Interview: “like all artistic endeavours, there is no guarantee of stable income”

Just imagine someone creating his game at home all by himself. He works alone and has no financial security himself. At the end it will never be sure if the bill can be paid, while he works full time. Well – Video game development is definitely not easy. A lot of Indie developers have struggles, so does Sam West who started working on his first commercial video game. After a long journey, he found out that creating video games was one of the things he definitely had his heart set on doing as a career.

Sam West (23) is a solo game developer from the United Kingdom. He is currently working on the video game Beyond the Veil and has been for almost a year. He always loved playing video games, therefore he started loving the industry that created them. He did Physics, decided to take a gap year and then signed up for a Comp Sci course. After learning how to create video games, he now starts a new chapter in his life: the creation of indie studio Incubator Creations. His goal is creating video games full time at home. He loves his job and is highly motivated to bring his game to Steam. Still, there are a lot of pitfalls, especially if it comes to earning money. He only has the financial support of his partner.

– Well you started your own studio a year ago. Isn’t it scary to start this adventure full time knowing that this work alone does not deliver a stable income (yet)?

“It’s definitely scary to develop and publish a game, I think everyone feels that! As for how well it will do financially we will have to see. Thankfully my partner is very understanding, and her career has supported us and allowed me to work full-time over the past year. I do realise that, like all artistic endeavours, there is no guarantee of stable income, and so I’m quite prepared to find permanent work in between games. I hope that as I release more games, game development will become more reliable, and I will be able to do it permanently.”

– Right now you are working on your first commercial project which already took a fulltime year so far. What kind of game will this be?

“That’s a really tricky one actually! I’ve struggled to find a good way to describe it, but I’ve settled with: A hybrid text-based survival top-down-shooter. It’s a bit of a mouthful I know. Mechanically it’s a game of two halves, one textual, and one visually. The story follows a man, The Wanderer, who has been brought to a strange, dark world, by a woman who calls herself the Necromancer. She tells him that the world used to be inhabited by five gods, but when they left everything fell into decay. He is given the task of finding those gods, and bringing them back to restore the world.

Of course this isn’t easy, and The Wanderer has to find food and water to survive. The survival aspects, crafting, and exploration are primarily text-based, whilst combat is top-down. The entire game is based on my experience trying to come to terms with mortality and a recent loss in the family. Hopefully, that gives you some idea of what I’m aiming for with it!”

– What keeps you motivated to work on this title every day? Have there been any real struggles during development where you became less motivated working on it day in day out?

“I am a pretty motivated and organised person, so I only rarely have issues working on it for a full day. That being said there are always down times, particularly when working on menus, that it can be difficult to summon the energy to get to work. But I always think to myself “When it’s done it’s done”, so I know that when I’ve finished a less interesting aspect I can move on to better things.

Sometimes the feeling of ‘will this game be good’ gets a bit overwhelming, but I try to push through it and just work. If people think it’s fun then I’ve done my job, and if they don’t then I’ve still learned a lot. The trick with solo-development is to try to find the positive side of everything.”

– What are the positive and negative side of working alone on such a big project?

“Well the big pro for me, and I imagine it’s the same for other solo-developers, is that I have complete control over the project, so I can ensure it matches the vision on my head. The con of that is that I have complete control over the project, so if it doesn’t match my vision I have to fix it!

Initially breaking tasks down was difficult, and there were a lot of specification changes to the game which meant that work had to be redone. Ultimately these changes were for the better, and the whole experience has helped me understand what kind of work is involved in larger projects, and how to estimate how long everything takes.”

– You decided to create Indie games instead of creating video games for a big company. If you compare indies to triple AAA, what do you think what makes them unique.

“I prefer to judge games on the merits, rather than their status as Indie or AAA, so I don’t really like to compare the genres. However I will say that Indie games often have gorgeous art styles, my particular favourite are The Banner Saga, Hyper Light Drifter, and Transistor. Of course Indie games often get to explore ideas that are more ‘out there’ which can be a big draw for me, some of the more interesting games I’ve played recently are Rimworld, Book of Demons, and Darkest Dungeon.

As for AAA games, there are so many that I enjoy that break the mould in their respective genres. I thought the most recent DOOM was absolutely fantastic. My longest played game of all time is Borderlands 2, which I think is just a perfect continuation of a game that took everyone by surprise and combined two big genres. In the future I’d like to see more of a spectrum from Indie to AAA- all games have their place, from behemoths like Battlefield, to quirky games like Sanctuary RPG.”

-Why should people start playing your first commercial game when it releases on Steam?

“Well I really hope it’s because it’s fun! I think the style of game is unique, and hopefully people will find that something worth enjoying. Obviously everyone thinks their game is interesting, but I like to think the mix of mechanics in my game will appeal to people looking for new and different types of games. My hope is that the narrative themes and mood resonates with at least one person.”

It’s not clear yet when this game will be released on Steam. Sam West is currently working real hard on making the game. Like all artistic endeavors, you know when it is ready, when it is ready. Sam West is not the only indie developer with this problem. Most of the starting indie developers have this kind of struggles. We will definitely learn more about this project in the future.



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Kevin de Bruin
Freelance game, tech and movie journalist from the Netherlands.

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