Over the last few weeks I’ve adopted the motto of a new definition for “indie.”
“Indie” used to simply mean that you were independent, that no one was paying you to do something, that you were completely free.
And yet, we have multi-million dollar projects appearing on Kickstarter every year. Projects run by famous figureheads. Are these really comparable to the tiny developer spending their savings and their time into their work?
And thus, I repeat my new definition of “indie:”
True #indie: not paying yourself a cent until your product is released, putting all money and effort into realizing your dream.
— Dust Scratch Games (@Dust_Scratch) March 4, 2014
Simply put, I assume most larger developers pay regular wages to themselves during development. Saying that you need hundreds of thousands of dollars is a huge excess for most reasons, and the only reason for such a large sum is to pay yourself (or other people in your team) as you work. Paying yourselves nicely isn’t part of the true indie spirit. You make stuff because that’s what you are passionate about, making money is a side bonus.
Most other indies seem to agree with me. But I’ve had a discussion with another fine indie developer on Twitter (their work is slowly coming along here). Not paying yourself is unrealistic, you can’t really live off of nothing. This is true, and it has confounded me as the one flaw in this new definition of “indie.”
Then the answer occurred to me:
The thing you had to help pay off student loans. The thing you had to help pay for that car, or that new computer. The thing I’ve had but didn’t remember because it was just a part of my day.
This is the answer. Most indies don’t dedicate their entire lives to their work, at least not at first. They can’t. They need a real job with a salary they can depend on. A part-time job is usually enough to at least pay for food and rent. The rest of your time can be dedicated to your passion outside of work. This is why most indies, and even some full-time artists, have part-time jobs throughout their careers.
It’s not an ideal answer, of course. You feel exhausted after your job, and time towards your project slows down. But it is a “part-time” job, because you only work there for part of your weekly schedule. A full-time job is near impossible to be effective at while you make indie stuff on the side (believe me, I’ve tried).
Part of being “indie” might be to pay yourself, but that’s a bit of a contradiction. If I have $5, and I pay myself $5, then I still have $5. I didn’t make any money. You can’t really pay yourself unless that money is coming from a secondary business account that you don’t have direct access to.
But then that money must be coming from somewhere. Either the government, a publisher, or crowdfunding, or family or friends. No matter where, this is the same as taking money from a publisher. You owe something to your provider, to make something and finish something they are satisfied with. You could go off in a completely different direction, but then they won’t invest in you again anytime soon. If you get your funding from other sources, you are not completely self-dependent. Hence, not truly “indie.”
I’m not saying not being “indie” is a bad thing. If you can get grants from the government, crowdfunding, or even big publishers you would normally spit at, take the money. It helps you in the long run, and there are other benefits that come with it. Even if you owe someone for your first project, the money you make after release you can put back into future projects, and take complete control of what you do next. That’s when truly being “indie” begins.
So for now, be thankful for the part-time job. Thank you to tutoring positions and fast food cashier openings. Indies wouldn’t exist without it.
And to be fair, I state that you shouldn’t pay yourself until the project is finished, but you can use funding towards the project directly. But… then the project isn’t independent anymore, even if you are. Rats. I guess I have to keep thinking (maybe simply “don’t pay yourself selfishly, and don’t waste a penny during development” is a better definition, but it sounds rude and less inspirational)… If you have further opinions, let me know below.
(a side note: if a indie dev team were to commit themselves to a full-time job for about a year, quit, spend money on food/rent/taxes and come together to put the rest towards the indie project, they would have made about the same amount that most such teams ask for on Kickstarter. Therefore, crowdfunding for the sake of money alone isn’t necessary. Interesting.)