A blog post (by Jeff Vogel) has been making the rounds recently, talking about how the indie-bubble has burst and now you need a heaping teaspoon of luck to get anywhere in the industry.
The “bubble-bursting” statement will be addressed in my next blog post, but first, I really don’t like the way Jeff uses “luck” as a concept.
I made a post a while back about luck, and my general thoughts about it, so you can take a gander back there if you like.
Luck needs context
Jeff uses this statement to demonstrate how luck is key in making your game succeed:
Yes, Luck: Getting a good break. Meeting the right editor who will champion you or making the right publisher connection.
No. No no no! This isn’t luck. Luck would be sitting in your basement moping about your game, and having a publisher or editor reach out to you because your game is just so awesome. It’s slightly less lucky if you go to PAX and someone recognizes you and it turns out they were the business deal you were waiting for all along. It’s even less lucky if you happen to be sitting next to that perfect publisher during a presentation of “Finding a Publisher,” the GDC talk.
But setting up meetings, looking for a publisher, trying to make the right connections? That is so far removed from that view of “luck” that you can pretty much drop the term. If you keep looking, ask around, use your resources, it is almost guaranteed for you to succeed. In fact, you’d have to be lucky to not make those connections.
It’s like saying that you have to be lucky to buy a bottle of Coke from a convenience store. Because, you know, you might get hit by an asteroid before walking through their parking lot. It’s possible, it’s luck, but in the context of odds, effort put forth, and the expected results of that effort, it becomes ludicrous to even bring up.
Jeff goes on to say:
Worthy titles sometimes fall by the wayside now. There is no inherent universal justice that decides that the “best” games succeed[...].
This bit is totally true. You can have a completely relevant, awesome, amazing, worthy game that gets totally un-noticed because you made no effort to make it noticed. That doesn’t mean luck had anything to do with it falling to the wayside!
I’m not saying that luck doesn’t exist, though. I’m just saying Jeff’s use of the word “luck” seems to be implying that you can use the L-word as a an excuse for failure. Which brings me to my next point:
Luck does happen
The way to succeed in video games is to keep trying until you get your “lucky break” (which you will, that’s not a question), and then having the ability to recognize the opportunity, the courage to grasp at it, and the strength to hold on to it. You do this by practicing. You don’t start your journey of “finding your luck” by making your first-ever-game, taking it to PAX, and bumbling through a press interview. You hone your skills with each game, with each interview, with each conference, with each trade show.
According to psychologist Richard Wiseman, luck – bad or good – is just what you call the results of a human beings consciously interacting with chance, and some people are better at interacting with chance than others. [emphasis mine] – YANSS
YOU CAN BE BAD AT BEING LUCKY. But you can still learn to get better. One of the easiest first-steps is to take part in an indie-community (forums, chatrooms, meetup groups, shadowy cabals, etc.) and just asking for help. That’s hard to do.
Luck favours the prepared mind. - Louis Pasteur
When Jeff talks about luck, he basically says “WELP IF YOU DON’T GET LUCK YOU MIGHT AS WELL GIVE UP AND GO HOME YOU LOSE THIS ROUND.” In my view of luck, everyone will have the opportunity to make their great game a hit – you just have to keep at it.
But that’s something we keep forgetting: You have to start with a great idea. Keep that in mind; if all else is failing, it’s probably that it was a bad idea to start with.
Howard Aiken famously said:
Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.
How hard are you ramming your idea? How many throats do you have lined up? Is your idea honestly, objectively good? How do you know that? Who did you ask? How many truly hard questions have you asked yourself?
Yes, a perfectly executed plan can still fail. That perfect game might just fall by the wayside for some unknown reason. The stars might align in just the right way to spell out a new constellation that reads “don’t buy this game.” But those aren’t the reasons for failure — the reason is that you gave up too early. Sure, it might be because you ran out of money, or time, or patience, or just don’t have the emotional stamina to keep on going. Maybe the cost of continuing outstrips your potential returns. But that’s isn’t luck, so don’t chalk your failures up to it — that prevents you from learning a valuable lesson that’ll help you succeed in the future.
It’s okay to fail. It’s expected to fail. You should fail often. What you learn from that failure is what’ll help you not fail next time.
I know that saying “oh it failed because I was unlucky” makes you feel good, and admitting failure may result in many nights of crying yourself to sleep. I know it did for me. But what’ll make you feel even better is having a success the next time time you try.
Make your own luck. Recognize it. Practice grabbing a hold of it. And if you have a good idea, keep trying until you do hit the big time.
Good luck. ;)