Shahid Ahmad on 'making a leap for the rim of the bucket' as an indie developer

#EatYourOwnDogFood: The biggest challenges of going it alone in the world of development

In the late 1980s, I was a big fan of Microsoft’s increasing formalism of software development. 

I read books like Writing Solid Code, Debugging the Development Process and the aptly-named Code Complete. By the time Rapid Development came out, I was a rabid Microsoft fan. I loved their operating systems, loved their APIs and was a believer in their evangelical drive to improve software quality. Long before I became a fan of Steve Jobs for turning Apple around, the only Steves I looked up to were McConnell and Maguire.

The one phrase that stuck in my mind, used by senior Microsoft development staff was: “Eat your own dog food.” Like the term ‘indie’, this term has become somewhat adulterated over the years as, in some quarters, it was stretched to the point of absurdity. There are countless examples through recorded history of a beautifully transformative idea that becomes loathsome because somebody missed the spirit of what was meant and decided instead to resort to fundamentalism. So long as there are people willing to return to the spirit, and not the letter of a transformative idea, the power of transformation will remain.

In 2013, I gave an impromptu talk at EGX in which I liberally quoted Steven Pressfield. His masterpiece The War of Art remains one of my favourite books. In it, Pressfield invokes the idea of ‘The Resistance’. His premise is that impostor syndrome, or any other manifestation of self-loathing, is a universal force that through the trick of masking itself as ‘personal’ and not ‘universal’, sabotages our desire as human beings to grow, to express, to ‘flower’. While this applies to anyone engaged in creative endeavours, it also affects anyone engaged in any activity that requires an act of will to perform.

In my talk, I praised independent developers for – as Pressfield describes it – “making a leap for the rim of the bucket”. I realise now that I was talking about myself. Sure, it was my personal and professional mission to help as many developers as possible to make that leap but, deep down, I always suspected that once I’d shown enough developers that the leap was possible, my work would be done and, if I had any integrity, I would have to make that leap myself. On December 4th 2015, I made the leap and am now eating my own dog food. 

"Developers invent the future. What an awesome responsibility that is."

Shahid Ahmad

I’m now in the same boat as a lot of you and I suspect some of you may be interested in my perspective on some of the challenges we might face in 2016 and beyond.

So, in this and future articles, that’s what I’ll do, with an important caveat: nobody knows the future. That’s right, nobody. None of us have the gift of prophecy. Even those people we call visionaries are following Alan Kay when he said: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Guess what developers do? That’s right: we invent the future. What an awesome responsibility that is. 

Why did you get into games development? Was it to make things that people have already played? You see, that’s what a lot of games do. Is that really what you want to do?

Innovation is a much-abused term, but it’s not difficult to be innovative. Innovation is just a play on Paul Smith’s strategy of “classic with a twist”. You take something that’s already been done and add something surprising. Surprise your audience in a way that delights them. It’s not that big a deal. Just don’t bore them. 

In today’s world, our audience has more content than they’ll ever be able to consume. I’m going to focus on experience. I’m going to focus on tiny nuggets of delight. I’m not trying to change the world – that would be hopelessly arrogant – but I would like to make games that delight my audience, if only for a fleeting moment. 

To achieve that, I will have to eat my own dogfood and make things that surprise and delight me first. Only then will I have a chance of surprising and delighting one other person. I would be delighted if that was your goal for 2016, too.

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