Two years.

That’s how long I can last with my savings when I quit my job. I suppose some succeeded with less than this.

Today, one year and three months later, I only have enough savings to last three more months… and still no success in sight.

I have made a lot of mistakes along the way and a lot was learned, but I can’t go back in time.

What I can do, however, is share my story so that others can maybe avoid repeating my own mistakes.

Takeaway from this story

  • What happens if you start working without unavoidable deadlines?

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Read the previous story

The plan

The first thing I decide to do when I leave CDProjekt is to take some holidays.

As I have two years ahead of me, I figure I can take a month to prepare, rest a bit and get used to my new lifestyle.

The plan for my company is heavily inspired by CDProjekt and Valve.

I believe that these companies can afford to make such unique games because they have other sources of income. What I am aiming for is to make money so that I can make games, not the other way around.

I also know that failure is almost unavoidable, so I make peace with it: I will start as many projects as possible during my first year as an entrepreneur. Most will fail but the most important is the lessons I will take from them.

By the time I start my second year, I will have gathered enough experience to actually launch a successful project.

A quite sensible plan. Now that I have more experience, I know for a fact that this would have worked…

If only I had not spent a whole year on my very first project.

Starting point

While I was still working at CDProjekt, I started to work on a small side project. I was exploring web development and was impressed by how easy it is to have something online and working.

Compared to developing a game, building a website is amazingly fast. It obviously depends on the complexity of the page, but you can basically have an idea in the morning and have it online and available to everyone by the end of the day.

I start to work on this side project for a few reasons:

  • I want to try something a bit different from games.
  • I am thinking that if it goes well, I might make some money on the side.
  • I can hardly rest if I don’t try it out.

I get the idea for my project from the Unreal game engine.

This tool has an amazing filtering feature that lets you access thousands of functionalities with one click.

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If you have a vague idea of what you want to do, you can start typing and the tool updates in real time so that you only see options related to what you are trying to do. It’s so damn convenient that I want this to exist for everything.

As a designer, I have to deal with a lot of documentation, so I naturally begin to think about how to apply this to writing.

I want to build a tool that would remove the need to read through tons of pages to access just the info I need: as I start typing, the tool would show me all the pieces of documentation that are related to what I am writing.

I grow more and more fond of the idea and decide to test it out with a note-taking web application that I call Notecompanion.

I would work on Notecompanion, after work hours, for about a year and a half before starting my business.

Daily life

In December 2016,  I am all by myself just after quitting my job.

Nobody to point me in the right direction, no tasks assigned, no clear path to tomorrow.

I do have a simple plan in mind, though.

First, I will finish Notecompanion. The project is quite advanced so it should take about two months, until February. After this, I will think about another six months project to get on with. This should give me the experience of two separate projects by the end of 2017.

Nothing short of a perfect plan there, so I am getting to work.

My days go by quite simply. I wake up at 9.am, go about my business until 10.am, then sit down at the computer to develop for the rest of the day. For months, there is not really much more to it.

Having the opportunity to spend whole days on your own project and at your own pace is just amazing.

I remember the first time I decided to hit the gym in the middle of the day. It was about 2 pm, and here I was taking a break from my work to go around town, in the middle of the week.

The thought is still ringing clear in my mind: “This is what life should be like for everyone”.

Mistake #1: No deadlines

Notecompanion didn’t take 2 months to finish. It took a whole year.

Working without deadlines is a slow and silent death.

I am talking about unavoidable deadlines. Things you cannot walk away from.

If I knew, one month in, that it would take me 11 more months to go through the project, I would have changed the scope immediately and found a way to put it out there faster.

But it just doesn’t work this way.

Without deadlines, you are dealing with a much more dangerous, imperceptible threat: the never-ending last week.

For a year, I am constantly “2 weeks away from release”. I remember having conversations with friends, where I would say “I just have a couple more bugs to fix and one feature to finish. I think I will be done by the end of this week”.

What happens after such a conversation is that I go back home and sit at the computer to fix these bugs, add this “one feature”.

The week goes by, the bugs are fixed and the feature is added. The new functionality does come with its own set of bugs, so I just need one more week to fix those.

As I work on that, I usually realize I am missing another critical – but simple – functionality. It will only take 2 or 3 days to implement it so, worst case scenario, I will push the project’s release to next week.

How bad can it be?

When I look at the situation from the outside, I can easily figure out what is wrong with this process… But when I spend my whole day focused on fixing tiny bugs, I just can’t see the whole picture.

Every week, I genuinely think that I am almost done.

Weeks go by so, so fast… and there are only 4 of them in a month. It’s ridiculously short…

It is almost impossible to notice that you have fallen into this trap. Adding few more days to a project is so harmless.

How can you consciously think “No, I won’t spend two more days to add this critical feature to my product”, when you have nothing that forces you to release now and not at the end of the week?

I spend months spiraling into the never-ending last week before I finally have the conversation that would kick me out of it.

Months navigating through a wide range of emotions that would consume me, make me doubt my work and eventually redesign my social life;

but this, I suppose, is a story for another time.

 

Coming up

Next time, I will talk about the consequences I had to face for not doing research before launching myself into a solo project. How this had the unsuspected consequences of eating off my morale and feeding the feature creep responsible for the never-ending last week.

 

Stay tuned.

 

Next post | no research, bad scope: working with blinders

Marketing off-series | The share chain

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20 Thoughts to “Starting the wrong way”

  1. Nice blog series, thank you for sharing your story! Can’t wait for the next post!

    I just found your blog series in gamastura. I really like the way you had a problem with free to play, I think I feel the same way about them.

    If I understood well your goal is to make games once you build up a business which can finance it.
    I worked in the game industry for a while to save a small amount of money which is (hopefully) enough to finish my first own game. Chances are I’ll have to go back to work for a company again after this project, but I am not sure if it is much easier to build up a business outside of the game industry. Also I think I prefer to work on games even if they are not my own, but I did not try to work on anything else since university…

    What’s your point on this? Don’t you miss working on games right now? Is working on your app as much fun for you as working on games? Is it essentially the same, or is it only something you must do before you can work on your own game?

    1. Hi Csab,

      I don’t believe working on other things than games is easier. The reason why I decided to go this way is that I consider games an art form. If I work on a design, I don’t want to think about money. I want to make design choices based on my vision, not based on a possibility that one thing will sell better than the other.
      I don’t have this problem at all with making software, however. As they are a service, it only makes sense to take decision based on what users want, as it is the best way to both make them happy and make money.

      I do miss working on games, but I also have some side game project that I am working on, even while running my business. This is a subject I will talk about later in my posts 😉

      To answer your last question. I enjoy making apps. Not as much as making games, but still, it’s not a pain to do. Even in the game industry, I always took pleasure developing tools for my colleagues. I just like the idea of doing something that will make other people’s life easier.

      Thanks for reading the blog, Csab. See you around! 🙂

      1. Thank you for your reply!
        I think I understand your decision better now. Good luck! I hope for the bests and will keep an eye on your blog to see how things work out.

      2. I love putting in the groundwork to make my own life easier in the long term too.
        Of course it depends how long term we’re talking..

  2. Nice history!! It kinda goes like my own. Only difference it was that I worked 6 years in another area then in 2017 decided to open my own game company, and without any AAA experience (that’s what tons of people begin in the game industry in Brazil).

    I’ll be looking forward to read more and learn more with your posts!
    Regards

  3. Thank you man for sharing your story, I was so excited reading your blog for I’ve been through the same events working for a big VFX house back in my country for 5 years, my salary started at zero for I was an intern but I actually have done real work without I know it, and after 4 years it became with (Stubbornness) $600, funny it is, because I was ok like you taking the crumbs, in the 5th year, I needed money and company refused to raise it, I was afraid to switch to freelancing, cause I never done that before, but one day I received a call that changed me forever, someone asking for freelance job, I agreed immediately without thinking, ended by me making $3000 in one month (5 times my current salary), so I quit in the same month, that year ended with making (I’m not joking here) a $100000 by the end of the year, had so many projects with big name clients.

    I don’t regret those 5 years of my life, for I was like you, aiming to get the experience and the position I deserved, and it paid back, as it will for you, I’m sure, nothing goes for nothing.

    Before I advise my friends to do the same, I ask them first to answer a big question (are you a company guy or a freelance guy?) because not everyone can handle the tough life of a freelancer or entrepreneur, it makes big difference, but most importantly, whatever the answer is, they should not stay in the same place if they are not satisfied, they should constantly seek better opportunities.
    Thank you again for the enlightenment, waiting to read your next post 🙂 cheers

    1. Hi Osama,
      Thank you for your insights! It’s great to read about a success story. Hopefully, the last post I will put up here will be the story of how I finally made it happen.
      Thank you for taking the time to share your own story, it was great to read 🙂

  4. Hi Ryan, thanks so much for this series of posts, they’re very interesting and helpful.

    I have a question about your project that you kept working on seemingly forever week after week. Your wording implies that you consider the main problem to be your lack of hard deadlines (or adherence to them) and how you should’ve wrapped up the project ready for launch much earlier, yet at the same time, you don’t just mention bug fixing and polishing, but also the introduction of critical features/functions.

    So my question is: was the origin issue that of you not knowing how to stop and release, or was that just a symptom of another true problem underneath, like not structuring the project from the get go to have all critical features finished or prioritized? Did you know when you began what was going to be more or less the launch feature set, or just jumped in to figure it out during dev?

    Wish you the best, I’m waiting your next post 🙂

    1. Hi Pablo,

      It’s interesting that you asked these questions because they are the subject of my next blog post 🙂
      Ultimately, it’s a mix of all of that. Sorry if I don’t give more details in my answer now, I don’t want to spoil the next post 😉

  5. Me recuerda la ley de parkinson…

    “…cuanto más tiempo se tenga para hacer algo, más divagará la mente y más problemas serán planteados. Este hecho tiene una gran aplicación en gestión del tiempo, productividad y dirección de proyectos, puesto que la fijación de cortos plazos de entrega nos ayuda a evitar que el trabajo se expanda innecesariamente.”

    Saludos de Uruguay.

  6. I remember the post about crunch, then I see this one.
    Deadline means that ‘just a few more days’ has to fit in the time between now and the deadline.
    This is literally how crunch emerges.

    The only way to avoid crunch is to plan thoroghly and add extra time to everything. You literally have to count each task and make hourly estimates and then NOT deviate.

    Which as you know is almost impossible. Almost.

    1. It is true that crunch cannot exist without deadlines, but as I illustrated it with my case; other problems emerge.
      There are many steps to prevent crunch. Planning some extra time is a very good first step, but this extra time is very often consumed if other rules are not applied.
      I believe that any company who accepts crunch as a viable practice will crunch, no matter how tight or lose the deadlines are.

  7. Hi Ryan – It was really interesting and enlightening hearing about your story-to-date, so thanks for sharing!

    I’m in an interesting place in life as I have loved games ever since I was very young.. but unfortunately due to a struggle with depression and a general lack of focus.. I didn’t actually think about making a career in the games industry until a year or so ago (and I’m still struggling to decide.. would I be most happy working for a studio or trying to make my way in the indie space?). I’m now about to turn 30 and have a very unrewarding and low paying job, and am often extremely frustrated that I’m only now starting to put energy into something I’m passionate about whereas those like you of a similar age have already made so much headway.

    That being said however it’s a huge relief to have finally realized and settled on what I want to do (better late than never as they say!), and it’s great to hear stories like yours so that I can hopefully learn from others’ experiences, perhaps giving me a bit of a head start on getting where I want to be ;). If any younger folks out there read my comment.. please take my sage advice: find your passion and pursue it with all your heart! Time flies and life is too short to waste on inaction.

    Thanks again for opening up about your experiences! Also, I just have to say thanks once more to you and your team for your outstanding work on the Witcher 3.. it remains one of the absolute high points in all of my years of gaming.. and to think that the extremely talented people behind the Witcher 3 are probably soon to release Cyberpunk 2077 (which is set in my other favorite setting, the future 😉 leaves me absolutely giddy with excitement.

    My apologies for the mountain of text, but your posts have stirred up a lot of feels! Haha :). Best of luck on your future endeavors and I greatly look forward to your future posts.

    Cheers, -Ethan

    1. Haha, I am glad my post gave you so strong emotions Ethan 🙂

      I think your message conveys a lot of positivity and hope, which is great. Most people I know who are not in the game industry don’t know what is their passion yet and it makes things really difficult. I think a lot of it comes from the fact that they are getting older and even when faced with something they are really excited about, they tend to think “It’s too late anyway”.
      There are many things that can stop someone from pursuing their goals, but age should definitely not be one! (unless you want to be a kid actor)

      Thank you for sharing your story, Ethan. I wish you the best!

      1. When I had a daughter I was also working full time but trying to get into indie game dev part time. Long story short I put a lot of pressure on myself and ended up having a breakdown and run in with depression.

        As much as everyoen advises to have tight deadlines and stick to them, it’s best to keep those expectations realistic and take one step at a time if trying to go indie in your spare time.

        Also, game design draws from a LOT of life experiences so I believe it’s never too late to start.
        Playing (and analysing) a lot of games is a decent start! Ensuring that everything about your design is going to fit your chosen market segment is another. Best of luck; would be great to hear your progress..

  8. Hey Ryan,

    I feel you man. Your trials and tribulations of breaking into the game industry, and then proving yourself while trying to survive financially felt like a page from my life story. And even your move towards starting up a company and realizing how hard it is as well. I’ve been fortunate in coming out other side of that with a career in gaming/startups that I’m proud of, and a journey that is filled with stories that I’ll always remember (even if no one wants to hear!)

    Wish I could have helped you earlier, but happy to provide any guidance ongoing if you just want to pick my brain. You’re clearly an inspiring talented designer. It’s definitely a very different learning process (in many ways even unlearning what you did before) when it comes to building product in a startup mode!

    1. Hey John,

      Thank you so much for your words and your support. I saw your message on twitter and I will definitely be getting in touch 🙂

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