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Mace and Crown | May 27, 2018

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The Curse of Indie Game Guilt

Guilt is not something that people often associate with success stories, but for many independent game developers, they might as well be synonyms. With internet distribution, it is quite possible for a game to become a literal overnight success. Many up-and-coming developers look at stories of wild success, of developers making millions of dollars, and are eager to get a piece of that indie game pie. However, like winning the lottery, there are some dark consequences.

Rami Ismail, creator of the iOS game “Ridiculous Fishing,” was shocked when he discovered that his game made him thousands of dollars over night. He couldn’t help but compare his financial situation to that of his mother, who worked long hours in local government to support her family.

“My first thought that day was that while I was asleep, I’d made more money than she had all year,” Ismail stated in an interview with the New Yorker.

Ismail is far from the only indie game developer to become stressed and plagued by guilt as a result of his success. A few months ago, the game “Flappy Bird” was suddenly the most popular smartphone game. The game was known for its intensive difficulty and addictive gameplay. Even here at Old Dominion University, students everywhere were playing “Flappy Bird.” It looked like the game would become the next “Angry Birds,” when suddenly it vanished from the public eye.

The game’s disappearance was the will of its developer, Dong Nguyen. Although the game was making him around $50,000 a day, Nguyen found that he just could not adjust to his new lifestyle. In addition to the financial guilt, Nguyen was also hounded by reporters, paparazzi and stories of fans who had become addicted to his game. Finally, on Feb 9, Nguyen removed the game from Apple’s app store.

Davey Wreden, creator of the indie hit “The Stanley Parable” for PC, was warned of the psychological toll of success by Ismail. In spite of his warning, Wreden still fell victim to the indie developer guilt.

“If you were insecure about other peoples’ opinions of you and addicted to praise in order to feel good about yourself, the dirty truth is that there is no amount of praise you can receive that will make that insecurity goes away,” Wreden posted on his blog.

Depression in the face of success can be especially difficult to cope with. Sufferers may worry that others will see their guilt as laughable, a phenomenon which Wreden noted saying, “If I go posting on the internet about how awful I felt receiving all these ‘Game of the Year’ awards, no one is going to take that seriously. ‘Oh, yeah, we get it, real rough life you’ve got there. Sounds pretty miserable to be loved for your art. Maybe go cry about it into a pile of money?'”

While no one indie game is a direct ticket to fame and fortune, and many do end up going under the radar, the ones that do manage to carve out success in such a competitive market place often end up catching on in the industry in a big way, as seen with “Flappy Bird” and “Angry Birds.”

Here’s hoping that if ODU’s own Video Game Design Club, creators of “Ride the Lion,” ever find mainstream success, they won’t fall prey to the guilt that has taken Ismail, Nguyen, Wreden and many others.

Seann Barbour

Staff Writer