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Only A Game

December 16th, 2009

What is it about my job that makes it so damned enjoyable? I was discussing this earlier today with a friend and came to the conclusion, perhaps obvious, that it’s fun because running an indie software business feels like playing a game.

I imagine that other small business owners, and larger venture entrepreneurs feel the same way. What a luxury to be immersed in this environment where every decision ultimately rests upon my shoulders. Whether I win or lose depends entirely on how I choose to move the pieces.

Of course this freedom and autonomy comes with a few downsides. In particular, playing the game can be stressful, and the consequences of losing can be dire. The indie software business is a long, sometimes tedious game with no extra lives.

I believe that the best game players are those who acknowledge they might lose, but who really, really, really, really, really, really don’t want to.

By acknowledging a risk of failure, you implicitly acknowledge:

  1. You are willing to accept the consequences of losing.
  2. The choices you make in playing the game affect the outcome.

This is good. Somebody who is blindly assured of winning is liable to play games that they can’t afford to lose, and to play them with foolish ignorance of the rules. Knowing you can afford to lose liberates your thinking so that you can play the game for the game’s sake. And your strong desire to win encourages you to seek out the wisest moves at all stages of play.

I often hear the opposite mentality celebrated. “Failure is not an option.” “Nobody told me it was impossible, so I did it.” “If you build it, they will come.” These are fantastic rallying cries, but they don’t reflect the true attitudes of a wise game player. They make a romantic postscript to games that were, ultimately, won.

Running your own business isn’t the only way to treat your job as a game. I always found framing the expectations and achievements of work in a game context made the work more fun, even when I was working for other people. Whether that was racing to fix bugs in time for a deadline, or counting the number of envelopes I could stuff in 60 seconds.

But the game has never been as complex or enjoyable as it is now. Running Red Sweater is incredibly challenging. I make decisions every day that could be the foolish move that leads to my failure, or the stroke of genius that guarantees my success.

I know there is a chance of losing, but I really, really, really, really, really, really don’t want to.

10 Responses to “Only A Game”

  1. David A Teare Says:

    Thanks for the great post Daniel!

    I love the statement “Knowing you can afford to lose liberates your thinking”; this is so very very true. I’ve tried to do the same thing with my business to make sure even if the Mac ceased to exist tomorrow I would still be able to feed my family. It is very liberating indeed.

  2. David A Teare Says:

    P.S: Not that Macs will cease to exist tomorrow, quite the opposite is going to happen, I am sure :)

  3. Jacob Gorban Says:

    Good post, Daniel.

    I’ve joined the game full-time in August and enjoying it much.

  4. Louis Gerbarg Says:

    I think the liberation of knowing you can afford to lose is a specific embodiment of a more general thing. Back when I worked for the fruit vendor, I sometimes had days that were frustrating for any number of reasons. But I was single, had no debt, and had enough money stashed away to maintain my lifestyle for several years with no changes. I didn’t NEED that job, and every time I had that sort of annoyance I would think to myself “If it is really that bad, I can just quit.” I didn’t quit out of frustration or anything like that, but I imagine that if I needed that job then every time one of those situations came up I probably would have felt trapped and it would have exacerbated things.

    As an independent things are similiar. I don’t need any of the consulting clients I have worked with, so every time they do something frustrating to me I just have to decide if they are paying me enough for the grief, and if not I can walk away, I just don’t need their money that badly. In basically every case I have decided it was worth it, but I have never been in a situation where dropping the client was not an option and I felt I needed to acquiesce to whatever they threw at me.

    Having control of a situation is a powerful thing. Being able to say “no” often makes it a lot easier to say “yes.”

  5. Michaelb Says:

    Thanks Daniel,

    It’s always feels good to hear it is possible
    to have a goodtime with the game. Gives me
    high hopes. But not false hope.

  6. Cameron Desautels Says:

    Love it. I completely agree.

    It’s fun because you know your destiny is (largely) in your own hands. You know that you have the power to make an impact and you know that every ounce of reward is earned through *your* actions.

    When you’re an anonymous face at a BigCo desk you never know exactly how much impact your contributions to the product made — there are too many factors to isolate it.

    Best of luck (/skill!) in winning!

  7. Cameron Desautels Says:

    Might I also suggest that you put quotes around “Only” in the title? =)

  8. Jeff Says:

    Committed but not attached… New small business owner here and enjoying every minute of the good, the bad and the ugly.

  9. Michel Fortin Says:

    Interesting. I’m currently playing that game, and should be able to observe the initial results in a couple of days. Let’s hope they are good. :-)

  10. Diederik Hoogenboom Says:

    It’s like playing a game for which the rules keep changing and you are too busy playing that you have no time learning them all.

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