I’m Indie, and I’m Proud

I had been struggling to come up with a topic for this week’s #iDevBlogADay post and @frederictessier suggested I write about a day in the life of an indie, and that sparked a post I keep meaning to write.

I want to talk today about why I’m indie. As many of you know, I come from a games industry background. I worked two years at Electronic Arts, and almost three years at Propaganda Games (a Disney studio) in Vancouver. I worked on PSP, Xbox 360, PS3, and PC games as a lead user interface programmer and senior gameplay programmer. I loved my jobs in the industry. I loved the people I worked with, and I loved the games I got to work on. And yes, I enjoyed the regular, decent pay cheque. So in the summer of 2008, when my wife and I decided to move back to Ontario to be closer to our families, I had a decision to make: I could find an industry job in Ontario, or I could follow my dream of being an indie developer and start making my own games. Obviously, I chose the latter. But why?

To me, the most alluring aspect of indie life is the idea of taking an idea and making a game out of it. Not a game designed by a team of designers, level designers, artists, programmers, audio designers, audio programmers, animators, etc, etc, but a game designed and created by me, the way I see it in my mind. The opportunity to tell my own stories, to share my own thoughts and emotions with players. The chance to express myself in game form. I view game creation primarily as a craft or artistic expression, not just as a business. Being indie offers me the opportunity to explore concepts that I wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to explore.

My time in the console industry, while I wouldn’t trade it for the world, also involved some heavy amounts of long hours and weekend work. I did more than my fair share of crunch. My wife and I are starting a family and I didn’t want to be working 80 hours a week while my child grew up without me there. Working for myself allows me to set my own hours. It allows me the flexibility to work when I want and not work when I want. If I want to work 80 hours a week, that’s fine. But if I don’t want to work 80 hours a week, then I don’t work 80 hours a week. If I want to work in the evenings and spend the mornings with my family, then I can do it. I can work however I want! As self-employed indie developers, we get to choose our own hours. We get to choose our own work-life balance. This is not something we should take for granted.

Finally, I love being an indie games developer for the same reason I like cooking: I get to understand every step from start to finish. If I want a physics system in my game, I need to learn how it works. If I want sound effects in my game, I need to teach myself how to create them. If I want graphics in my game, I need to draw them. I love programming, that’s my professional background, but I enjoy all the parts that go into making a game. I love being able to learn about it all. Being an indie developer means that I’m constantly learning about a whole variety of new things, from math, to movie editing, to 19th century artistic movements, to 8-bit square wave music generation. What could be more awesome than that?

Yes, there are hard parts about being indie. I’m not pretending otherwise. It’s incredibly hard at times. I miss the social aspects of working in an office. I miss having a regular pay cheque. And yes, sometimes I even miss having someone else telling me what to do, instead of having to make every decision myself. But you know? I still love it. Because if I want to make a game about mixing paint colours, monkeys in space, or about terraforming, I can, damn it. I’m Owen Goss. I’m indie, and I’m proud.

[Update (2010-11-14): I just posted a companion piece to this entitled “Indie Challenges“, that looks at the other side of being indie.]


P.S. Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians!