Note: This is a compilation of excerpts from my personal journal of the days leading up to launching the first major game release for my indie game studio. Some of it has been edited for privacy sake, and some has been edited for grammar and readability. Otherwise, this is a fairly unaltered glimpse into the mental state of an indiedev leading up to the launch of their game.
May 3rd... 7 Days
I'm anxious. I feel like I have a 100 "what ifs" going through my head right now. I posted on twitter about how scared I am to release this game, which was a little scary in itself. I'm trying to be as transparent as possible with my experience of being a game developer, because I know how much it's helped me seeing other developers do this as well.
So, why am I so anxious? I guess I want my work on TwinCop to be validated. I just want people to notice how much energy and commitment I put into this game, and I want people to play and enjoy the game. I am very proud of myself for working on the same project for 2.5 years and not giving up on it (against MANY odds). But I still feel like I need this external validation.
I think the other major contributor to my anxiety is the success (or lack thereof) of some other indies. Every now and then I'll check how other games of similar quality/genre/style are doing and see games with 0-10 reviews (which isn't the only metric for success, but still a concerning low number). I think I can handle negativity if players don't like the game for a good reason, but I don't know if I can handle being ignored.
I am looking forward to reading this after we launch, and seeing how I feel then. Hello, future me. I hope you feel better than you did when writing this.
May 4th... 6 days
Today has been a bit up and down- I started out pretty stressed because I urgently needed to do some cleaning in the house and some chores I'd been neglecting during the past week, but we also needed to send the finished build to reviewers. Finding that balance between day job, indiedev, and general adult responsibilities is challenging. It is especially frustrating when it perpetually feels like you don't have enough time in the day to do everything as well as you want to. That being said, it felt better once the house was clean; there was one less visual reminder of work you haven't done.
The other aspect that was stressful was that I had stayed up late last night trying to fix a strange bug that had popped up. I managed to find and resolve it after I finished cleaning the house but it was amplifying my anxiety significantly.
I spent some time at a friends place in the evening, celebrating a birthday. It was a nice break from sitting and staring at the remaining polish and bug tickets I want to fix, and a much needed social fix. As an introvert, it's difficult for me to know when I need a social fix or when I need some alone time. Today, I definitely needed some socializing completely unrelated to TwinCop.
May 5th... 5 days
Spent all morning doing chores outside of the house. Bought some nice shirts while I was out- (they're really fun floral shirts). When I came back, I got to work on some polish.
After finishing some work I had dinner, played some Apex, and then finished one last polish note, and went to bed.
Thus begins launch week. I'm almost there.
May 6th... 4 days
Ironically I think writing this is stressing me out a little, if only because it reminds me how many days are left. It does help to keep track of how I'm feeling, and writing can help you understand what you're feeling. Right now, I'm feeling a little turmoil.
I'm not concerned about how much money we're going to make, having a full time job helps remove that fear from the equation. I think I'm afraid we'll have poor reviews. I know failure is a good teacher, but trying the hardest you've ever tried at something and failing is bound to sting. Not to say I'm convinced I'm gonna fail, but the fear is there.
Perhaps the other part of this fear is that since I've learnt so much about gamedev and the business of selling games in the past 2.5 years- I know all the mistakes I've made. Which feels annoying and frustrating. I'm so much better at pixel art, level design, game design, and running a small indie team than when we started this project. Naturally I feel like I can do much better than this, but I couldn't get to this point without learning through trial and error.
Going back to a sentiment I expressed earlier I just hope I get some validation, and some encouragement to keep doing this. Thankfully I have amazing friends who I can count on for that.
Anyways, I did a lot more bug fixing and polishing and balancing today. Managed to get a lot of work done in a short span of time in the evening without staying up too late.
I did fall down the stairs at 1am so... uh... that happened.
May 7th... 3 Days
I went to work today and was definitely having trouble staying focused. Every 5 minutes I was thinking about bits of polish or bugs that I "know" someone is going to find within minutes of starting the game... etc. I did do my job while at work, but my brain was definitely not 100% there. I spent my lunch break organizing some tickets and prioritizing work for these last few days. As far as I am aware the game is in a "launch-able" state.
After coming home I had dinner, and immediately got to work on fixing some bugs and improving some sections of the game. It felt good to fix those things, and I felt good once I was done. I took a break and played some Overwatch (oh boy, I did not win a single match) and then some Apex (got a win within 30 minutes, heck yeah). I treated myself to some dessert, and then I went to bed.
My back was still hurting from slipping down the stairs the night before, so I don't think I slept very well.
May 8th... 2 Days
I worked from home today, and plan to for the rest of the week. I woke up feeling exhausted, and that feeling continued through most of the day. Didn't sleep well, maybe? Feeling burnt out from the non-stop stress of launching a game? Needed food? I had breakfast, went out for lunch with my partner, and took a nap. Still feeling tired. Made some coffee and played some Apex, finally my brain started kicking into gear. I had to fight the cruel voice in my brain berating me for not doing any work until the evening. It wasn't very pleasant.
I had sent a build of the game to a good friend, and they had just gotten back to me about some feedback. We found a frustrating issue that was only appearing on their computer, and was not reproducible in the editor. After banging my head against my keyboard for a couple hours I finally found the silly mistake I'd made (keep a close eye on those Rewired input manager prefabs kids!).
After cooling off from the frustration of tracking a small bug for hours, I went to make dinner. I worked while I ate, following up on some emails, twitter DMs, and other various errands related to getting the word out about my game.
It feels achingly difficult to get anyone to care about what you're doing. I know we've certainly got some room to grow in terms of marketing ourselves, but I didn't realize until now just how much you need to do... in addition to just finishing a game. I feel a little dazed from how much I feel like I've been yelling on twitter about our game. I'm so tired and I hope people appreciate how much effort is going into every corner of this game.
I ended up staying up rather late working on some new features (definitely a responsible decision this close to launch). It was rewarding to try something new(ish), I learned some new things and got to make something polished in the game. So much of game development lately has been tweaking and editing and adding boring features- I'd almost forgotten how much fun game development usually is.
May 9th... 1 Day
I woke up full of energy today. Even though I think I went to sleep around 3am. I think its anxious energy. I had breakfast/lunch and coffee and immediately began streaming my friends game that launched today (SiNKR 2), and then jumped into my own work. I spent longer than I would like trying to get some streaming stuff set up for tomorrow, but I got it done. Then I streamed some gamedev while I finished the last piece of functionality I want in before launch. I kept checking the time as if the game is going to launch within minutes. I don't know how much more anxious energy I can handle.
There are a lot of things I look forward to fixing and improving with the way we make games moving forward- I feel like that may be driving me to release this game more than anything else right now. Normally I fret about TwinCop when my mind drifts, but lately I've been fantasizing about future games and future ideas.
Ended up staying up late, very late, fixing bugs and readying our day one patch.
May 10th... The Day
I stumbled out of bed before my alarm went off. I showered, brushed my teeth, had breakfast and coffee before sitting down at my computer to upload our day one patch (which technically managed to go live before we launched, so not really day one patch?). I got everything ready to go for launch: Stream, Reddit posts, tweets, YouTube video, DMs, Facebook posts, etc. I was ready at 11:30am, and it felt like I was on the apex at the beginning of a rollercoaster. I waited, waited, until it hit noon. I reloaded the Steam page and saw that it was live, and.... the game was live! TwinCop launched.
May 10th Night... End of The Day
I feel like I felt too many emotions to handle in one day. I've felt ecstatic joy, absolute terror, sleepy, depressed and excited all in the course of 8 hours. Now I'm lying in bed with not much left to do but let the marketing plans play out and hope for the best.
I don't feel anything right now, to be honest. I think that'll pass once I've had rest and mental space to process everything that happened today. It was a lot, but I feel I can semi confidently say it was a good day, and a good launch.
May 13th... 3 days later
I feel so tired. I didn't quite realize how emotionally and physically taxing this weekend was until I needed to focus on my day job again. I kinda wish I'd taken this day off as well, but I can't really afford to. I felt so many emotions over the weekend but my current mood has left me wondering: what would make me feel genuinely good about something I've made?
I know I'm hard on myself for anything shy of "perfect", but to release a game you have to be able to accept that some things won't be perfect. Would I be happier if more news outlets covered the game? Would I have been happier if we broke 1000s of sales in the first day? I don't know. Ultimately, I strive to enjoy the journey because you can rarely predict the destination. I strive to focus on why I make games: to make people have fun. As far as I can tell, plenty of people have had fun thanks to TwinCop... and for that I could not be more proud of me and my team.
If you want to check out the game, here it is: https://store.steampowered.com/app/676930/TwinCop/