Inside The Lonely But Rewarding World Of Solo Games Development

“You can become someone who spends all day thinking about a world that doesn’t actually exist, that no one else knows about, or understands. Sometimes that can make you feel a bit odd.”

Solo developers are a rare breed, and in the modern industry their profile is rising. But long hours and lonely work mean solo devs often experience strange periods of isolation, separation from their friends and family, and life-altering pressure brought on by tight budgets and the need to maintain a good work-life balance.

While games creation can be incredibly fun and engaging, it also has major downsides. Minimal opportunities for funding and a crowded games market means solo developers don’t often get the recognition or support they deserve.

The past few years have seen an impressive boom in great solo games, with hits like Stardew Valley, Undertale, Aussie game Paradigm, medieval romp Pumpkin Jack and the haunting Olija demonstrating just how much passion, creativity and talent can go into developing a game without the backing of a fully-fledged and fully-funded team.


Pumpkin Jack Is A Colourful Halloween Action Game

© Provided by Kotaku Australia Image: Pumpkin Jack

For Nicolas Meyssonnier, developer of Pumpkin Jack, solo games development started as a hobby and quickly evolved into a full-time passion project. “At first it was not an idea, I was just making a game in my spare time at home,” he told Kotaku Australia via email. “It was mostly a hobby … then it grew up, and some people got interested in it.” The ideas for his solo game developed into 3D action platformer Pumpkin Jack, one of 2020’s most underrated hits.

Meyssonnier chose to continue working on the game alone to reduce delays and streamline the development cycle. This involved learning new skills and software on the fly, and diving deep into artistic theory for animation and 3D modelling. “When I first met with co-workers on the project, I asked them to make some 3D mesh, music etc…. but I quickly realised that the time needed for them was just too long,” Meyssonnier said. “I could actually do everything myself, much faster just by learning and reproducing.”

“At first it was not an idea, I was just making a game in my spare time at home… it was mostly a hobby … then it grew up.”

One benefit of this choice was that the creative vision behind the game stayed true to Meyssonnier’s plans. It also helped him save on overhead costs, a major hurdle for games development. In many cases, working solo isn’t a choice — it’s a necessity when a game is too unique for studio backing, or is unable to obtain other funding. While video games are more popular than ever, they’re also more expensive and riskier to produce.

The modern gaming market is saturated, so publishers tend to back ‘sure bets’ — projects with proven track records and guaranteed audiences. A consequence of this process is more ‘unique’ or unusual projects are ignored.

Even when indie games are able to obtain funding, tight restrictions and timeframes are placed on how budgets can be spent.

© Provided by Kotaku Australia Image: Olija

Olija developer Thomas Olsson received funding from Skeleton Crew Studio to realise his vision, but tight budgets meant there was only scope to contract a single artist for the game’s key art. Everything else depended solely on Olsson’s imagination and drive to succeed.

During the process, Olsson found himself struggling to stay in touch with the real world. “You can become someone who spends all day thinking about a world that doesn’t actually exist, that no one else knows about, or understands,” he told Kotaku Australia via email. “Sometimes that can make you feel a bit odd.”

The solitude also meant Olsson occasionally felt like his work was completely incoherent. A “worthless mess of pixels and code”. He would feel that his game was disconnected or imperfect, and he described feeling like he was on a “long, lonely walk in an endless fog.” The only way he was able to see the light in Olija and continue working on the game was by breaking down his tasks and talking to other developers for their perspective.

Meyssonnier also identified human connection as a major challenge — but from the perspective of a solo marketer. Pumpkin Jack is a fairly niche platformer. This meant it needed to find a unique audience to thrive. Marketing was a new realm for Meyssonnier, and it required extensive research and experimentation with GIFs, memes and videos to get right. Without a background in social media, the process was long and difficult — but finding eyes online was key to the game’s success.

This was also how Aussie developer Jacob Janerka was able to create Paradigm, the wacky space adventure staring a loveable mutant blob.

© Provided by Kotaku Australia Image: Paradigm / Jacob Janerka

Poor funding for video games in Australia meant Janerka turned to online platform Kickstarter to cover the costs of the game. Finding an audience online meant he was able to spread his wings and realise the full vision for what Paradigm could be. It’s since gone on to become a massive hit, with its Steam reviews sitting firmly at 100 per cent Overwhelmingly Positive.

Like Meyssonnier, Janerka needed to learn new skills like social media marketing to boost interest in Paradigm and build a paying audience.

“The Kickstarter raised $37,000, and the amount of money that went into the actual development of it was probably… $20,000 went into paying for voice actors, sound design and stuff like that … and then the rest of it went into living expenses,” Janerka told Kotaku Australia over the phone. For full transparency, Janerka made clear he was living at home at the time to save costs, easing the financial burden of development significantly.

With secure funding, he was able to press forward with his ideas, quit his day job and really focus on creating the game. But even with funding, solo creation can be incredibly taxing. It requires flexibility, experimentation and learning new skills on the fly.

This flexibility is how Janerka, Meyssonnier and Olsson were able to create games with minimal prior experience. Janerka had a background in illustration, but taught himself everything he needed to create a solo game with “brute force” by reading online. Olsson had experimented with games prior to Olija, and built up his skills bit-by-bit while he worked as a waiter in Kyoto. Meyssonnier fell in love with the solo process, and ended up learning new software as he created Pumpkin Jack.

“There was a time where I just quit Facebook, and I stopped using social media, and I had a really good routine where I was [waking] up at seven and [going] to the gym, [coming] back to work.”

But all three developers identified too much motivation as a major mental hurdle to overcome. Games development can be fun, but a lack of accountability makes it easy to burnout from overwork. To combat this, developers cited exercise, taking frequent breaks and participating in ‘brain-busting’ game jams as core ways to stay on track.

For Janerka, exercise was also key to maintaining his sanity but there were moments when balance was hard to achieve. “I think there were times where I was doing it in a healthy way and sometimes was doing in an unhealthy way … There was a time where I just quit Facebook, and I stopped using social media, and I had a really good routine where I was [waking] up at seven and [going] to the gym, [coming] back to work.”

To keep on target, he also momentarily employed a unique sensor system that would keep him alert and accountable. “I set up this silly thing where I had a pressure sensor on my chair which would send a tweet that would update a website if I was sitting down working … I was so self conscious that people Kickstarted [Paradigm],” he said. “People are waiting for the game to be done because I said it’ll be done in a year, and it took like way longer than that.”

Eventually, Janerka removed this system and instead focused on going for walks or runs, taking breaks and watching the occasional TV show. “I think that was the most difficult thing,” he explained. “Where I was just delaying a lot of regular life stuff and overworking myself even though I did like a lot of it, because I was so passionate about it.”

© Provided by Kotaku Australia Image: Pumpkin Jack

Like Janerka, Meyssonnier struggled to temper his passion with the need to stay healthy. Meyssonnier describes his time management during Pumpkin Jack‘s development as “chaotic”.

When he began working on the project, he was attending school or his job during the day and working on Pumpkin Jack at night. It meant an odd routine and minimal sleep — but his love for games development meant motivation was never an issue. Instead, Meyssonnier had to work on balancing his passions with his health.

“For the personal side of the project, I’ve learnt how to work at home and also save some free time for myself, to keep a good balance between a good mental health and also hard work conditions,” he said. Throughout the process, he discovered his pure love for games, and told Kotaku Australia he plans on creating even more games in the future, using what he’s learned to stay focussed and healthy.

Solo development is incredibly challenging. Personal accountability is a must, as is the need to remember that ‘fun’ work is still work. It requires constant problem solving, learning new skills, staying consistently motivated and being honest with yourself. But beyond passion is the need to maintain health. Overwork is still a major problem in the industry, even when you’re working for yourself.

With so many challenges to overcome, it’s a miracle solo games get developed at all. Pumpkin Jack, Olija and Paradigm are incredible titles, worthy of praise not only for their quality but the effort that brought them to life. Solo games development is a unique art, and the people behind these games are some of the most talented and extraordinary individuals in the industry.

This article has been retimed since its original publication.

Internet Explorer Channel Network
News Related


Apple rolls out macOS Monterey with new features, all-new Safari and more

macOS Monterey is finally here as Apple has rolled out the latest software update for its Mac devices. macOS Monterey brings a host of new features to Mac devices, including ... Read more »

Trump Truth social network failed to properly license its platform

When former Presdient Donald Trump’s new social media platform, TRUTH Social, ran a test version recently, it violated a licensing agreement and now has 30 days to fix the issue ... Read more »

Tesla worth $1trn as investors cheer deal with Hertz which has ordered 100,000 electric vehicles

Following the announcement of the deal, Tesla's shares jumped by over 9.5% to top $995.75, making the company worth $1trn, according to Reuters. Read more »

Rising number of anti-vaxxers ‘willing to take direct action against schools'

“Substantial numbers” of people influenced by conspiracy theories were now willing to take direct action against schools administering vaccines, experts on online misinformation have warned, as Labour called for exclusion ... Read more »

Rust Shooting Affidavit Reveals Heartbreaking New Details About Halyna Hutchins' Final Moments

A search warrant affidavit has revealed heartbreaking new details regarding the fatal shooting on the Rust movie set. On Thursday, authorities responded to an incident at the Bonanza Creek Ranch ... Read more »

Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro: should you upgrade to the noise-cancelling wireless earbuds?

Are you trying to choose between the Apple AirPods and the AirPods Pro? We understand why you’re drawn to the Apple headphones, but there are some things you need to ... Read more »

Apple M1 Max GPU surpasses Mac Pro's $6,000 AMD graphics card

UK-based Affinity released the first benchmark of its photo editor, Affinity Photo, running on the Apple M1 Max and the results are staggering, cementing the status of the Apple MacBook ... Read more »

Prince Charles was 'reduced to tears' over Prince William's Duchy of Cornwall plans

The Prince of Wales was deeply touched by Prince William's plan for his royal inheritance. Prince Charles said that he was “reduced to tears” after hearing about his son the ... Read more »

Prince William & Kate Middleton Break Royal Protocol During Surprise Trip

Prince William and Kate Middleton just broke a royal rule during their latest outing. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge recently embarked on a surprise vacation with their three children, ... Read more »

Halo games, ranked worst to best

Saddle up marines, it’s time for our guide to the Halo games, ranked worst to best. Stick with the Master Chief, he’ll know what to do. © Provided by Space ... Read more »

Google Drive for desktop finally has full Apple M1 Mac support

In the latest update to its cloud storage service, Google has added full support for Apple M1 Macs to Google Drive for desktop. With the release of version 52.0 of ... Read more »

Getwork review

Getwork is the new name for LinkUp, but the ethos of the job site remains the same. This site boasts about its tremendous speed, and Getwork claims that the site ... Read more »

You season 4: everything we know

Hello… You. These two words send shivers down any fan of Netflix’s stalker series – whenever Joe Goldberg (played by Penn Badgley) says it, you know there’s trouble ahead. And ... Read more »

Fox News host Neil Cavuto tells viewers 'life is too short to be an ass' in urging them to get vaccinated

Fox News and Fox Business host Neil Cavuto. Steven Ferdman/Getty Images Returning to the air over the weekend, Fox News host Neil Cavuto urged viewers to get vaccinated. Cavuto, who ... Read more »

Facebook whistleblower ‘shocked' about company's investment in metaverse

Frances Haugen spoke before U.K. lawmakers who were convened to discuss a draft of an online safety bill, a piece of legislation aimed at regulating social media. Read more »

Alien false alarm: ‘Extraterrestrial' radio signals turn out to be human

Photograph: CSIRO/AAP Astronomers searching for alien life thought they’d spotted signs of intelligence beyond the solar system – but the signals turned out to be human. Parkes Observatory’s Murriyang radio ... Read more »

How to know if a country is serious about net zero: look at its plans for extracting fossil fuels

Fresh emissions targets from Saudi Arabia and Australia – two of the world’s largest fossil-fuel producers – are due to arrive just in time for global climate talks in Glasgow. ... Read more »

This iOS 15 feature will let you be prepared for rain in advance

iOS 15 has brought so many changes and improvements to iPhones. Among several other important ones, the one feature that went unnoticed by most users is the new rain map ... Read more »

Hertz orders 100,000 Teslas in largest-ever order for the electric car manufacturer

Hertz, the global rental car company, has ordered 100,000 Tesla vehicles in a deal worth $4.2bn to the leading electric vehicle manufacturer that represents the first effort by the rental ... Read more »

Therme Art's Basel talk examines architecture's potential to improve mental health

Dezeen promotion: curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and other industry experts came together to discuss the ways in which architecture and design can be utilised to create restorative spaces that improve ... Read more »

Best Oculus Quest games 2021: a guide to wireless VR gaming and Oculus Link titles

Over the past few years, virtual reality has taken a huge leap forward thanks to the hugely popular Oculus Quest 2 and its predecessor the Oculus Quest. Both of these ... Read more »

Nasa finds first possible planet outside our galaxy

A Nasa image showing the M51 galaxy, where the possible planet may reside (X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/R. DiStefano, et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI/Grendler) A Nasa telescope might have found the first ever planet ... Read more »

'Is Facebook evil?' British Parliament questions whistleblower Frances Haugen

Facebook whistleblower and former employee Frances Haugen is faces questioning from the British Parliament. Read more »

Pixel 6 and 6 pro review: Are the new Google phones worth buying?

The search giant seems to be finally taking its place in the hardware market seriously (The Independent) The Pixel 6 (from £599, and Pixel 6 pro (£849, have ... Read more »

Pixel 6 pro vs Pixel 6: Which of Google's new phones is best?

We’ve weighed them up in four critical areas (The Independent) Google launches two new phones on 28 October. The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 pro are a couple of high-end ... Read more »

Steam now allows PC games on Xbox with Nvidia's GeForce Now

Nvidia has unlocked access to its GeForce Now streaming service on Microsoft Edge, allowing Xbox owners to play Steam PC games on their consoles, reports The Verge. GeForce Now includes ... Read more »

Trump is trying to trademark ‘truthing,' ‘retruth' and ‘follow the truth' for his new social media site

Last week, Donald Trump announced the upcoming launch of a new social media platform called Truth Social. The former president also announced that his latest organization, the Trump Media & ... Read more »

Black Friday deals are live at Amazon - see our top picks from the early sale

Black Friday deals are live at Amazon, and yes, you heard that right. While we’re still in October, retailers are launching Black Friday sales earlier than ever in a bid ... Read more »

Shiba Inu falls from all time high following Elon Musk tweet

© Getty Elon MuSK Shiba Inu was knocked off its all time high after Elon Musk confirmed in a tweet he didn’t hold any of the cryptocurrency. On Sunday Shiba ... Read more »

Algorithms can't replace Lewis Hamilton, even if they're faster drivers

While Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were racing for the Formula 1 title over the weekend, self-driving cars were fighting for the inaugural ) championship. The Technical University of Munich ... Read more »

Apple AirPods (3rd generation) review

Two-minute review The Apple AirPods (3rd generation) are the latest in the company’s lineup of true wireless earbuds and over-ear headphones, and come with a host of updates that make ... Read more »

Google Play Store is being flooded with SMS scam apps

Criminals flooded the Google Play Store with scam applications that surreptitiously signs users into premium SMS services. Researchers by asecurity vendor Avast discovered a campaign it has named UltimaSMS, which ... Read more »

Apple third-gen AirPods review: The new go-to earbuds for iPhone fans

Apple‘s third-generation AirPods pack fantastic audio and many of the features found on the more expensive Pros, but they don’t offer active-noise cancelling. (Image: Howley) Apple (AAPL) has finally released ... Read more »

Google Pixel 6 Pro review: Google's first real premium smartphone is a total winner

The Pixel 6 Pro is Google‘s first true premium smartphone, and it easily stands toe-to-toe with the iPhone 13 and Samsung Galaxy S21. (Image: Howley) Google (GOOG, GOOGL) is finally ... Read more »

Google Pixel 6 Pro review

Two-minute review The Google Pixel 6 Pro is the company’s first serious attempt at a top-end device that can take on the very best smartphones currently on the market, such ... Read more »

Facebook papers: Frances Haugen: 'We have to take advantage of this moment'

Ms Haugen, a former employee in Facebook's civic integrity unit, has been giving evidence to MPs considering the draft online safety bill. Read more »

We almost can't believe these lipstick-inspired wireless earbuds exist

The latest iteration of the Huawei FreeBuds lineup of true wireless earbuds is almost here, but they might be a bit more of a novelty than we’re used to from ... Read more »

Poly Sync 20 speakerphone review

The Sync 20 speakerphone from Poly is part of a new range of products designed to cater to the needs of remote and hybrid workers, marking a slight change in ... Read more »

Has Oti Mabuse danced on 'Strictly' for the last time?

Has Oti Mabuse danced on Strictly for the last time? (BBC) Oti Mabuse and Ugo Monye were voted out of Strictly Come Dancing in week five – but have we ... Read more »
On you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic