Fall down. Get up again.

It’s been a bit slower than usual around here. The reason for that is that I’ve been struggling to keep going emotionally. I tend not to mention most of the stuff that goes on in my life, because I hate whining and trying to get everyone’s attention, but there’s been a lot. Don’t worry, Verena and I are fine – still married, still in love. But there have been deaths in the family, depression, poverty… thanks to the wonders of the capitalism, my dad hasn’t been paid in months, my mother gets no pension money at all until next year (and she’s getting almost nothing anyway), and it’s not like I’m making enough money to survive. Sure, yes, if we just have one successful sale we’ll have enough money to allow us to work on bigger projects, but it’s been hard.

Then today I got really negative feedback about Traitor, a game that I thought was enormous fun, and I kind of broke down. I’ve worked so hard for so many years, sacrificed so much for my belief in making art, and I feel like I’m about to tumble down an abyss from which there is no coming back. I know we can make this, I know we can make games and movies and books and everything else… but we need a success. Anything. Something needs to take off, to make it big, give us some room to breathe. I feel like I’ve been working nonstop for years – and come to think of it, I have. When was the last time I had a free day? When was the last time I didn’t spend twelve hours a day in front of the computer? But I can’t afford to stop.

I’m trying not to lose faith. I know there are people who enjoy what we do, who would be sad if it went away.

There are plans. Lots of plans. More games to make, stories to tell, projects that might be successful. But it’s hard to look forward to all that, to say we can do this, when you’ve been at it for so long and by now you’re so poor you can’t buy your wife a Christmas present.

What’s keeping me going is imagination, the creative impulse. I have stories to tell. I feel that I am supposed to tell these stories. I feel that they matter. So the struggle goes on. Somehow. It has to.


  1. I’m sure this is gonna sound really, really sappy, but if I were her, simply being with you would be present enough for me.

    Also, perhaps you could draw her a card? You don’t have to be good at art. I once made Michelle a really horribly drawn birthday card, and she loved it (I think). Or make her an origami heart. Or something.

  2. James Patton

    There’s not much I can do that will help matters – the only advice I can give is “don’t give up” – but I for one would be devastated if you stopped making games. Your games affect me in a way that no others do, reminding me that games can tell deep, involving stories and – more importantly – suggesting things to me about war or politics or joy which I hadn’t felt before. And The Infinite Ocean taught me that you can have very simple (and affordable, which is important for indies!) graphics but still tell a story more fascinating than most mainstream games do.

    So, I guess please just keep making games. I agree, you’re long overdue for a real, monetary success. If you keep at it, it will come, eventually.

    And under no circumstances be discouraged by one person’s feedback on Traitor. A given game will be liked by some people and disliked by others; even the best-selling game on the planet would have some detractors. You’re just unlucky in that you found someone who simply didn’t get it.

    With feedback generally, I suppose you should look at each piece of feedback and think, “Which perceived problem does it refer to? And why is that ‘problem’ there?” You might have made the game intentionally difficult, for example, so you’d be averse to accepting feedback on its difficulty. But perhaps it could be less difficult and still be difficult *enough* to create the same effect? I wish I could be more specific with regards to Traitor but I don’t know anything about it or the feedback. If it’s of the more general kind – “It’s just not fun” or “I didn’t like it” – then either the players just aren’t your target audience, in which case you shouldn’t feel down about it, or there is a problem at work which is preventing you from reaching your target audience. You need to question these players more thoroughly: why is it not fun? What *did* they like about it? Was the movement okay? The weapons (if there are any)? Was there no feedback from their actions? If something is “not fun”, don’t sit back and assume you’re a bad designer. Get into the thick of the problem and find out precisely what’s not working right.

  3. @Roda: We’ve kind of solved this. Instead of buying presents for each other, we bought presents together, for both of us.

    @James: The feedback is mostly about… well, it’s hard to quantify. People were not having fun. It was definitely good, honest feedback, and from several people, too. But I’ll do my best to improve the game without losing what I liked about it.

  4. JM

    Well you are still young, don’t need to tell all the stories now, just find some other thing to make money and use your free time to continue on your projects.

    Anyway, frohe Weihnachten!

  5. “Some other thing” isn’t always that easily found, and generally means no work on creative projects at all. (These things take time. A lot of it. And more energy than most people realize.)

    If something comes along I can do without going mad, I’ll do it. But jobs like the one I had in the Writing Center aren’t worth it. They ruin my ability to work on creative things and the crumbs I get aren’t enough to pay for anything.

  6. JM

    If you can find something in the 15-20 hours range, that can help alot. I had a 400-Euro Job cleaning dishes till last year, which was actually pretty fun, I loved the work, but it depends on the environment and colleagues. 400 Euros tax-free can make a ton of difference in Germany.

    Wish you and Verena the best though. Will be passing by Frankfurt on the 31st, no time to see you then, though. Maybe when I fly back to China in February I can stop by.

  7. Merry Christmas Jonas… hope it’s nice in spite of everything. Sometimes you just gotta think “Okay, I’m going to make [next year] better somehow” and act accordingly.
    Please keep making games and doing all the awesome things that you do. The world would be a much sadder place if you didn’t.

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