A Tale of a small Failure and a big Success

Hi RIP readers,

Today I want to tell you 2 stories. One of them is a story of incredible success and the other one is a story of a miserable failure.

Let’s start with the failure. Yes, you guessed right, the failure story is mine, 100%.

Wait, no, it’s not that I gave up on my journey to Financial Independence! Guys, I said “small” failure… I’m not even talking about giving up on waking up early, even though I didn’t set my alarm at 6am as planned (yet).

The story is the following one: yes, I did wake up early last Friday and – empowered by the fact I don’t work on Friday – I spent an entire day… playing a videogame! One of first hard earned Fridays – that’s costing me roughly 500 EUR of missed earning – wasted playing videogames.

I don’t feel guilty though 🙂

What do I feel? A little bit “is this right?“, a little bit “I’m an asshole, what am I doing?” and then “that’s super cool!“. What scares me is when I go like “Am I sure I want a life like that? I talk about life purpose and then I waste time with such a short term leisure?“. Yes, that scares me. Freedom doesn’t imply happiness, for happiness one has to work hard on themself and results are not guaranteed.

They say “the devil will find work for idle hands” and while I don’t like this sentence (I’m not hurting anyone, go away devil!) it is true that we humans are lazy and greedy beasts and we naturally follow the path of least resistance. Defeating our natural default behavior is very hard even considering we all know how much more rewarding it would be.

Anyway, I enjoyed the experience and, as I’ve previously stated, at the beginning of this 80% experience I’ll use my free Fridays to decompress and try to relax. The real problem is that I’m not done with this videogame! I just started, I want to play more!

RIP, you’re a loser, we all know that. What’s the second story? Wanna brag about a success of yours. And btw, what videogame is this? Is it really that good?

Yeah, let’s move to the second story. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but no, it’s not a success of mine. The success story is all about the videogame itself.

If you’re following me since the beginning (or if you read my story) you know I moved from Rome to Milan in 2007 to follow one of my dreams: become a Videogame Developer. I’ve always loved videogames since I was a child and apparently it’s not something that’s going away with age. I’ve spent so many nights awake playing 2D strategic PC games of any kind: TBSs, RTSs, RPGs. I never bought the 3D graphics story, the console wars, the mobile whatever… I still consider myself an hardcore PC gamer even though I almost don’t play that much anymore (till last Friday).

Yeah RIP, you nerd with your SCUMMy Day of the Tentacle. Shame on you. Cmon, what’s this new game name? Candy something? What-the-hell Birds? Is it at least a MOBA?

No no no, it’s an Indie game 🙂 Developed by a single guy in the good old fashioned way. Here’s the game name: Stardew Valley (wikipedia, game site)!

RIP, a farming game? In 2017? Are you joking? Wait, is this advertising??

No advertising, I don’t get a Rappen for this post. I’m serious about this game, let me explain: the game is about you inheriting a farm from grandpa, quitting your cubicle and becoming a farmer. You get to your land – which is in a very bad shape – and are supposed to try to fix problems and grow crops, breed animals, get to know your rural new friends and see what happens!

RIP. It’s a farming game. A f*cking farming game. A boring game for kids, c’mon…

No, it’s not! It’s the perfect game for me! Listen to me, here’s what I love about this game:

First, I like this genre. Managerial game where you need to plan what to do with your resources, better if the pace is not too fast, I’m too old for action games.

Second, I love the style. 2D games are terrific. I don’t care about cutting edge graphics or other bullsheets. The game is graphically perfect, tons of 2D sprites, animations, a lot of care on details. You should see autumn leaves…

Third, I love the gameplay. I love the game mechanics: how you perform actions and how you get rewards out of them. It’s a never-ending game.

Next, I love the game complexity and level of details: you plant seeds that become crops, than you harvest vegetables and fruits then you can process them and create other ingredients that you can use in advanced recipes so that you can eat or give them as present to other villagers… then there are animals, you need to feed them, pet them, protect them and harvest their products… and that’s just the surface. The game has skills that level up, quests, maps, monsters and combats, mines and caves, desert and mountains, minerals (tons of them), fishing (hundreds of fish types), foraging plants, fruits, shells. There’s a village, with NPCs – 40 of them, local shops, a community center with… ok no spoiler, a quarry, a SPA, a Bar, a calendar with birthdays and social gatherings, weather conditions, time of the day, seasons (fish, crops and fruits are season dependent), an enemy corporation, ghosts, mummies, a dwarf, a wizard and an adventurer guild where you can buy swords and go fighting. Did I mention a gender respectful way to build relationships and family and kids? It’s just about farming eh? Each aspect of the game is extremely curated and deep. Nothing is poorly executed.

Breathe.

Next, this is an indie game, meaning a videogame developed by a small team, with a small budget. A game you could have made! In an era dominated by few huge companies with billionaire budgets, making every year the same game with more graphics (EA, I’m looking at you) indie games are romantic resistance. Like in the game itself the villagers with their local shops are romantic resistance against the mega corporations who wants to “corporatize” our lovely Pelican Town.

Finally, we’re not talking about “a small indie company“. This game was developed by a single guy. Everything: code, game design, character design, level design, graphics, musics. There are tons of assets in the game: 2D sprites, animations, items of any kind. hundreds of items, check the official wiki. Take a look at the crops! There are 40 different types, each one with 5-8 hand made, pixel art sprites! What about NPCs design? Quests? Minerals? I don’t know if you ever worked in the videogame industry (I did) but trust me: that’s an unbelievable amount of work for a single person, and the quality is excellent on every aspect.

This guy, named Eric Barone a.k.a. ConcernedApe, started all of this alone 5 years ago, at age 22, right after his graduation in Computer Science. Being pissed off of sending CVs around he accepted a minimum wage job as a usher at a Theatre. In the meantime he decided to start this pet project “using the opportunity as an exercise to improve his own programming and game design skills“. He loved and played a lot a similar, older game named Harvest Moon. That game had some shortcomings he didn’t like so he designed the perfect game he would like to play. Applause. Be the change you want to see in the world!

After 4 years of hard work, in February 2016, the game launched on Steam and Gog. The game sold more than a million copies two months after launch and is now way above two millions just on Steam. The game’s price is 15 CHF per copy (I guess it’s 10 EUR / 10 USD outside the rich Switzerland) so the game earned north of 20M, just on Steam.

And we’re not talking about those super simple random mobile games that inexplicably become successful out of nothing, we’re talking about a game whose metacritic score is 88/100.

It took 4 years of very hard work, working 60-80 hours per week without a boss giving you priorities and keeping you focused. He had to find motivations inside himself and the strength to keep up when, inevitably, morale went down. For 4 years. His story is in my opinion a great lesson for anyone who wants to achieve anything so let’s dig a little bit deep here.

Lesson 1: Passion, Hard Work, Commitment and Integrity are more important than Talent

I don’t have any doubt that this guy has a lot of talent too, but I’m pretty sure that the base ingredients for Barone’s success are:

  • Passion: he loves video games, specifically this kind of games.
  • Hard work: he put 60-80 hours per week on this project, doing and redoing stuff several times.
  • Commitment: 4 years. As a solo developer. It takes a lot of consistency and faith to keep up and not quit.
  • Integrity: He delayed the release date even when publishers and marketplace wanted it out because he was not satisfied and the game was not feature complete according to his plan. He didn’t succumb to business rules. And he won. Amazing! But there’s more: Barone wanted to create an immersive farming experience, with the ambition “to have real-world messages” (that probably weren’t very business friendly) like cubicle sucks, you should pet and not butcher farm animals, love has no gender limitation and dwarves, wizards and mummies are real things and live in caves and mines… ahem, ok.

Talent is overrated.

Lesson 2: Emotional Intelligence is more important than Rational Intelligence

Why am I mentioning Barone’s EI skills? I don’t know him and he’s probably an introvert anti-social geek (just watch some of his rare interviews). What I know though is that his game is a collective story begun 5 years ago with an announcement and it’s not ended yed. Barone leveraged the power of internet and social networks, sitting on the shoulder of the giants.

How? Barone made the development of his game completely public, releasing previews and test versions of the early game, listening to feedback and engaging in discussions on reddit and twitter.

Roughly 1 year after his announcement a producer jumped him and offered to help and raise Eric from any non-development responsibility.

Engaging with the community and being present generated an immense hype around the game and a growing fan base that showed an unprecedented respect and love for the game and his creator. Listen to this story: the game is completely an offline game and you can easily find it on torrent, download it illegally and play it for free – I stil remember the time when software companies went broke thanks to piracy. This game could have easily been a similar story. But I read that some of those who pirated the game, after playing it for a while, planned to get an actual copy and pay for it. I’ve read stories of fans that offered to help paying the game for those that can’t afford it. Things never seen before! These stories (unconfirmed, but they are on wikipedia) show a tremendous amount of respect and love for Barone’s hard work, social attitude and devotion to the community. The community’s involvement is greater than this, though: take a look at the modding community!

I’ve been into videogame development. A month before a game launches it’s already dead from a development point of view. You’re already working on the next game. Yeah, a patch here and there, if we didn’t delete the entire codebase from the repository yet… What about this game? It was launched a year ago and Barone recently said he’s spending more time than before on the game – not coding anymore – replying to fans and being present in the community. And, I guess, playing his beloved game!

Given sales numbers I assume the publisher hired a team to keep the development alive. They ported the game on all consoles and announced a cooperative multiplayer experience sooner or later. FIRE seekers out there, I can’t wait to play together on our minimalist & frugal farm 🙂

Lesson3 : In the risks vs rewards spectrum, investing in yourself is the best choice

Now… this guy knew nothing (I suppose) about publishing, contracts, money, marketing… so maybe he got a very bad deal, we don’t know. But let’s assume he negotiated his life changing deal so badly that he’s earning only 1$ per copy sold. That’s more than 2 Million dollars in his pockets! He reached Financial Independence at age 26. If you’re brave enough and choose yourself you may get 1000% return and more on your investments, not just that miserable expected 7% long term with stocks!

That’s the success story that inspired me the most in last few years! Thanks Eric for this incredible game and for inspiring me and so many others!

That’s more or less me at work on Monday…

 

But let’s talk a little bit about my gaming experience, so maybe we’ll transform my failure in something else. At least a funny story that will gladly crack a smile out of your face!

The game starts with main character design. You can customize your aspect, name, gender and other things. Here’s Mr RIP, the spreadsheets lover from Hooli land 🙂

The game starts with an intro where you receive a letter for your dying grandpa accompanied with those wise words

I’m ready grandpa, I surely am!

Then you’re teleported into your current cubicle life at Joja (which is the evil company in the game) and you can experience how miserable it is.

Your environment is sparkling energy in every directions! A lot of fun! Yeah, someone has been terminated and your colleague on the extreme right is apparently not feeling very good today, but life goes on, doesn’t it?

Then one day, luckily, you get fired!

… or you reach FI 🙂

Anyway, you find the guts to read that letter:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Oooh, I’m totally bought in grandpa…

And here I started, in Hooli Land! Cleaning up the land and getting started with seeds, plants, vegetables, animals: I have a dog named ETF and few chickens named S&P500, STOXX600 and SmallCap and my farm is doing great!

Joking aside, I’m learning which plants grow in which season, funny real new vegetables names (what the hell is a Parsnip?) and most important of all: I felt like being there, in a smaller community, living a simpler life (with wizards and skeletons, though). That’s my dimension, in my future ecovillage, a day hopefully not too far from now.

What are you waiting for?

4 comments

    1. That’s an awesome idea 😀
      Problem is: yes, Friday is my day but Saturday and Sunday I’m very busy. Q2 2017 will be… can’t think about it: theater playing, turning 40, a hiking trip, the wedding, the honeymoon… not exactly the right time to start such a project!

  1. I’m not a video gamer (gasp! Sorry Mr. RIP), but this was a really enjoyable story. Another way to look at how you spent your first Friday is to say “Thanks Mr. RIP for supporting an indie game developer in their work, then subsequently spreading the word” ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *