Chi-Coder:  Reflections on 2014

As I mentioned in my first Chi-Coder post, 2014 represented a big sea-change in my life.  I went from having a steady job, one I’d been at for almost ten years, to starting my own company in a new field.  I obviously already knew a fair bit about video games, but looking back I’d say that I knew a lot less about the business of video games than I thought I did.  So for my final Chi-Coder of 2014 I’d like to share some of my experiences as a new business owner, and as a new developer.

Self-Starting is hard.

I’m not going to lie, it’s hard for me to be a self-starter.  When I was at my old job I had responsibilities and someone to report to.  It was easy to get the work done that needed to be done because there were real, tangible consequences for not doing so.  When it became clear that I would be losing my job I started planning for the beginning of my business; all these grandiose ideas flooded into my mind.  I was going to do so much!  The thing I discovered is that ideas are easy, but execution is not.  That’s not to say that I’ve been completely lazy, or that I’m incapable of running a business, it’s just been one of those situation where, from the outside looking in, running a small business seems a lot easier than it actually is.

As the heading of this section implies, for me a lot of came down to how I managed my time. Again, with a nine-to-five job, you know exactly when you need to be there, have a general understanding of what you’ll need to do each day, and know when it’s time to go home.  With a small business those rules go out the window.  It’s incredibly freeing but it can also be incredibly stifling.  The best thing I can equate it to is those first few months of living on your own.  It feels so great to not have anyone around telling you what to do, which inevitably means that you do the dumbest stuff you can think of.  It all feels really cool until you do something you regret and then reality starts poking its ugly head in.  That’s how I felt with my business.  I could get up when I wanted, work when I wanted, and operate on whatever schedule I felt was best for me.  The problem is that no schedule does not constitute a schedule.  You can’t wake up at noon one day, 8:00 AM another day, and 2:00 PM the next.  There needs to be some sense of normalcy.

It wasn’t  until I found my sense of normalcy that I really started to be able to accomplish anything.  Before that, before I realized that I was stifling myself with all of this ”freedom” I was just floundering.  Nothing I did seemed amount to anything because I was so scatter-brained that I couldn’t concentrate.  Developing a schedule and routine helped focus me and ultimately helped me to be disciplined enough to start (and finish) projects that I had been struggling with.

I can’t work from home.

Some folks love working from home, I’m not one of them.  When I first started my business I thought that working from home would be fantastic.  I could roll out of bed and start my day.  If I couldn’t sleep and I wanted to work at 2:00 AM, my office was right there.  My business, my new love, was all just a few steps away at all times.  For me though, the distractions of being at home overcame me very quickly.

It started with cleaning.  Whenever I couldn’t concentrate (which was pretty often given my lack of schedule) I’d clean the house.  The house got nice and clean, but I lost focus.  The more I’d clean things up, the more home related projects I’d think of and focus on.  I fixed some dings in the drywall, I fixed a broken lock on one of our doors, I repainted some areas.  All of this was great for the house, but terrible for my business.  Because I was already unfocused by my lack of schedule, what began to keep my grounded was the house, and not the business.

My wife would come home and ask me about my day.  I’d tell her all the wonderful things I’d done to the house and show her how nice it all looked.  She’d graciously thank me for doing what I’d done, but she’d constantly reiterate that these tasks weren’t solely my responsibility, and they certainly weren’t a responsibility that needed to be done instead of working on my business.

I cleaned.  Then I started cooking.  Then I would do the laundry.  Again, it’s not like my wife was demanding that I do any of this, it was just my way of focusing.  The trouble was that all of these things around the house were focusing me in the wrong direction.  Did that one spot need to get fixed?  Yeah, but it should have been a Saturday project.  So after a couple of months of turning myself into a good little housewife I had gotten fed up and I finally rented a small office.

Accomplishment feels amazing.

Video games are all about accomplishment.  Whether it’s a trophy, an achievement, or beating that boss that’s been kicking your butt for the last week, games resound with us because they let us feel like we’re accomplishing something.  Well, that feeling is even cooler in real life.  Starting a business has been amazing.  Just seeing the paperwork with my company’s name on it is really cool.  Creating a game that works feels wonderful.  Even just creating a prototype that comes together in a few hours can be incredibly rewarding.  There is little else in the world that feels as great as doing something completely on your own, without anyone telling you that you have to.  It’s even better when you do that and it actually turns out to be something cool.  No matter what happens with my business in the future I can always say that I tried and that I made something.

2015 and beyond.

A couple Mondays from now will be my first Chi-Coder of 2015 and I’ll have some interesting news then.  I’m really excited for what 2015 will bring for my business, and excited to share it with the world.  So stay tuned!