Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Biz: Five harsh truths about working in a creative industry

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 16, 2015

I’m not an expert businessperson. If I was, I’d be… well, a lot more successful than I am now, I guess. But I wanted to state a few things for the record here that might be related to my own business ethics and views, but mostly based on observation. I see some individuals and small companies (and sometimes big ones) making similar mistakes over and over again, often with some pretty epic but inevitable collapses at the very end.

These are generally “n00b mistakes” from people trying to turn their hobby and passion into something that will pay some bills… and they shoot themselves in the foot in the process. Sometimes the consequences are so harsh they leave the industry and are never to be seen or heard from again. This hurts all of us, because they brought a lot of potential.

So I thought I’d share some of these harsh truths – and the perfectly reasonable approaches to deal with them. For many, these will be common sense. But for some, especially younger folks first getting started, these may be a useful (if not entirely welcome) shot of reality.

#1 – After they’ve paid, customers owe you JACK!

Unless they’ve got an outstanding billable, the customer doesn’t owe you CRAP. Period. You are not entitled to their loyalty or their goodwill. Even if you just gave them the supreme discount of the decade, bent over backwards for them, and took a loss just to make them happy. Some people may feel obligated in return. Many won’t. And they aren’t really. So whatever you do – don’t treat them like they are!

Now, it’s possible to earn customer loyalty through all those things… by offering a good product, good service, and just general good things you do that generate goodwill. That’s awesome. And sometimes it will. And I think it’s good business sense to do exactly that. Hopefully you’ll generate enough goodwill to help you out if you stumble. I know as a customer, I’ve done that (sometimes to my detriment).

But in the end, this is something the customers and clients must give to you freely, not something you can expect or demand. And remember that it’s something that must be earned again and again.

#2 – It’s about the audience experience, not yours

If you are in a creative industry, you may bleed for your product. You may put a lot of passion, craftsmanship, blood, sweat, tears, and artistry into what you do. But in the end… it’s not about you. It’s about them. The audience. The customer doesn’t care how many late nights you had, how many stresses it put on your family, how much you spent on it. They simply want to know how much it will improve their lives, and how much that is worth to them in terms of their time and their cold, hard cash.

Yes, the pain and frustration and lost opportunities and all that part of your life may end up sitting in a bundle deal or in an Amazon sale for less than a dollar. Acknowledge. Move on. And focus on making your audience happy. Hopefully that mostly coincides with your own preferences.

#3 – Nothing succeeds like success

Wanna know the best way to guarantee success? Already be successful.  People pay attention to the ones that have already “made it.” Whereas the people who haven’t probably need the attention more. Yeah, it’s totally unfair. It’s a “rich get richer” scenario. It’s like experience… you get it after you needed it. Sorta like that Old Spice commercial:

The thing is – there are so many failures, so much flying-by-night, so many things that are here today and gone tomorrow, that people with a little bit of experience in the world are reluctant to invest too much of themselves (or their cash) in an unproven quantity. So you have to prove yourself, again and again, that you’ve got what it takes.

The end result? You accept smaller successes and build on them. Maybe you get lucky and knock one out of the park, but otherwise, you make base hits and just build slowly on whatever level you’ve managed to hit.

#4 Luck plays a bigger role than we’d like to admit

If we’re trying anything new, then luck plays a role. Maybe a big one. It’s a multiplier between the values of 0 and 1 on everything that you do. If you don’t make something of quality that the audience wants and market it halfway decently, then there’s not much luck can do to save you. But if you hit everything perfectly, there are still no guarantees.

The trick is not to use this as an excuse. Not everything is “bad luck.”

#5 – Persistence is key, but it’s no guarantee

Given #3 and #4, it’s pretty clear that the only way to win (short of being really, REALLY lucky) is to stick with it, keep trying, keep improving, and keep adapting. But even with all that, there is no guarantee. There’s no magic tally sheet in the sky that tracks your overall progress and grants you your well-deserved reward once you cross a threshold.

But on the flip side… until you’ve quit, you’ve not failed. You have only not yet achieved success. You just keep creating opportunities for success. And what I keep finding in creative fields across the board is that once the stars all line up just right, all that back-list material suddenly finds new life. If it’s something important to you, give it an appropriate priority for your lifestyle, and stick with it. Keep building on whatever measure of success you achieve.


So there you go. These are harsh realities to some, but the bottom line is – they are realities. Reality is neither good nor bad, it just is. You can fight it, or try to adapt and maybe even turn it to your advantage.

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 12 Comments to Read

  • McTeddy said,

    I agree completely. I see alot of people my age crying out that it’s not fair, but, in the real word, nothing is. It’s not right to demand that the world support you doing whatever you feel like.

    I’ve failed more times than I can count and I’d kill for a livable level of success (Or even just to work at a good studio). But I’m proud of every little success I’ve had. Because I’ve earned them and I can build on them.

    Maybe one day I’ll make it, maybe I’ll die trying. Either way, I’m proud to live in this industry and I’m not giving up.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I remember a conversation I had with one of the producers at SingleTrac around the last year or so of its existence. He noted that he thought in some ways, we’d been hurt by our initial successes with hit games. We thought it was easy. And while we were able to carry a lot of that momentum with us for a while, it wasn’t sustainable, and it led to some bad habits and sub-optimal decisions.

  • Spaceman Spiff said,

    Great Post Jay. I feel like I should take some time and come up with some more points to add to it, though the ones you got are top-of-the-list items.

    #3 often leads to ignoring #4. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen someone/a company have an unexpected success and then think “we have the recipe for the ‘secret sauce’ to making hit game of type X – we can do it again, and be as much or even more successful”

  • Spaceman Spiff said,

    Doh! I see you just touched on my comment re: SingleTrac

    Markets change, often suddenly. Remember the ‘casual pc’ games boom of the mid 2000’s? Or when WW2 shooters always sold well until they didn’t? Choosing to join an established genre runs the risk of arriving after the party is over.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Oh, yeah. I was reading an article by an author I follow the other day which reminded me of this. He made a point about how not all of his books outsold his previous ones – in fact, they rarely outsell his biggest hits even in a limited window of time. But their cumulative success helps sell each other – point #5 – to help smooth out the dips.

    So yeah – while previous success means you have momentum on your side, that only applies as a general rule, not a guarantee on any specific title.

    We should call your rule the “M. Knight Shyamalan Rule”

  • Tesh said,

    Aye, it’s a painful lesson sometimes to learn that most consumers have little idea of the cost of creative endeavors. As such, it’s critical to understand the market you’re playing in and what customers are willing to pay… which won’t likely correlate with what you think your work is worth.

    This is why I try to have a creative outlet that I can work on for my own satisfaction, and keep it separate from “work” projects. If my creative stuff pays out, great! If not, well, that’s life. I got to be creative, and there’s value in that, too.

  • Mr Horse said,

    I’m curious, what made you go dev rather than being a modder?
    Speaking as the latter, it seems like a better deal – creative expression sans the stress of work.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Because when I started, being a modder pretty much meant digging into assembly code and trying to deconstruct binary files. Did that too… wrote a mission editor for X-Wing back in the day. 🙂 But making games is what I love. Pain and all. Ya just have to accept the reality of it.

  • McTeddy said,

    Hehe, it’s true. I’ve always said that being a game dev requires some sort of a mental defect.

    “We can get paid less to work more and get less respect? Count me in!”

  • Pinball Sales Australia said,

    This article is harsh yet very true. When you go out in the real world, you have to remember that life is a game of luck and your persistence is just a key factor. On the brighter side, you will also learn that if you give up easily, you wouldn’t succeed, so reach for your goal and don’t stop until you achieve it.

  • Mr Horse said,

    Y’know, digging into the ASM is a lot easier these days 😉

  • Fabrulana said,

    What’s that ? Sorry, I got distracted by the Bruce Campbell video…

    Anyways, this article makes me think of the TIS-100 game which is still fresh in my mind and the kind of success it would hope to achieve – should be interesting watch.