Is Being an Indie all Fun and Games?

Written by David Frampton @ 12:15 am, May 11, 2011

I was asked this today on Twitter, and it’s a common question:


So I thought I would answer in a blog post to provide a bit more detail. Of course I can only answer this from my own unique point of view, others will no doubt have quite different experiences. For a bit of background, I quit my day job nearly 3 years ago and have been working on Mac/iOS apps and games mostly from home, mostly alone since.

I’m going to start by saying that for as long as I can, I’ll continue indie development. There are many, many positives to this lifestyle which far out-weigh the negatives. But I’m a bad news first kind of guy, so I’ll start with the cons.

First up, you can’t escape. This is the case in many day jobs too, but I’m sure anyone who is self employed will tell you that they are working nearly 24/7. Even when I’m not sitting at my desk I’m almost definitely planning my next promotion or figuring out how to tackle some problem. It’s harder to put your job out of your head when you own the business. Even more so when the business is in the room next to where you sleep. And then there are the emails, which are relentless.

Over time I have adapted somewhat. I’m definitely better at taking time off than I used to be, and at times will just ignore emails for a week or more. But it’s not easy, as I know my business is suffering as a result.

The second negative is the lack of people contact. I know I absolutely have to bounce my ideas off people to get the best results, and this is not always possible when working alone or in a very small team. There’s only so much Chopper talk my wife will put up with. But aside from the product quality implications of working alone, it does affect social skills. The wrong kind of person could end up totally scared to even leave the house, and the number of real world relationships you have will almost definitely suffer.

The third main negative is the result of a positive. When you work from home, you don’t have a commute. This is wonderful, everyone hates commuting. But there is something good in the commute, and it’s something that I keep trying to replace but can’t. That thing is forced time alone, without distractions, to think and plan. Exercise gives that time too, and I should do more of that. But it’s worth mentioning that I do spend less time just thinking things over than I used to.

One last con perhaps, working from home means I have a totally different lifestyle to my friends and family. This turns out to mean that I see less of them as a result, and have to make a bit more effort. For me to go into town to meet someone for lunch is harder than if I was just there, and I’m probably not ready for lunch when they are, due to the sleep-in. Weekends become almost meaningless, as do public holidays, except as times you really should make the effort to go out and do stuff with your mates, rather than carry on working on that product release. Weekends also become times to avoid leaving the house, as all the weekday workers are out and about, totally stressed, trying to squeeze everything in before Monday.

There are perhaps other negatives that various people might encounter. I am pretty self motivated, so don’t find that to be much of a problem. Also, running a business means far less specialization than in the 9 to 5 world, so you need to be able to thrive doing many totally different tasks, switching quickly between them as necessary. I’ve also been fortunate to only have a slight taste of what effect financial pressure would have, and it would definitely make things a lot less comfortable.

So what about the positives? I could write an entire book about the positives. So to try to cover everything without getting to book length, I’ll just make a list.

  • As I said, the lack of commute is great. Not having to commute saves time, money and stress.
  • I have full control over the office. Decor, noise levels, temperature, even the food, coffee, and beer on hand is all totally up to me.
  • I don’t get interrupted by colleagues.
  • I get to have my weekends in the week. This is actually a huge plus. I can time excursions around traffic, do the shopping when no one else does, go surfing/snowboarding when everyone else is at work. There is no business benefit (particularly as I’m in the New Zealand timezone) to working 9 to 5 or Monday to Friday, but many personal benefits to not doing so.
  • The definition of ‘weekend’ can be stretched somewhat.
  • I don’t have an alarm.
  • I can drink beer at my desk.
  • I see a lot more of my wife (and when we have kids, them too).
  • I can live anywhere I want, and in fact will be moving out of the city soon, to a cheaper and nicer area. Not many jobs, but that doesn’t matter.
  • I never have to look busy, or occupy a desk. If I’m not being productive I just stop working.
  • I don’t ever have meetings to go to.
  • I don’t have to file for leave, and in fact (though it may harm the business if I do so) I can decide to go on a trip one night and leave the next day. I’ve actually done this and it was awesome.
  • Every project can be finished before it is released. I get to decide when to ship, and never get told to ship something I am not proud of.
  • I can work on whatever I feel like working on. I still have to do things I don’t enjoy in order to get the job done, but I can factor my own enjoyment into the equation. It’s not always just a matter of ‘it needs doing, so you have to do it’. Sometimes it can be ‘it needs doing, but screw it I’d rather do something fun’.

Without going into too much detail that probably sums it up. I don’t want people to read this as boasting, I just really love working for myself, and you can see why. There are a few negatives, but they are vastly out-weighed by the positives.

In saying that, I can’t recommend that everyone quits their day jobs and goes indie. It’s not for everyone, and I have been extremely lucky. But if you do, I wish you the best of luck. Hopefully it works for you too.

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