Happiness is contagious
July 20th, 2019
In early 2019, I got an email from my To Do list app explaining that I was in the top 2% of all their users for 2018. It was the kind of thing that should make you feel good about how well organized and productive you are. But it evoked the opposite realization. Instead of being proud of myself, I was staring at charts and graphs that showed just how far I had lost my way.
Many years with unpaid overtime is a kind of career path. That needs to be understood. It can result in a lot of praise from upper management. And for some people, it is aligned with their goals for a while or even a lifetime. I do not get to sit in judgment of those people and their jobs or their dreams. And do not hear what I am not saying: I am not knocking my old team or my old boss. Those are great people, many of whom I still consider dear friends.
But things had gotten wildly out of hand for me and my family. I was working all hours, weekends, holidays, and even on vacation. This had gone on for years as I guided myself and my team through crisis after crisis at our company. There seemed to be no end in sight to demands for "just one more" heroic act of overtime to save this project or that project. I was watching my family, my friends, my goals, and my health slip away. So I set up stronger and stronger boundaries with work. And I kept telling myself that things would get better. And then they would not get better. And I did this for years - years upon years.
After a lot of soul searching, I quit my job to spend more time with my family and to make games. Call it what you want - a mid-life crisis, perhaps. But after working many years with lots of unpaid overtime at a big corporation, I was exhausted and grumpy and my health was failing. I gave up what other people call a great career to become a stay-at-home dad and an indie game developer.
That is a picture of me playing Atari with my big sister in the early 80s. I have wanted to make a game for as long as I can remember. I loved growing up with games of all kinds: computer games, console games, board games, card games - you name it. Some people do not understand games or the appeal of playing games. But for me, games are an intrinsic part of learning, growing, and enjoying life. And now, as a good friend of mine pointed out, is one of the best times to make games. Much like indie movies and indie music, the time for indie games has reached a saturation point where the technology is there, the communities are there, the audience is there, and the platforms are there.
Like with most things in our global world, indie developers know that the competition is fierce these days. Some people bemoan the challenge. For me, it is an exhilarating chance to pour all of my skills and life experience into making a game. It takes all of my childhood, teenage, and young adult years of writing stories, making music, and creating art and it mashes them up with my decade of programming, marketing, e-commerce, making websites, and making products. It feels like running a marathon you have been training your whole life to run.
Happiness is contagious
When my daughter was born, I made a promise to get less grumpy - to try to enjoy life and teach her to do the same. To live life by embracing the challenge it brings with joy, grit, and happiness instead of anger and grumpiness. Now I am trying to live up to it. As silly as it sounds, I am learning that happiness is contagious and it is okay to be creative. I used to be so concerned about what other people would think about me or my work. I let it stifle my creativity and my productivity. I lost years of doing to years of worry.
With that in mind, I want to give a big thank you to everyone who helped me move on:
- To God
- To my wife, daughter, family, friends, and old co-workers for their support
- To Tom who taught me that you can "Make A Game With No Experience"
- To Derek who taught me that you can finish a game with his book about Spelunky
- And to these people who inspired me with their awesome work and grit: Christopher, Jukio, Alan, Raphael, Justin, Matthew, Philippa, Warren, Amy, Gabe, Tyler, Jan, Rami, Noah, Mick, Sean, Julian, and so many others...
Happy Grumps is a rogue-lite puzzle game about spreading happiness to a grumpy world. It is coming soon on Steam for PC and Mac. I do not know if people will like it. I do not know if I have what it takes to make good games or to make a career out of making games. The odds are certainly seemingly stacked against me. But I have never been happier than I am now: spending time with my family and making games.