A few friends of mine have either begun or are contemplating their own creative adventures. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from creating and submitting a number of games and apps to the App Store (with wildly varying degrees of success).
- There was a psychological shift that happened to me when I released both my first app and my first game. I went from “someone who one day wants to do a thing” to “someone who does a thing”. I started seeing myself differently and I started taking the work (and myself) a lot more seriously. “Can I do this?” (or, worse, “Do I have a right to do this?”) turned in to “How good can I get at this?”
- Some of the things I have made did not reach the level of quality I would like them to reach, but I don’t really get to decide whether or not it’s any good. Sometimes the thing we make is far away from the concept in our imagination—Ira Glass eloquently described this as the gap between our ability and our taste. Releasing something lets it stand on its own merits, gives us some perspective, and gives us a better read on our abilities. The public don’t get to see the thing we thought we were making or wanted to make, only what we actually made, and they judge it purely for what it is. As creators, we often compare what we made to the mythical, perfect thing in our imagination (and, naturally, find it wanting) but the best any of us can do is make the thing as good as we are able to with the time and resources we have available, then let the world decide…
- …And most of the time they are going to ignore us. In some ways, this is even more painful than them hating the thing we made. Producing any sort of feeling or reaction, even negative, can be more rewarding than tumbleweeds. The reality is that indifference is going to be the more usual response, and the quicker we get used to this kind of rejection the better.
- Releasing a thing plants a flag and allows us to move on to the next thing (even if it’s just version 2), which will be better. We could spend months, years, decades even trying to improve whatever this current thing is but at some point, we have to call it a day and move on (although judging where this point lies is a whole other skill). Releasing it to the world is a public statement that you are done with it and it removes the temptation to keep tweaking indefinitely.
Finally, releasing any digital product independently requires us to take on roles that were traditionally done by publishing companies, managers, agents, etc.:
- Icon/cover/packaging design
- Creating screenshots
- Creating videos
- Online store submission bureaucracy
- Tax/business bureaucracy
- Writing marketing copy
- Deciding if you’re going to charge people
- Deciding how you’re going to charge people
- Deciding how much you’re going to charge people
- Creating landing pages for search engines
- Dealing with reviews
- Dealing with support and feedback
- Dealing with the crushing indifference of the world to this thing that you spent hundreds of hours creating
Like any other skill, all of these benefit from practice.
Unless we’re one of the extremely lucky ones (and luck plays a huge but often overlooked part), growth is often slow. Without a significant marketing budget, we’re relying on building word of mouth. Even with this, if our thing isn’t captivating, then it will likely sputter and die and we’re left staring at the cold, infinite void again.
When it comes to creating things, we can be motivated by external rewards—money, fame, accolades—or by intrinsic rewards—the joy of the process and the satisfaction of making a thing to the best of our abilities.
For most of us, our motivation probably sits somewhere along the continuum between the two extremes of intrinsic and extrinsic. Art created in isolation for the pleasure of just the creator is rare—art itself is a method of communication, a way of attempting to express the inexpressible, and keeping it locked away is like talking to yourself—but art created to generate wealth or fame often leaves the creator empty and frustrated (there’s always someone richer and more famous).
The hard truth is that most things that get made and put out in to the world just aren’t as interesting to other people as they are to their creators (this does, however, have a nice side effect: when we realise that no one cares what we do, we gain the confidence to be as weird as we like).
The best we can do is to shift the needle of our desire from the fleeting pleasures of the extrinsic to the deeper contentment of the intrinsic. I believe the only way to do that is to repeatedly sit with the deafening silence of indifference that only comes from proudly coaxing into the world a message that is uniquely ours, placing it at the altar of public consumption, and having it ignored by everyone. Then doing it again. And again. And again. Until one day it’s not.
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