2020 was for me a very rewarding year. I started freelancing on the 1st of January, and tried to pursue both a career in Game Dev and Software Dev at the same time.
This blog is a look-back at what 2020 has brought me and has taught me.
Where to start
I had this idea in my head that the game development scene needed someone like me because there were some apparent issues with working conditions, and I could be of help with my knowledge from software development. So I did some initial market research in November and December of 2019, and continued in January 2020. I tried to position myself as an independent researcher and journalist.
This continued through January and a bit of February. I attended a game jam, got to a game dev conference and attended 2 game dev meetups. I wrote a few articles on my blog. And I met a lot of people during this time and talked with them about game dev.
However I learned quickly that I was completely wrong. First of all, I want to be a business and needed to make money. That is very hard with research and journalism, it is a difficult product to sell. On top of that, to be good at it I needed to have experience and I very much lacked actual experience with the industry working condition issues and writing about it. Making it worse, it turned out the issue wasn’t that common especially in the Netherlands with our work culture here.
So: there was no real issue (here in the Netherlands at least), I didn’t know what I was talking about or what I needed to look for (lacking experience and connections), and it turned out to be the most difficult way to possibly make money of game dev.
On to: Plan B
When I started with GameFeelings, I already had planned to work 24 to 32 hours a week on software dev. At least for 3 years, until I had enough customers in freelance game dev to provide services to.
I landed a job with Strukton (through an intermediary) and enjoyed my work there as a backend software development specialist. It made good money, my first actual hard earned money as ‘a company’ of my own.
This ended abruptly by a let-go due to COVID hitting the streets. They had planned to utilize me for at least 2 months longer, but since they did not know what was coming at them they closed all flex contracts.
Renewed: Plan A
While working for Strukton I concluded that while the research wasn’t a good plan I really did want to do actual game dev work. Strukton was ‘just sofware dev’ and I have been doing this for the last 10 years already. This was not my idea of how I wanted to fill my time while freelancing.
So this brought me to Escaperoom 071. They needed someone cheap but with game dev experience and knows about how to make a multiplayer game.
I was really exited: within 5 months of my freelancing I landed my first actual game dev job, that I personally acquired by looking at the right places and talking to the right people.
My first ‘own’ freelance job turned out to be a massive learning however. It was organized very amateurishly, but nonetheless I really enjoyed working on ‘an actual game’. I had organized the contracts very badly so there was no real money to be made, but I was able to contain the damage and get away.
While working on this game dev I concluded that I had made substantially easier money with software dev. So much actually that I was able to live the whole year together with my wife and kids while my wife worked part time. We had to carefully look at our expenses, but that was totally worth it. We both enjoyed my newly owned freedom and that I had the ability to do whatever I wanted.
Back to: Plan A
With COVID really hitting hard, even the software dev turned out to be having a difficult time. In all kinds of business the freelancers where the ones that had to search for new opportunities, so the market became very crowded very quickly. With that, hourly prices fell at least 15% and the working conditions became much more requiring.
I did not want to work 40 hours a week again (for a contractor). I wanted to do this 24 to 32 hours max per week. And do short, max 3 months, contracts. But the market said ‘nope’.
So I concluded that I would be better off working on my own games. It was sure to make me more happy: better working hours, working on games, and being my own boss.
While working on my own games I lived the best times of 2020. While everyone was experiencing a rough year due to COVID including me, I at least had something to look forward to every day.
I started the year working on a small project with Bart. That quickly turned out to be too difficult to continue due to the whole COVID thing and personal energy levels. So i put this project on the shelf again.
I started working on a new game idea of my own. However it turned out to be very difficult to start a game project. Especially since I wanted to do it professionally and make money out of it, I had to take it serious. I think I overdid the seriousness part there, because it caused a lot of stress. Thankfully, I ended up accepting that I only could give so much and that my efforts where sufficient.
During the work on the various game related things I was a bit stressed but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. And I could spend time with my family whenever I deemed necessary.
With my wife working as a nurse at the hospitals lung ward, there was much more pressure on her to deliver due to COVID. So I was happy that I could ease the burden and could actually ‘assist with something’ during this whole COVID thing.
All in all I think I am made for building software and are extra motivated by the software being games… at the only requirement of being in control of my own life and spending time with my family.
Aaaaand, back to: Plan B
But with the end of the year approaching, the COVID thing became a dark cloud on the horizon again. This time however the money had dried up and I needed to get a new job before February 2021.
I really did not want to work for a boss again if things didn’t work out in February 2021, so I was extra motivated to look for alternatives. The hourly rate I received while working for Strukton was a very good pay, but I learned during the months living off my savings that I needed a lot less. Another thing I had learned, was that I have very valuable experience in software dev that is worth a lot more money per hour than my game dev experience.
So I turned to the worldwide market to land a software dev contract myself, on my own turns. And that turned out to be waaaay more easy than I thought it would be. I got a contract at Tevent for a reasonable hourly pay, fully remote work, flexible hours, and only a minimum of 25 hours/week.
And that was the end of 2020! Happy new year everybody!
2020 In numbers
I like numbers, here are a few numbers of GameFeelings in 2020.
I did log 304 days of work:
- 6% writing articles
- 6% traveling and commuting
- 8% of administrative tasks like logging hours, planning, and setting up and changing my work place
- 11% talking to recruiters and doing all kinds of marketing for game dev
- 33% worked on my own projects
- 36% worked for clients
I started 12 of my own projects. Cancelled 8 of them. Completed 1. And 3 are still ongoing.
I attended 1 game development conference. I joined 1 game jam.
I release 1 game to 2 platforms. This game is ‘Gearful’. It was played 54 times on Itch.io and installed 5 times on Android.
‘Find the Gnome’ still sold some units, around 25. And I got 50 wishlist’s for it.
My Gamefeelings.com website: 863 visitors, 1615 views. I made 33 posts with 19,689 words in total.
My best content: The Jenkins Unity 3D CI/CD article with 207 views (released in January) with attached video, seconded by the same content but then applied to Azure DevOps with 147 views (released in August). Their YouTube statistics: Jenkins had 948 views with 3998 previews and 66 hours of content watched with a click-through of 13,3%, DevOps had 338 views with 1225 previews and 30,4 hours of content watched and a click-through of 8,2%.
Summary of my learnings
There are a few things I learned I want to share with you. I tell them from my perspective, but maybe it resonates with you. Think of your own learnings and accomplishments of 2020: even with the COVID disaster, 2020 was not a lost year.
- Family: to have a place to call home, to be able to reside in it/with them for days even when in lock-down, that is something to cherish. I started to like my kids and wife even more for who they are.
- Having my own business: I really like the business side, being my own boss.
- Working on my own: I need other people around me, to stay mentally healthy and to let them do the work I am not good at. For instance, hiring a bookkeeper was one of my best decisions and worth every penny.
- Constant change of plans: It caused a lot of headache, but it lead me down the way of the least resistance. It learned me to let go of control, trust my own skills, and make more of the here-and-now.
- Inventing games: I don’t have to overdo it, I just need to make sure I can feed my family while I enjoy creating games. I will eventually get better at my craft, just have to give it time.
- Software dev: I am good at my craft, enjoy it, and can make good money with it. So I should continue doing this kind of work.
- Research and journalism: I don’t think this is my calling…
- Writing blogs: fun thing to do, really resonates with my way of thinking and structuring my thoughts. And it makes sure I stay on track with game dev and deliver something interesting every 2 weeks.
- Making YouTube video’s about development: very time consuming, but a good way to show off my skills and get people to know me.
- Escaperoom 071 failure: It was no failure. I learned so much about communication and expectations. And how I could better trust my own gut feelings.
- Part time work: there are very few companies that liked me working part time. Especially in software dev and game dev. If I want to work 24-32 hours a week on software dev, that is very hard to accomplish. More accepted is to work a few months full time on software dev, and than switch to full time game dev for a few months.
- Remote work: There were few to none Dutch companies that allowed remote work, but that (luckily) changed a lot during COVID. Still, they insist on physical contact being the norm. However, I discovered that globally oriented companies are much more freely structured when it comes to working times and thus the feasibility of remote work.
- Hours of work: I am a person that is easily exhausted by my work. 5 hours of work a day seems to be the max. While I can be available 8 hours on-site I always tend to work max 5 hours efficiently. While writing my own hours I am very strict in only writing what I actually work. But you could argue that this is equal to 8 hours of work for other people.
So, I am still searching for my place in all of game dev. But after one hell of a year, I am still in business with a healthy projection for the future. That alone is something I can be proud of.