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How much of indie dev success do you think is dumb luck?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by splattenburgers, Dec 5, 2018.

  1. splattenburgers

    splattenburgers

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    I can't help but wonder this after reading an article about how music becomes successful largely at random and that there is tons of luck involved even if your music is really good. I assume this same apples to games?

    How much of indie dev success do you think is dumb luck vs skill?
     
  2. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    A huge amount of "luck" & basically no work for a tiny % of people, a huge amount of work and a tiny tidbit of "luck" for another tiny % and some "luck" & some hard work for all of the rest.

    When you see people making a game and publishing it and they end up making great money from it solely from the platform without actually doing any marketing / business building work themselves that can be see as success almost purely from luck. When you see people working their asses off focused hard on building their business & spending money and time on marketing and they eventually achieve success that is little to do with luck and they built their business from the ground up almost entirely from their own efforts.
     
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  3. angrypenguin

    angrypenguin

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    I suspect that there's a good mix of both.

    That said, attributing something to "luck" indicates that it was outside of your control, where plenty of developers who aren't successful definitely miss a lot of things they could have done which were very much in their control.
     
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  4. yoonitee

    yoonitee

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    Well the luck is in being born with an above average IQ and also creativity.

    I don't know the average IQ of a successful game developer buy I guess it's pretty high compared to the average.

    Then being born with a creative/artistic steak as well. Is even rarer.

    So all in all I'd say there's a lot of luck to being born with those abilities.

    But then the skill part just comes down to hard work.
     
  5. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    How about dumb luck + skill?

    "I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have." (misattributed to everyone famous)

    Certainly luck plays a role, but I think you can stack the deck. Ryan Clark has a good talk about this:



    Also being born in a place where you have the opportunity and resources (e.g., access to education) to pursue game development instead of, say, trying to survive day to day in a warzone. I'm a proponent of making a habit of gratitude, and I find it sometimes has a funny way of turning into luck.
     
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  6. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    Almost all of it.

    However the odds of getting lucky increase dramatically if you put the effort in the right places. Better games are more likely to get lucky. Developers with more games are more likely to have one game get lucky. Devs with more experience are more likely to be able to capitalize on a lucky break. And so on.

    You might be surprised. High IQ is also associated with over analysis and decision paralysis. Most successful entrepreneurs are closer to the average IQ. I have no idea if this correlation holds true for game developers.
     
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  7. ShilohGames

    ShilohGames

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    Luck certainly plays a role. Skill, experience, and drive also play significant roles. Experience and drive can often find more opportunities, and those opportunities can be mistakenly attributed to luck.

    Simply releasing more games will greatly increase the chance of success. But it is not purely luck related. Each new game release increases the developer's experience and skill, and that improves the quality of the game and the effectiveness of the marketing.
     
  8. Antypodish

    Antypodish

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    I think referring to IQ is worthless. It means nothing. It not measures your dev, or artistic skills. In fact you can not measure as such. If you ask to measure my IQ in french and get best words synonyms, I would end up in near 0, because I have no understanding of the french language. Does that would make me stupid in the result? Is just not my pot for IQ measure. But you can measure experience and probably predispositions.

    Resources and determinism to do the dev job, is main factor of success and "luck".
     
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  9. yoonitee

    yoonitee

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    Sure. But can dummy dum dums making computer games? I think not.

    Name one mega successful indie developer that's not super intelligent. (Well if it's a two person team than maybe they could share the intelligence between them.)
     
  10. Antypodish

    Antypodish

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    Most likely, it was never agenda of such person. While surely there are people with lower reasoning capabilities, that saying, giving reasonable time, while they show interest, they will eventually do something. Providing is not mentally disabled person.

    Even kids can program, if you thought them well and interest them.
    Which technically they are "dummy" still.

    One of IQ fallacy I recall, from my youth, but only realizing later in my life.
    Among synonyms placing, I had reasoning questions, which I had to find patterns.
    I never played with such task before back then. So my skill was low.
    Then after doing it once, I learned the procedure.

    Now imagine I come back some time later after some additional exercise at home. Then I do same IQ test. Suddenly I made high score. So I am genius now, while previously I was just an average?

    This is why, for me IQ is rubbish.
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2018
  11. yoonitee

    yoonitee

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    This, I've always wondered about. If everyone can be taught to program. I mean a lot of children at school can't even do long multiplication. I wonder if you forced everyone to learn to program. What percent would just find it mentally impossible. Just because they couldn't hold enough information in their brain etc. I think everyone's brain is different. For example I'm good at some things but have a bad memory.
    Just like not every human is capable of training to be a weightlifter. Some don't have the right kind of muscles.
     
  12. Antypodish

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    That is right. You can not attract every one to the same subject.
    Some will get interested, in programming, other in cooking, other in art etc.

    But unfortunately probably most schools generalize every young students, dumping into same pot. Often to the point of brain wash. Hence lost of opportunities to make young person interested in certain subjects are lost. Is mainly on parents / guardians, to discover and promote such interests.

    Surely, it won't be good for every one, to know how to program.
    But awareness is probably good. Just like everyone knows there are some countries in the world.
    Btw, my geography is poor, but almost certain I know shape of the world. ;p
     
  13. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    It's all dumb luck. Don't even bother. Quit now.
     
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  14. angrypenguin

    angrypenguin

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    There was a point in my life when I, too, could not do long multiplication. Clearly it's not because I was incapable, it was because I hadn't learned it yet. I had trouble with math all through high school, too, and most of that stuff I've revisited on my own and had no trouble since.

    The point is that knowledge and intelligence are different. Not knowing how to do long multiplication is fundamentally different from having too low an intelligence to be able to do it.
     
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  15. LurkingNinjaDev

    LurkingNinjaDev

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    I always was very bad at math. I still am. (I always was "C" or 3 in Central European rating) But I go through it when it's needed. Software development is not just about math. Although game development a little bit more, especially if you're doing lower level things as well.
     
  16. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    I still don't remember the order of the months of the year. But I'm not a programmer, so who cares.

    But I think all a programmer really needs is the foundation of logic which comes from basic algebra. Actual equations you can just look up as you need. There is plenty of geniuses out there who can develop the genius solutioins for you to copy, if you ain't one of them. Just climb onto the giant's shoulders. You don't have to be the smartest, you just got to know how to use all the tools available and leverage what you are good at.

    More importantly than leveraging your strengths though, is violently denying your weaknesses. Anybody gets a whiff of all the stuff you suck at, go for their throat. Real fast.
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2018
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  17. Antypodish

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    Interestingly, one of my close college years back, was recruited by US company to dev web services, at age of 14 -16. And person was living in EU.
    He was good at this stuff. However, really struggled with simple things like 7x8 :)
    But as said, was just skill that haven't been thought enough.

    And myself, I was barely average at school in most subjects.
    But mostly, because I couldn't bother do homework, or study to partial exams.
    At home, I had always better things to do :D

    However, lot of things I learned (what I missed at school), when I start programming.
     
  18. angrypenguin

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    I tend to do really well wearing my weaknesses on my sleeve. I once got offered a coding job immediately after telling someone that I hadn't used certain directly relevant skills they wanted for years.
     
  19. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    see, that's what i was saying. just pure dumb luck!

    (a joke)

    I am sure that you displayed enough competency in the important areas they were looking for to get the job. Or maybe the recruiter just fell madly in love with you. Who knows.
     
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  20. angrypenguin

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    I suspect it was a combination of honest self evaluation and a no-bullshit attitude, rather than glossy answers designed to make me sound good.

    A person can pick up some skills on the job, but their fundamental attitude and behaviour is unlikely to change a lot.
     
  21. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    well said.

    You can put a monkey in a suit...
     
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  22. Murgilod

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    • Made a game (100% luck)
    • Made a good game (95% luck)
    • Made a good game and told people about it after it launched (90% luck)
    • Made a good game and did some cursory marketing before launch (85% luck)
    And so on and so forth. Each thing you do to make sure you get your game in the eyes of people who will help promote your game for you gives you that much more a chance to be successful. Obviously I'm using arbitrary numbers here.
     
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  23. angrypenguin

    angrypenguin

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    Also, everything you do before that to make sure that you're making a game that people actually want to play really helps.
     
  24. Murgilod

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    Hence "make a game" being 100% luck :v
     
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  25. GarBenjamin

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    Although I think a person shouldn't expect every single game (or other product) they create to be a success the acid test for knowing how much of your success was due to "luck" is pretty simple... can you duplicate that success... and do it again... and again?

    If the success was primarily because of you... your knowledge, your skills, your plan, your efforts you will know how you created the success and should improve at making successful games over time.

    If it was primarily based on "luck" (which as @angrypenguin noted just means factors outside your control although I would change it slightly to simply be factors you had very little to nothing to do with and may not even be fully aware they happened) you will have little idea of how to reproduce your success. Which is something we have seen happen with some Indie game devs that have had big hits. As much as most people wish for it to happen I honestly think it is a terrible situation to find yourself in.
     
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  26. Ony

    Ony

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    Going on nineteen years as a "successful" indie here. It's all luck, as long as you work your ass off for it.
     
  27. Billy4184

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    Very little or nothing has to do with luck. It has everything to do with having a) the skill and creativity to make something that's really fun to play and looks great b) the discipline, determination and decisiveness to get it done, for months or years, all the way to the end and to make the right choices along the way and c) and the humility and empathy required to run a good marketing campaign and engage people along the way.

    So many of the skills required are almost contradictions in terms, that it's surprising that anything is successful at all. And even having one of them at a sufficient level is something exceptional. Yet I think for those who reach an understanding of what's necessary, prepare themselves properly, and put their nose to the grindstone it's not a particularly complicated matter to do well, and certainly not a question of luck.
     
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  28. neoshaman

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    I'm going to just say no to this, as that's a major pain point right now for me and all I have is long silent stare lol I mean thing I need at a fundamental level. Math is the worse thing to get help because it's always a lot of works. Or i have a knack to have project that require just one thing that nobody is investigating.

    And also to get onto a prior topic, the brain is a funny thing, given the right circumstance you can actually lose skills in specific way. I use to be good enough for math, now I struggle because I burn out and have 3 years of depression, turns out that's bad to force you doing math and programming during deep crisis like that because the brain will just shut down in the future. So now I have a new technique that consist at flailing, staring, annoyed people who don't get why I have trouble doing simple thing I can perfectly describe in great details, and basically just bash my head until I have progress. Except now I know to stop when brain is screaming a bit too much.
     
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  29. angrypenguin

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    Agreed. If all you can do is copy other people's equations and/or algorithms then you're incredibly limited as to what you can achieve. Also, if you can't make your own then I'd be concerned as to whether you can fully understand what you're re-using, which can have side effects too.
     
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  30. Braineeee

    Braineeee

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    To say that luck is achieving success without regards to effort is self defeating...

    You don't see people make their first games and have them be multimillion dollar successes... in fact most first games are flappy bird clones or something like that. The vast majority of people recognize that with effort comes quality, and will purchase quality over shovelware.

    The same goes for the OP's initial analogy about music. 'Good' music is subjective so of course it seems random.
     
  31. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    I agree with this. It might not be complicated but still quite challenging the same as building any business. I thought the OP was asking in general including all of the people who have had some exceptional (like freaky high) levels of success from a "first" game without having done the things you listed.

    People who basically just made a game and released the game to their small fanbase (or even to no fanbase) and were even shocked themselves at how the game took off on its own. And as such haven't been able to reproduce anywhere near that level of success since even though they are making arguably "better" games.

    I think these cases are simply a lot of "luck". The right person at the right time covers the game and leads hundreds of thousands of people to it in a day or two. And it just moves on from there websites, other YTers, etc all covering the game. This is why they cannot reproduce anywhere near that level of success. Because their success was primarily caused by factors completely outside their own control and they don't even know everything that happened to create the success in the first place.

    In any of these cases had another game been released a few days earlier that got that same level of attention these games of course would not get that same level of attention. Probably at best that attention/coverage would have been diluted to half. The same as these games having gone so viral in coverage means other great games released at that time would have received less attention and perhaps even been overlooked entirely. Anyway these are some of the factors beyond any game devs control... "luck".
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2018
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  32. yoonitee

    yoonitee

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    The point I was making is, yes you can run probably run a lot of software on bad hardware, but it will be slower. But if you upgrade to good hardware then your software will run much better.

    Similarly with brains. If you agree that brains are built from instructions in our DNA and everyone's DNA is slightly different and so we all have slightly different brains. Some with more connections, some just slower, some with better memory centers, etc. Then if you're lucky to have a brain which is suited to making games then you will find it much easier. But maybe you disagree and think all brains almost identical (perhaps made by intelligent design?)

    And also, think about the software for self-driving cars. Yes, you could run it on slow hardware, but it would be no good and probably run people over. So the speed of the hardware is important. Sometimes hardware has limitations.

    So if you ask me can everyone make games? Just from this logic I would say no, probably not. I would say maybe 50%-60% can as a wild guess. So that means you have to have above average intelligence (by which I mean the right kind of brain....for this task.)

    And even if 90% of people can make games they are competing with the 10% of really smart people who make amazing super complicated games. And increasingly that's what people want.
     
  33. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    @neoshaman,

    yeah, i dont really have a clue what i am talking about there. I should have said; basic high school algebrra isn't important for the sake or memorizing formula's, but it builds a good foundation of logic that no doubt is important for programmers -- or anybody really. Figuring out what is missing, reducing and simplifying, understanding why order of operation matters, iterating reductively to eliminate wrong choices, etc. It's the foundation for critical thinking.


    @yoonitee,

    yeah, some of us are dumber than others. It's no secret, but it's like nose picking. Nobody wants to admit they are the one. But once the sun goes down and we are waiting at the traffic light, everybody is doing it. We are just another chimp, after all.

    Lying to others is an important skill for humans :), but if you won't be honest with yourself, you'll accomplish little. You have to figure out what you are good at, what you are bad at, what you enjoy, and so on. There is something for almost everybody to excel at, and it seems to me that in game-making there is a pretty wide scope of needed personalities, so unless you are straight neanderthal I bet most people could thrive in the industry as long as they have the commitment.
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2018
  34. yoonitee

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    It's true. And also nobody wants to admit they are above average. If you asked 100 people, "are you above average intelligence?" Then 50 people should say "yes". That would make a good poll!
     
  35. GarBenjamin

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    Dunning-Kruger shows the opposite is true... where most people and especially the people with less knowledge less skill often rate their own level of knowledge and skills the same as true subject matter & skilled experts rate themselves.
     
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  36. yoonitee

    yoonitee

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    I would imagine there is a gender difference in how people rate themselves.
     
  37. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    Perhaps. I honestly don't know for sure but I *think* it is a generic thing. Basically the people with the most competence tend to be more humble and view themselves more realistically or even as less competent than they are while people with the least competence can often have very overinflated views of themselves.

    We see this a lot in simple terms of experience. Many times in my own life when I was younger and had not yet done something firsthand I viewed others doing such things and always thought they were doing things in an odd way and I would do it better. Where they described it as very challenging I viewed it as fairly easy. And when I actually did the things for myself for a time I then realized why they had described things the way they had and why they did things the way they were doing it and understood it was more complex than it looked "from the outside".

    So in this way gaining experience competence etc tends to make a person a little more humble.
     
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  38. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    This is why i am always saying I'm a big dummy. If I say it enough, one day I'll get smart.
     
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  39. Braineeee

    Braineeee

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    I agree with this wholeheartedly.
     
  40. Gor-Sky

    Gor-Sky

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    At first glance you need 0% luck:
    Hard work + connections + intelligence + hardware ...

    At second glance you need a lot of luck:
    What DNA you have is luck. So is your base IQ and how extroverted you are to make connections etc.
    It is luck where you are born which determines your starting conditions, money for hardware , education ...

    But for two persons having the same starting conditions there is no more luck involved -> just hard work!
    (Also marketing is hard work, not only doing the game.)
     
  41. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    It is important to not dwell on those things that are outside your control, or already happened and can't be changed. That is why it is important to be positive, and encourage people to do their best, not tell them all the advantages somebody else had to begin with. What good wiill that do anybody?

    Also, this is why humans work together. It is okay if you suck at 99% of things, so long as you are good at one thing. The team needs lots of players. The key is just to find what you are like to do, and keep doing it over and over until you are so good everybody wants you to do that for the team.
     
  42. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    I agree. I think it is wise to be aware of the role luck has on success if only to help one to have realistic expectations.

    A better discussion might be where everyone accepts sure luck has played a big part in some of the huge Indie success stories but we cannot rely on that. So let's focus on how to succeed when you have no luck or heck why stop there...... how to succeed when you are cursed.
     
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  43. BIGTIMEMASTER

    BIGTIMEMASTER

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    Right. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

    The only certainties in life are great pain and death. Everything else is either a bonus or must be earned.
     
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  44. neoshaman

    neoshaman

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    To be frank having a ethos of getting thing done at all cost is more important than skills or dunning kruger delusion, if the stakes are not high that you will screw people live big time. The benefit is that you will eventually get stuff done and learn and improve, vs doing nothing because you know or feel that you couldn't. Since game dev is just so low stakes, I would say lean in your natural dunning kruger to get the extra boost to do thing, much better than a case of imposter syndrome. Especially if you are a demographic people look at you funny entering the field, at best you will get stuff done, at worst you will be annoying and people can live with that.
     
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  45. Braineeee

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    You know this is sort of related but... I had a conversation with a grad student whom I know today.

    We talked about the project we recently had to do, and George Danzig. He pointed out that George completed his accomplishment due to two factors: it was a new field, all the low hanging fruit hadn't already been taken, and second: his skills were all "up there" in his head, and less so much in his skills programming a computer (his skills were highly mathematical). In fact they did not have computers back then, if I'm not mistaken about the time frame. Computers had yet to exist beyond Ada's mechanical computer or the enigma code cracking machine invented by Alan Turing.

    Take another thing a PHD student said last semester: the problem with software engineering is it is always solving the same problem.

    Scientists and research solves new problems.

    With all that in mind I thought about my aspirations to make "grand" games. I thought "this project is cool, but due to my workload I can't make sufficient rapid progress. Maybe it would be a good idea to just do little experimental games? Try things out."

    To back that up: tower defense originally began as a flash game. That grew in to LoL, and the massively popular Tower Defense games we've seen in the last couple of years. It was just a little experiment and it became huge...

    I've got a lot of nifty little ideas bouncing around in my head. Perhaps instead of "dreaming big and doing little" I ought to do little things and maybe in the future I'll get some success.

    One last thing: I thoroughly enjoy coding. I'm good at it. However the thing about computer science is its a SCIENCE. Coding is a skill not a science. The mental models and reasoning/problem solving skills are crucial here. I may begin to focus on that instead of relying purely on coding... I like mathematics anyway.
     
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  46. Antypodish

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    Oh reading this hurts my eyes so much. I really hope person attitude has / will change along PhD program. May was just a fresher?
     
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  47. Braineeee

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    I'm glad I said it exactly as he did, because you picked up on it too. He was sort of a jerk. He's since graduated but the guy had a point. I only say that because he knew his sh*t.
     
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  48. Billy4184

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    When a game does unexpectedly well by going viral, like Flappy Bird or something, I suppose it might be called luck. No one has figured out the science of virality as far as I'm aware.

    But the science of making a good game and deploying it properly, as far as I'm concerned, is a science that got figured out a long time ago. It's like the science of starting a moderately successful business in any field - for those with enough knowledge and skill, it's a perfectly straightforward enterprise. Making another Facebook is a different story.

    The problem is that most people don't know how to do it. Most people fail at making a business because of simple noob mistakes. The same way that most people would fail at building a bridge if they had never studied engineering.

    I don't think it's worth worrying about luck until one is in the 90th percentile or more of the market, and doing very well for themselves. Even then it's not worth worrying about too much, unless you have some idea of how you might attract it.
     
    GarBenjamin and BIGTIMEMASTER like this.
  49. Joe-Censored

    Joe-Censored

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2013
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    The luck part is when your game goes viral almost on its own. That still though requires all the effort into completing and launching the game, and usually building the community.
     
  50. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

    Joined:
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    I am a big believer in getting stuff done and experimenting / iterating to success whatever that may mean for a given person. One thing is certain if a person doesn't complete a game they will never be a successful Indie Game Developer or even a Game Developer period. If they complete one or more games and quit while they are still unsuccessful they will also never be a successful Indie Game Developer. And within these facts is pretty much the "secret" albeit in a very generic way.

    You are right... a person has to be able to get things done in an effective way (and ideally in an efficient way). Effective because otherwise it is little different than not doing anything at all although collateral benefits will likely occur (increasing skills, etc). Efficient simply because we all only have so much money and time and when building a business being inefficient is a great way to ensure it fails. Everyone is different of course. Some might have 12 hours every day to spend on it. Some might have so much money they don't care how much they spend to jumpstart their business and that quite likely is the most efficient way to go. But I tend to not think that way in these discussions because I think for most people they don't have a bunch of money they could burn on this.