For five years, brothers Hugh and Jack Monahan put their hearts and souls into creating Brigador, a hyper-colorful mech game that came out last month. Its release should be a happy story — a grand success to top off years of hard work. Unfortunately, that’s not how things worked out.
Two weeks after Brigador hit Steam, Hugh Monahan posted the story of its development and reception on Imgur. He talked about how the development process left him with panic attacks and other health issues, and how for him, the end result wasn’t worth the suffering. Sales have been far lower than the pair hoped, and few critics have taken notice.
But Kotaku recently took the time to interview the Monahan brothers about their experience. During the interview, Jack pointed out that even successful releases can take an emotional toll.
“You hear stories like the one from the creator of Stanley Parable. People really raked him over the coals for that. It just goes to show that it’s something like postpartum depression a lot of these guys go through, because you bet the farm on these games, and even when it does really, really well, it can feel really strange negative after that is gone. If you’ve identified yourself with this thing and then that thing is gone, well, who are you now?
It’s still been hard for me as well, and we’re still learning lessons. I’m at least in a situation where I’m able to pace myself a little bit more. Hugh still needs a lot of time to, he just needs down time. He’s been living cooped up with these other guys. I live with my family. That’s relaxing for me.”
Hugh offered a few hard truths about the indie development experience, which can be as crunch-filled as any job at a major studio.
The other thing is that for five years, I’ve been doing exactly what I want to do. I absolutely love my job. The only downside is that, a) I’m not making any money doing it and b) I’m doing too much. As much as I love game development, it would be nice if my average workday was more like 8 to 10 hours, 5 to 6 days a week, as opposed to the like 12 to 16, 6 to 7. You can only run that hard for so long.
I’ve had some fruitful conversations with some other developers along those similar lines, where it does become a diminishing return. There are side effects. That post might have been a touch melodramatic, but everything I said in it is true. I boxed in college. I’m no Adonis, but I was a guy in shape. That was something that I kind of prided myself on. It’s been very frustrating when you could go from that into not being that. There’s just no energy at the end of the day. You do what you can.
While their take on game development is a harsh one (in the Imgur post, Hugh recommends that people stay out of indie dev), their situation is not uncommon. With a handful of games coming out on Steam daily, and dozens coming out on various app stores, it’s hard for an indie to get noticed. A lot of games slip through the cracks without garnering the attention they need, and most of them were created by teams who really cared about their work.
So when you’re scoping out a project, remember to keep your own mental and physical well-being in mind. You may want to consider whether you’ll have the insurance or resources to seek help if you need it, and go in with a plan that leaves you with time to care for your own health. It doesn’t matter if you work in a large studio, a tiny studio, or for yourself — there are no guarantees in game development. It’s terrible to wind up ruining your health for a game, even if it turns out to be a wild success. To do so for a game that flops could be heartbreaking.