this was written as a journal entry and edited only slightly. it represents my state of mind at the end of 2019: reflections on why im doing what im doing, and where im going. i hope you get something out of it, and i hope if it upsets you, that you dont hold it against me.
ICE WATER GAMES LABEL FORMATION
- rainstorm ep launch and label announce
- ritual of the moon launch
- stones of solace launch
- pattern rapidly approaching completion
you aren’t independent. you have people who support you, who raised you, who built or paid for the infrastructure your life has been dependent on. you use hardware and software made by others to make your work, which work is a reflection of the cultural work of others. your work is distributed across networks built and maintained by others. your work is made for others, and it’s their patronage that allows you to continue working. even if you could imagine a universe in which you were fully independent, what a sad world that would be. your independence isn’t noble, it’s isolating and antisocial.
our goal should be to be less independent from your fellow artists, less sharded and walled off. to collaborate more, to build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with your peers. to build trust. to organize yourselves before someone else organizes you.
the next wave of game innovation isn’t cloud or vr or ar or whatever bullshit
it’s the indie wave, broken on the rocks into a thousand tiny droplets, reforming itself into tidepools
groups of artists self-organizing, making better games with fewer middlemen, shorter timelines, smaller budgets, bigger ideas, no shackles.
games that run on older hardware and appeal to more people.
here’s something indies might not be ready to hear: taken broadly, indie work is worse than big budget work in almost every way. big budget work is made by expert artisans working on huge teams. of course it’s better.
the only merit you might hold in comparison is, if you’re lucky enough to not have found financiers yet, if you’re lucky enough to not have a studio head who thinks of themselves as an entrepreneur, is your lack of a boss, of shareholders, of an organized profit motive. you can make things these people cannot: things that bosses and shareholders believe are unlikely to be profitable. you can guide yourselves toward making work the work you actually believe in.
otherwise, sure, you might have a great culture, a bright attitude, but so did they. and if you’re led by money you’ll arrive where they did: if you’re lucky in 5 years some huge corporation will buy your company; if you’re unlucky you’ll be discarded as a poor investment within the year. if you want to work at the company your owner’s gonna sell you to, just go do that now. it’ll be easier and you’ll probably make better work in the meantime, get paid better, get better benefits.
your goal should be to make games in such a way that you maintain independence from capital (real independence), if at all possible, and here’s why:
to the degree that capital gets a cut, has a say, your work is by and for capital.
capital runs this world. it will push you towards gimmicky rich people bullshit like vr, or towards erecting new walled gardens that benefit capital at the expense of free artists. to capital you are fungible and you WILL get funged.
IWG is a group of people, and i cant speak for it, but this is what it represents to me: a committed effort to build a better framework for collaborative artmaking, one built from the ground up with rose-colored glasses. a framework that can survive, and even outlive capitalism.
BIRTH OF BADRU
- solid years work on tenderfoot tactics
- patreon launch
- tenderfoot tactics steam launch
- the foreverlands release
last year i quit my last job. why?
i have felt uncomfortable talking about this, because i like the people ive worked with, and i dont want to offend them, but i suspect they already think i’m a snob anyway, so:
i quit because i want to work on stuff im really proud of. or at least feel like i tried my hardest to be doing that thing.
people think the games industry is a hit-driven industry, but having worked in and around it for a bit i dont think that’s entirely true. i think a large part of the games industry is relatively flush with investment money, and some pct of that goes towards attempts to make hits, but a lot of it goes to projects that arent expected to hit much at all, but serve some broader purpose to investors. especially in emerging tech. all of the industry push around vr, ar, streaming, remote play, and other new platforms, this stuff is about huge tech giants playing long games based on their forecasting and intuitions, and especially about financiers using their power to control the direction of the industry in ways that they want, either for personal aesthetic reasons (rich idiots love vr) or for industrial domination reasons (apple, epic).
i started in this medium wanting to create stuff. survival is important but i have always wanted to be the kind of person who is willing to be slightly less comfortable in order to live a better life in a more holistic sense.
ive always had everything handed to me on a platter, but it feels wrong somehow, like i know everyone else doesnt get this, and it feels nasty to just take what im given and be grateful, and so i feel like i have to approach things from a sideways angle.
this really is an industry. you can really just get into it. but you have to be very very good, and willing to make a lot less than you might otherwise, and willing to work on whatever project, able to be happy with that.
i think im very very good, and in theory id like to believe im willing to earn less and work on whatever, but in practice ive found that im not at all willing to work on whatever, i am a very anxious and determined person, and someone who thinks a lot about their own life, and who believes in fantasies and utopian projects, and who actively confronts the terribleness of the world, and the confluence of all of these personality traits means that i am miserable feeling like im a cog in the current machine, a machine which obviously works for the benefit of the cruel and selfish and lucky and at the expense of everyone else. i work hard and i play the game well when i think its what i want to do, and the result is that when i have worked for people, ive given them good work and ive been paid very well for it. but im still miserable at these places. i feel like screaming, like dying, i just cant do it. i just cant.
why is independence different for me?
when you’re working as an employee or with an investor or publisher, your labor’s function is to enrich the people above you on the economic ladder. and it feels like that way is societal death, like total ecological collapse, the erasure of any shred of democracy that might exist in our world. the more rich the super-rich become, the less likely we ever achieve anything like an egalitarian and good society. there just is no way.
a second factor is, i can technically work on whatever i want. and so while this doesnt actually mean that the projects im working on will be good, or ill be proud of them (im not proud of fire place, really), it means i can make decisions going forward to hopefully course correct into a place where i am not actively doing things i know ill be ashamed of.
its honestly fucking hard working in this way, and in some ways i know id be prouder of my work if i worked on a funded team, because id have a group of skilled peers full time dedicated on the project, we’d have support from qa, we’d have teams of porters, i would be able to specialize and become truly great at some specific skill and execute at a higher level. but you cant get there without money. that shit costs. so what the fuck am i doing? is that where im going? maybe, at least on a small scale. maybe ill make enough money from tenderfoot to fund a small team on whatever utopian terms i want. maybe ill make something so great that people will want to take a risk and work with me, rather than keep their health insurance and salaries. probably not.
in some ways im doing this because i started tenderfoot, and i cant not finish it. this is personal and embarrassing but it’s true: my father always criticized me for not finishing what i started, and my ex-peers at the various jobs i quit often wrote me off as just a quitter, and i need that to not be true about myself. i need to finish things. besides, tenderfoot is the game ive been thinking about and wanting to make since i was a child. if i burn out of games, i want to first accomplish what i set out to make in the first place.
what am i trying to build towards? what the fuck is badru?
badru is an attempt to promise myself that im building something real. badru is me viewing my own contribution to games as worth crediting, my own voice as worth existing. badru is me exposing myself in a very personal way, creatively, (i.e. crediting my labor primarily as an individual rather than as a collective) while also, hopefully, making it clear that my creative output is not my personal existence, that the person i am outside of work is not the person who makes my work. badru is a band name. badru is me saying, the kind of artist who has a nom de plume, the kind of artist people know by a one word name? that’s where I’m heading. that’s the attitude you should hold toward my work.
im trying to build towards happiness and stability for myself. towards feeling like i know what im doing, like i know ill be able to pay rent, like im not a failure, and also like i am proud of the work im doing, that my contribution to the world is one that will be improving the world in a broad sense. why do i feel like i can do that? i dont really. i just feel like i need to.
independence is a gambit because i might just be broke in 6 months, or i might have made something truly stupid. or, i might have a base to grow from.
this year will be a big one for me.
January 3, 2020