Be creative or sell out?
One of the things I struggled with when I first started down the road to indie development was the issue of what to create. I’m an experienced developer, so I thought I’d be able to simply sit down and create a game and everyone would love it. The reality was that every prototype I made I was completely unsatisfied with. All of the ideas I came up with seemed really bad. Not only that, but every time I happened on a mechanic I actually liked, it felt like it looked so bad, or was so vague that there was no way I could really sell it to anyone.
The problem is expressed really well in a book I’m reading called “A director prepares – seven essays on art and theatre” by Anne Bogart. In it she sums up the dilemma very clearly. You have these two sides to you as a creative person. One side is sensible and commercial and thinks about making the right products to sell and to market and worries about audiences and how to connect with them. The other side is the artistic side and just wants you to express whatever is within you, it wants you to explore the medium and to challenge yourself to push further with whatever you are working on.
Here is how she puts it:
“To survive, to keep up, to feed a family, to ensure a roof over our heads, it is necessary to act from a very particular personal impulse: the survival instinct. And there is always the danger that this survival mode will dominate the artistic process. Most of the choices we make in the survival mode issue from a need for security and advancement. But the instinct for security gives access to only a small part of our creative abilities. If we limit our impulses to the survival instinct, our scope and range of artistic work will be limited.”
She goes on to talk about two central themes for a creative. The survival instinct and the gift-giving impulse. The gift giving impulse is described thus:
“The action originates in the impulse to give someone a gift and the urge to create a journey for others outside of their daily experience. This instinct requires generosity, interest in others and empathy.”
The action originates in the impulse to give someone a gift and the urge to create a journey for others outside of their daily experience. This instinct requires generosity, interest in others and empathy.
And that really strikes a chord with me. We have these two seemingly opposing forces - the urge to survive and the urge to create.
How we seek to balance those forces is I believe the key here. If you let one rule your creative endeavours, much as I had originally been doing when I first became and indie, you will lose out on a large part of your creative self. Ultimately I found that I simply could not believe in the creations I had made when taking this route. However it remains clear that purely artistic pursuit can also be a path fraught with issues.
So my advice is to consider the balance you strike when an idea is forming for your next game. Do not give in to the survival instinct solely. Most people understand that making a game requires commitment on the part of its creator, but few seem to actually acknowledge the benefit of the gift-giving side of their creative efforts. It is a matter of striking a personal balance, nobody can truly tell you what is the correct balance, but it strikes me that once you accept that creating requires the ability to eschew the survival instinct in many ways it frees you to allow more gift giving ideas to enter the creative process. I also feel that the gift giving impulse is also in fact a useful impulse to have in terms of survival, because it is that impulse which will set your creative efforts apart from others.
I’m not trying to convince you either way, but I hope it bears thinking about when you consider your next game!