received a job offer at another, I can safely refute your statement. Game development companies pay just a bit under market for the positions they fill, and usually retain people for a number of years.

      A lot of studios go under, I admit. But it's not too hard to find your next position, often working alongside the same people you've worked with before. The pay is not "very very bad" or anywhere near unemployment wages. The author of the original cited article (my brother) has had a few rocky times with a few different studios, but manages to be the sole breadwinner for his family of four in a middle-class neighborhood just fine as a developer for a smaller studio.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by xenocide2 (231786)

        I've become wary of the game development "industry", not because of the terrible pay, but the terrible hours. Or at least, the incredibly stupid combination thereof. Even your brother's article mentions the brutal hours that just drive intelligent people away.

  • by Itninja (937614)
    I have always been surprised to see this. You would think the big game developers would make their people sign no-compete contracts. Do the corporation think that, after showing a developer the secret closet, they are never going to use those secrets to go out on their own?
    • by tepples (727027) <tepples@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @10:46AM (#24496649) Homepage Journal

      You would think the big game developers would make their people sign no-compete contracts.

      Overly broad covenants not to compete [wikipedia.org] are not enforceable. The State of California in fact considers non-competes to be against public policy. The justification is that everybody has a right to work in the field in which he was trained. Ask a lawyer in your state for details.

    • I have routinely gotten exemptions for my part-time development work built into my employment contracts.

      Keys:
      1. Mention the exact projects you are currently working on.
      2. Have the writing vetted by your lawyer to ensure that your ideas are protected and do not become property of the company.
      3. Be ready to walk away if they aren't willing to alter their NDA/non-compete to accommodate your efforts.

      Seriously, I've worked for a lot of different companies and not once has a company refused to adjust their non

  • by PrescriptionWarning (932687) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @10:42AM (#24496605)
    R.I.P

    User Killed by Pun lvl. 2 with 0 XP.
  • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @10:48AM (#24496683) Homepage Journal

    Tax-wise, leaving your "stable" job adds to inherent features to your new job future: greater risk, greater reward.

    I have had one W2 job in my life, and I will never do it again. All I saw around me was politics, inefficiency, vying for position, inefficiency, back stabbing, inefficiency, nepotism, and inefficiency. When I saw something that I could do better, faster, and cheaper, I had no reason to "sell the idea" to management because either they'd take it (and climb the ladder) or they'd sit on it due to a pet peeve.

    This guy Peeler ignores the absolute greatest reason to quit and go solo: being called back in for sometimes 10X the pay, from your old employer. When I left my only W2 position (at a whopping $21 per hour back in 1992), within 3 months they called me back in, and I offered myself at $60 per hour. Within a year I was at $120 per hour, and had enough to hire own my W2 goons to play nice with the customer. And they were hired out at $120 per hour and paid quite a bit less (although I offer all of them the option to start their own business and subcontract, which many do).

    For a gaming engineer, being an employed underling offers little other than so-called "stability." See how stable you are when you get fired or the company goes under. Out come the dreaded CVs, while you pound the pavement looking for another 40 hours a week W2 job. If you're a contractor, you can work for 10, 20, 50, thousands of firms on a regular basis, and if a few go under or cut you, you're out maybe 5% or 10%. Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

    It's like homeownership: if your boss knows you have a mortgage, you're screwed. He has no reason to offer you incentives (better pay, better hours, better perks, etc) because you have another God to pray to: your bankster. The same is true with a W2: your boss knows he's your only source of income, and as such you're stuck with bad pay, bad hours, bad perks.

    Go solo, everyone. Cut the unbilical cord and if you're a hard worker, you'll prosper. Then find about 10 of your previous coworkers, offer them a few bucks more an hour, and bill them out at 5X their pay to not just your old employer but their competitors, too. 3. Profit!

    • by Rycross (836649)

      Off topic but I'm curious. How did you go about getting into contracting? How did you find gigs? And did you set up an LLC or anything like that?

      • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @11:26AM (#24497285) Homepage Journal

        Rycross:

        I established a S-corporation, which is basically a corporate entity where the profits and losses flow to and from the shareholders. Eventually I had multiple S-corps, so I incorporated a C-corp holding company for certain assets which I lease back to my S-corps.

        Finding gigs is the hardest part, but if you've saved a few years of expenses (and everyone should), you can generally find work fairly quickly. The key is to be prepared to travel, if necessary, and pound the pavement to get those first gigs. Once you're in with a few businesses, word-of-mouth does its job. I'd save that 80% of my new clients are referred by old clients, who get a nice reward for the referral.

        Starting out initially is the big scare, but it can be done while you're working your W2 "job." There are MANY organizations who need some simple needs, and are great stepping stones to securing better work (and higher paying work) once you've cut your teeth. Every day I see another opportunity for someone with even basic skills in a variety of markets. If I could clone myself, I'd be a billionaire. Note that I do not advocate self-employment for money reasons primarily, I advocate them for job stability and happiness. It boils down to the "all your eggs in one employment basket" feeling I have: when you have many customers, you have more time to handle your own desires, and have a bit more stability if you can enter various industries and markets so you're not tied to one market that may have its own ups and downs.

        Feel free to email me and ask some questions.

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @11:06AM (#24496977) Journal

      Go solo, everyone. Cut the unbilical cord and if you're a hard worker, you'll prosper. Then find about 10 of your previous coworkers, offer them a few bucks more an hour, and bill them out at 5X their pay to not just your old employer but their competitors, too. 3. Profit!

      It's called being a contractor and the reason you charge 5x your old salary is because you have to pay your own social security, health insurance, 401K, etc etc etc.

      There's a lot more to a W-2 salary than the money in your pocket after taxes.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by dada21 (163177)

        It's called being a contractor and the reason you charge 5x your old salary is because you have to pay your own social security, health insurance, 401K, etc etc etc.

        But the perks for paying these yourself are worth it. Incorporate as an S-corp, pay yourself a low salary, issue quarterly dividends which are taxed at a lower rate, and you'll score more in-pocket money. Health care for individuals is ridiculously cheap if you do it correctly:

        1. Live a healthy lifestyle (get off your rear, fatty)
        2. Start an H

        • by Talonius (97106)

          You seem to indicate that those who need health insurance are hypochondriacs or fat and lazy. What if you're a diabetic? (24 years and counting.)

          That's why I'm a W-2 Wage Slave. Insulin is $100.00 a bottle. Combine that with everything else... snort. Not even possible.

          • by dada21 (163177)

            Talonius: Sorry to hear about your diabetes. I have diabetes in my family, so I watch my sugars and starches with a passion. When I do eat that junk, my stomach bloats like crazy and I yell "Diabetes!" to remind myself why not to eat garbage (sugars and starches).

            Being "blessed" with diabetes at a young age IS terrible, I'm sure. I'd love to talk to you have it via email if you don't mind, because I am interested in looking for a solution for those with diabetes at a young age who are stuck in a W2 posit

        • by Kneo24 (688412)

          There are so many reasons to cut the W2-ties that it isn't funny. I can't understand why people put all their eggs in one employment basket.

          Not every person has the means or capabilities to market themselves in such a way. Perhaps if you had more air on that high horse of yours, you'd be less dizzy and would be able to think more clearly. But perhaps the lack of oxygen is what makes you so successful?

          The fact is, not every person has the drive or motivation to speed a good portion of their time doing research on how to run their own business and get all these deals. That *is* a lot of work. While their 9-5 W2 job might be boring, they can enjoy

      • by Shivetya (243324)

        Yeah, it is a lot easier to just go in and work for someone else.

        just like its going to be a lot easier to vote someone in who promises you free this, that, and whatever.

        If anything defines whats wrong in America is that there are not enough 1099=winner people around anymore. If there were we would not have this bloated government and our choices would not be which candidate is willing to take more stuff from people who earn it and give it to someone else and instead on which candidate could reduce spendin

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by dada21 (163177)

          I admit, I am lazy and taking the W2 route.

          Thank you for admitting this. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with saying "I really don't want to find customers, bill them, fight them for payments, track dozens of jobs, drive to different places every day, travel the country, just for a few extra bucks and more free time when I need it, because I am lazy." In fact, I appreciate those who respond to my questioning their W2-status with "I'm just lazy." It's a breath of fresh air because it means they THOUGHT

          • by Seakip18 (1106315)

            Doing it young when you can afford to fail sounds ideal, but if you've got a fiance and plans for kids, you're screwed.

            You can't put off having kids till you're in your late thirties otherwise, you are throwing more birth-related complications plus being in your late fifties and the kids are looking at colleges. Plus, you've got to be confident by the time you are ready to have children, you can afford anything/everything that can go wrong. Not saying it is not possible, but the idea of having a kid on the

          • by kv9 (697238)

            There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with saying [snip]

            except that, as your post title states, they are losers?

            In fact, I appreciate those who respond to my questioning their W2-status with "I'm just lazy."

            but they're still losers?

            Go get a W2 job if you're not cut out for it -- not everyone is.

            obviously, losers aren't.

          • by Machtyn (759119)
            Interesting and respectable response. I, myself, will eventually fly solo and have done so in the past to put myself through school. However, I like not having to worry about the doldrums of business ownership at this time period of my life... so I work for someone else. I still hang on to my college business, but I take no new customers and limit my time doing the work for that side. It does generate a nice stash of income for play things.
    • It's like homeownership: if your boss knows you have a mortgage, you're screwed. He has no reason to offer you incentives (better pay, better hours, better perks, etc) because you have another God to pray to: your bankster. The same is true with a W2: your boss knows he's your only source of income, and as such you're stuck with bad pay, bad hours, bad perks.

      What you say mostly applies only on the low end. Some of the nicer places I've worked have had profit sharing and stock and bonuses and lots of perqs to keep us happy. Just because someone has a mortgage doesn't mean they can't walk and get a job with another top firm. We had problems with Google stealing employees for example and I know of at least one case where managers saw someone's resume was making the rounds and offered them a big raise and a promotion to stay.

      While I understand where you're coming

    • by Sebastopol (189276) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @11:40AM (#24497599) Homepage

      I have had one W2 job in my life

      That speaks for itself. You really have had very little experience, and people should take your anecdotal analysis with a grain of salt. I have had many W2 and 1099 jobs, and in the long run I greatly prefer the stability of W2 jobs, even though I really enjoyed the weird hours, huge paychecks, and random nature of my early contracting jobs.

      I'd say try it before you get too old, or at least give moonlighting a shot.

      Go solo, everyone.

      1099 jobs are great when you are young, healthy, and full of piss and vinegar and can afford to start life over again if you screw up. If you want to go solo over age 30, make damn well sure you have a contingency plan, or are networked and diversified out the yin-yang.

      Also, don't get sick! Unless you live in a state that has passed laws allowing groups of people to pool money and buy discount healthcare, you are F-U-C-*-E-D. Once you go on record with a HINT of chronic illness, you will very likely not be able to get insurance. The government mandates that insurance companies sell you insurance if you have a pre-existing condition, but they don't mandate the price. You could very easily could end up requiring to pay $3~5k per month for health insurance.

      I'm eternally grateful that W2 companies get such great deals on group health coverage.

      • You could very easily could end up requiring to pay $3~5k per month for health insurance.

        So don't have insurance and pay out of pocket instead if that works out to be cheaper. Insurance should not be used for everyday transactions anyway and I have yet to meet a doctor who would not take cash on the barrelhead (and if you know anything about insurance billing and what a headache it can be for doctors then you know how much they appreciate cash basis patients and are willing to negotiate with and accommodate them to avoid third party billing hassles). This one of many reasons why it is imperativ

        • So don't have insurance and pay out of pocket instead if that works out to be cheaper. [etc.]

          I see your point, but unfortuntely it is based on gambling that nothing bad will happen to you. Not having insurance is like competing in street luge without a helmet. Ah, to be 20 again and feel invincible! For reference: stitches cost a few hundred bucks, an X-ray and bone-setting costs under $10 grand. A real hospital visit costs about three month's salary, and a simple surgery is one year's salary. An anest

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by CodeBuster (516420)
            Perhaps I was not clear enough, I do not eschew insurance entirely but rather advocate its judicious use for situations for which it is warranted. A high deductible health insurance plan [wikipedia.org] (HDHP) combined with a health savings account [wikipedia.org] (HSA) very nicely fits the bill. Once the savings ball is rolling you can periodically adjust the deductible as the balance in the account increases or your individual tolerance for risk increases or decreases. Now I will grant you that this is not the best option for everyone.
  • Simply put (Score:3, Informative)

    by iXiXi (659985) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @10:50AM (#24496733)
    Programmers are no different than any other profession. Why do small companies exist and how to they find talent to push them up the food chain? Some folks do not care to plug into the large company mentality. Large projects ran by enterprise minded project managers can be stifling. Small companies allow you to be a critical asset and not just an amoeba swimming in the larger developer pool.
    • I now work for UltraMegaCorp (name is changed to protect the guilty) as a UNIX administrator. It's one of the largest software companies in the world. My piece of the pie when it comes to new projects is often to find out that I'm getting shipped some new hardware, and I get to organize deployment. If something goes wrong with the deployment schedule, it's almost always a communication issue, usually something to do with "managing expectations".

      When I worked at a startup, I got the whole shooting match.

  • by microTodd (240390) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @11:01AM (#24496889) Homepage Journal

    Interesting quote from the article:

    "Some of them cloak it all with this thin veneer of 'sticking it to the man' and being 'anti-DRM' and 'anti-big corporations.' Despite me giving a free demo, no DRM, innovative games, at reasonable prices with great tech support from a one-man company, the bastards still rip me off and take my stuff anyway."

    So in other words, this guy releases his game with no anti-piracy DRM measures and people still play his game without paying him.

    I get into piracy arguments with other folks all the time. They talk about how they want "DRM-free" music, information wants to be free, most modern music is crap anyways, etc. But when it comes down to it, they're just being cheap.

    • by thermian (1267986) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @11:29AM (#24497345)

      The problem in that case is that he hasn't got his business model sorted.

      If people can take your product and walk without paying, they will, its human nature. If them doing that robs you of your livelihood, then the solution is change the product.

      Not DRM, that's a train that goes no place good.

      No, the solution would be to have a game with on-line components (even as simple as a score league and competitions with small prizes) that people must be registered users to access. So long as the online componants add value, your users will register and pay.

      If not then yours is just another in the sea of games people feel no need to purchase.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Cornflake917 (515940)

        No, the solution would be to have a game with on-line components (even as simple as a score league and competitions with small prizes) that people must be registered users to access. So long as the online componants add value, your users will register and pay.

        Your solution is seriously flawed. What you suggest is really just DRM that isn't necessarily "forced" on users. With this solution, you can only take your game in two directions:

        1. Make your game suck enough without the online components so it forces people to register the game. However, why would they register if all they know is that your game sucks?

        2. Make your game good without the online components and hope people will register it because it's fun. If the game is already fun, why would people w

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by thermian (1267986)

          Who in their right mind would think that making a game suck without an online component would be a good idea?

          Methinks you haven't really thought this through.

          You add MORE to the game, not take stuff away.

          • Who in their right mind would think that making a game suck without an online component would be a good idea?

            Please, read my post more carefully. I said you were forced to do one of the other, not that either approach is good. Which is why the OP's solution is a bad idea.

            You add MORE to the game, not take stuff away.

            Again, I never said to take stuff away. But you assume that simply adding stuff to a game will make people want to buy it. This is easier said the done. Especially if you're limited to the OP's solution of merely adding on-line components to the game. You can do basically what most companies do: create a demo of the game which is fun but litt

        • by clary (141424)

          Yup...no way that having a mandatory online component to a game will succeed. Somebody wanna let Blizzard know?

    • by Asmor (775910) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @11:33AM (#24497435) Homepage

      What it comes down to is, pirates will pirate regardless of whether there's DRM or not. DRM is only an inconvenience for paying customers.

      "Some of them cloak it all with this thin veneer of 'sticking it to the man' and being 'anti-DRM' and 'anti-big corporations.' Despite me giving a free demo, no DRM, innovative games, at reasonable prices with great tech support from a one-man company, the bastards still rip me off and take my stuff anyway."

      And I suppose he has proof that people pirating his games are the same people who claimed they only pirate to stick it to the man?

      • by microTodd (240390)

        What it comes down to is, pirates will pirate regardless of whether there's DRM or not. DRM is only an inconvenience for paying customers.

        Yeah, I know. Its sad. Its kinda like the SPAM problem. Sucks but there does not seem to be any easy, feasible way to fix it. I hate DRM but I also think that piracy is unethical.

        And I suppose he has proof that people pirating his games are the same people who claimed they only pirate to stick it to the man?

        Good point. There's more than one flavor of pirate out there

        • by Asmor (775910)

          I hate DRM but I also think that piracy is unethical.

          But the point is, DRM doesn't stop piracy. It simply doesn't. DRM doesn't do anything to piracy at all. There is no reason to use DRM. Using it only hurts your actual paying customers.

    • Effective video game DRM does exist! The way to get it is to develop for those gimped abominations called consoles.

      For the story of one small, at least semi-indie console publisher, see below:

      Working Designs [wikipedia.org]

      Working Designs did some things that irritated me (putting their own spin on stories rather than directly translating), but the below quote from the article sums up the fun of being "independent" and working for a console company:

      When the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn arrived on the scene,

  • by Dancindan84 (1056246) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @11:07AM (#24496981)
    Why do game developers leave big companies to form their own companies? The exact same reasons other professionals leave big companies for their own companies. More breaking news at 10.
  • by Jugalator (259273) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @11:14AM (#24497075) Journal

    Game development is a fierce competition though, especially if you aim for the stars at the first try. Just ask the guys behind Flagship Studios, and then these were among the most experienced developers in the industry.

    What at least one of them acknowledged though (I forget the name, I think he worked for QA on their sister company Ping0), was that they had a rather poor balance of people knowing how to run a company -- making decent products ship without putting themselves at risk. I.e. they had a large set of very skilled developers and designers, but that there are more essentials to a successful company than this, and he believed FSS made an oversight there.

  • Easy (Score:3, Funny)

    by neokushan (932374) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @11:20AM (#24497179)

    Because smaller companies are more relaxed and not as arsey about hitting deadlines.

  • by emagery (914122) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @11:26AM (#24497289)
    Sorry; I just read the intro, and the first thing that clicked into my mind was a phenomenon known as [evolutionary] radiation.. where, a sudden opening in the environment causes species to diverge and experiment and evolve at rapid and experimental rates... this just FEELS the same... that given an industry that is far from 'fully grown', there's so much room for creativity, exploration, new paradigms of self-awareness, that it is having the same effect... a radiation of individuality given a wide expanse of possibilities.
  • Darn, and I thought this was going to be about why game developers love to clone Rogue. Man, I love Rogue-likes...

  • They probably go rogue because they are sick of being on the receiving end of stunlocks in battlegrounds all the time.

    We're talking about WOW, right?

  • by caywen (942955) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @01:28PM (#24499659)
    I think before the 90's, games were the domain of the sole, rogue programmer. Creating the greatest Apple II game ev@r was possible. You don't need pro creative talent to make pixelated blobs to appear and blips/bleeps to happen in a way that is entertaining for the player. In those days, it was about evoking the experience in the mind of the player, not just their ears and eyes. I'm glad to see affordable tools magnify the creativity of the sole programmer such that they can compete again. As long as indie devs continue to understand their roots and don't get caught up in trying to out-Blizzard Blizzard.
    • by westlake (615356)
      In those days, it was about evoking the experience in the mind of the player, not just their ears and eyes.
      .

      just so long as you remember that King's Quest was the first nail in the coffin for Infocom.

      • by caywen (942955)
        Well, that's actually not against my point. It's more about how amazing Tetris still is and how its impact compares to World of Warcraft.
  • by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @03:53PM (#24501825) Homepage

    How could anybody abandon the steady paychecks, access to the best tools and engines, large teams of skilled colleagues and the glory of working on one of next holiday season's blockbusters for a chance to labor in relative obscurity on tiny, niche titles?

    Maybe it's because the paychecks are NOT steady, the tools are NOT so great, the colleagues are fresh out of college and kiss too much ass, and their is no glory in being credited on the latest bug-fest of a movie license sellout. I'm looking at you, ElectronicArctivision.

    It's often the niche titles that yield the biggest successes. After all, if you're a highly skilled developer or designer, and you're forced to work within the mold of a big-name company, you're probably watching that skill go to waste. Only the freedom of a small, indie shop will give you the room to stretch your imagination and flex your hacking muscle.

  • by stonecypher (118140) <stonecypher@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @04:54PM (#24502757) Homepage Journal

    How could anybody abandon the steady paychecks, access to the best tools and engines, large teams of skilled colleagues

    Yeah, and the streets paved with gold. Because, you know, the game industry isn't run by a group of dinosaurs in a market with too little external pressure to drive out famously bad production practices.

    The steady paychecks don't exist in a contracted world. The best tools and engines are things that were shaky when they were one-man hacked together ten years ago in C by someone who thought they should still have been writing assembly. The large teams of skilled colleagues are college kids being paid next to nothing while they're burned out by 70 hour workweeks in day one crunch mode shops.

    If game design firms like this existed, the two year attrition in gaming wouldn't be 70%. This article is about fantasies of how the industry works, not realities; that's why the author can't figure out what's going on.

  • I clicked on the link to Soldak Entertainment inside the article. What do I find? A cheesy looking website.

    It doesn't look too cluttered. It just looks like something a kid made back in 1995. Part of selling yourself or your company is presentation. If the website looks unpolished, what's the chance the average person will stay around? Make it look attractive and you'll keep a person interested, hopefully, a little longer to take a look around.

    I've seen other indie developers websites and they put as much e

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Wednesday August 06, 2008 @05:55PM (#24503553)

    Steam [steampowered.com] makes it possible for independent developers to get wide exposure and delivery of their games. Audiosurf is an independently developed game on steam available for $9.99 that has consistently ranked in the top 10 for sales beating out even major Valve titles like Half Life. The game was developed over the period of a year by one guy in his basement and I wouldn't be surprised if he's made a substantial amount of money off sales possibly even making it possible for him to quit his day job.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.

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