Giving up is easy. Man, there have been so many points in my professional life where I came close to just packing it in. But even when catastrophes and setbacks piled up to soul-crushing heights, I’ve stuck with it and found new branches to pursue while staying true to who I am: a creator of things.
Failure is a natural part of personal and professional growth, and while it’s seen by so many as this big insidious mark that looms over those who’ve experienced it, the reality is almost ALL of us have failed at some point in our lives — personally, professionally, publicly.
Looking at the span of my creative and professional work over the last few decades (which ranges from releasing albums and carving out a freelance career to making games and writing books), I’ve failed a TON. Yet…add it all up, and I’ve been pretty successful on-the-whole despite my many catastrophic face plants.
I haven’t had a “normal” day job in almost 15 years, because I’ve been driven, determined, and willing to hustle like hell to carve out a niche for myself as a solo entrepreneur across a few different industries and disciplines.
For me, it hasn’t been so much about luck and getting sweet breaks as it is about setting goals, diving full force into the wall when obstacles arise, and picking myself up and repeating the process even when it nearly breaks me. It hasn’t been easy.
Looking back at past failures, however, I realize they’ve ALL been valuable learning experiences that have eventually led to breakthroughs and future progress down the road.
Take my latest project, Missile Cards, for example. Here’s a short case study in why giving up too soon can leave you with tremendous regret over what might have been.
MISSILE CARDS: A Case Study in Why It’s Worth Sticking It Out
The six-month dev cycle for my latest game, Missile Cards, started during at a pretty turbulent patch. I had just wrapped up a major 2-3 month long freelance project for one of my big tech clients, only to find that shortly after the new year, 90 percent of my steady freelance gigs suddenly dropped off the face of the Earth due to budget cuts and shifting priorities. It happens, but this was horribly timed to dovetail with a big vortex of stress.
We had just embarked on what would be come a six-month hell journey through an over-priced and under-finished renovation nightmare to rebuild our cesspool of a kitchen (I’ll spare you the details, it wasn’t pretty).
Meanwhile, as I hustled to line up new clients to patch the leaking ship, I also threw myself full force into making Missile Cards — with the goal of creating something as cool, polished, and replayable as possible in as short a time span as I could manage. I needed a distraction, and wanted to COMPLETE something (after working for years on a few slower burning projects). Most importantly I needed a backup plan to help try to make a dent in this MASSIVE PILE OF DEBT we had just been saddled with.
I set what I thought was a modest but potentially attainable goal for the Steam launch: I aimed to sell 5,000 copies in the first month.
This would have earned me enough to basically “break even” for the six months of unpaid dev time I poured into the game, and would have potentially come close to clearing a sizeable chunk of that second mortgage’s worth of expenses we’re struggling under. Forget trying to earn enough to fund future games and shift away from freelancing towards sustainable game dev. I just wanted to punch a big hole in this stupid money nightmare beast.
I hustled hard, did a ton of marketing promo, and launched Missile Cards on Steam in April…largely to crickets.
In the first month, I sold less than 300 copies, and spent several added weeks of unpaid time orchestrating the game’s launch. I had expected the possibility of failure going in–hence the plan to keep this a very lean, short dev cycle–but it still hurt like hell. I was crushed, demotivated, and exhausted. Meanwhile, I’d been continuing my struggle to barely hold it all together income-wise on the freelance front.
It turns out that running more than one business at a time is….a lot, much less trying to grow it to a sustainable level.
Adding salt to the wound of a crappy Steam launch, a fairly notable AAA game dev who made a few games I grew up playing as a kid felt it’d be cool to publicly mock me on social media and in his secret elitist gamedev forum/cabal/whatever over my failure with this project. Good times.
I could have given up at that point. I sure as hell wanted to. That felt like super shit.
But if I had given up then, in the midst of a pretty crushing failure, I wouldn’t have experienced what happened next.
MISSILE CARDS Gets A Second Wind on iOS?
Despite crummy Steam launch sales, which I half expected given that card games are not a hot seller on Steam, the fact that a lot of people who did buy the game genuinely seemed to dig it was encouraging. Also, the #1 response I received during the Steam launch was “this would be great on mobile, when can I play it on my phone?” This gave me hope.
I took a week or so away from the thing to nurse my wounds, and then got right to work on the mobile port, which took about a month to finish. The beta test was super encouraging, and the game even managed to get a bit of pre-launch press on TouchArcade and a few other iOS-focused sites.
This month I rallied my spirits, doubled down on DIY marketing prep, and officially launched the iOS version of Missile Cards on the App Store just a few days ago.
In the first 48 hours, I’ve sold over 1,000 copies of the game on iOS. That’s more than 3X what Missile Cards sold on Steam in its entire first month. This is good. Great even. Missile Cards has been hovering in the top 10 best selling Card and Board Game categories on iPhone and iPad (in the US, at least), and it’s getting a LOT of positive press and encouraging reviews — both from press and from players. In less than two days it has 16 user reviews — all 5*s. That’s killer.
Unfortunately, Missile Cards didn’t make the cut for an Apple Feature when the App Store refreshed yesterday. This…well, to be completely blunt: threw a wet blanket on my early cautious optimism. I realize, there’s still a possibility it might pop up there, as Apple now seems to trickle out new games in the featured list across the full week. But it made me realize that if I want to succeed here, I need to keep on hustling until I drop.
Word on the street is, if you don’t get featured, your game is pretty much dead on arrival, because that coveted bit of real estate on the storefront can be worth many thousands of extra downloads (and beyond). Without that, well…yeah. No.
The fact Missile Cards has done so well on its own — without ANY featuring from Apple, just my own scrappy DIY marketing hustle, coverage, word of mouth, and the kindness of players and peeps on the internet — is something I’m super proud of. But it’s not enough. Not yet.
At the $2.99 asking price on iOS, I have to sell 8,000 copies before the project breaks even. And, honestly, I need to sell a LOT more copies beyond that before I can even consider being able to afford to continue working on my next few games on a paid basis.
So here’s the kicker: I’m exhausted, I’m pretty tapped out energy-wise, and I can’t spend the next week staring at the screen refreshing in earnest to see if I won’t be broke by the end of July. I’m down to ONE steady freelance client right now, and that’s not enough to sustain us long term. I’m burning savings and resources to try to juggle everything, and I’m burning my sanity along with it.
But I also can’t give up. Just like I’d never have made it to this point if I had given up after the crappy Steam launch, I won’t know what might happen in the weeks and months to come if I give up now on the mobile launch. I had hoped, and prayed, that Missile Cards would be a hit out of the starting gates. I’ve needed a win for a long time, and I was hoping this might be it. And all of that still might pan out, but I don’t have a crystal ball.
So I’m going to keep on keeping on with this and see what happens. Despite a few small wins this week, I have a LONG ways to go before I’m out of the fire on this. I should be ecstatic for what I’ve accomplished this week. I am. This is not a failure, but it’s also not a success yet. Between debt and my current limited freelance income, I’m pushing a heavy cart up a long hill and hoping I don’t slip and have it all come crashing back down on me.
It you want to lend a hand and help me shoulder this thing across the finish line, your support is greatly appreciated.
Cheers and have a great weekend!
EDIT: MISSILE CARDS GOT FEATURED ON THE APP STORE