The Indie CEO: On Ripped Jeans and Being Thankful

As the chill winds tuck in to the coast and all of us here prepare for winter, I’m taking a second to reflect on the year’s work and the close of the conference season.

Oddly, the most poignant thing I noticed about this last year would have been no more than a passing bother if it weren’t for the context.

Ripped jeans.


“Wok – wok?”

Ripped jeans. Exactly.

It’s a weathered, separated, dime-sized patch just on the right kneecap; I noticed it while getting ready for the final day of Spacefest at the Museum of Flight, where I was scheduled to give a talk about finding and holding onto inspiration – even if, like me, you’re not a real astronaut.

A patch like that doesn’t come from a sudden shock, a cut or puncture. It’s wear. And I figured out why.

These jeans have been my constant companion through nine conferences, through 13,000 miles, showing our game Habitat to players of all ages, all over the United States. People sit down, keyboards and mice at the ready, and ask the same question: “So, what’s this game about?”

And before I answer, I kneel down next to them.

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Even if they’re robots.

So they can see me. Hear me. So my 6-foot-3 trunk isn’t looming over them, making them feel like I’m here to judge them.

I did it without thinking about it. It was natural. Knelt down on that same knee, in the same jeans, and wore that patch down against the conference hall floors, in Redmond, in Boston, in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, in Austin, in Seattle. Everywhere I went. I must have personally shown Habitat close to fifteen hundred times in the past eight months.

It’s been a life-affirming experience for me, personally. Talking directly to players – not lecturing them or just shuffling away to let them “figure it out”, has resulted in a lot of advantages. Candid feedback, useful suggestions, important questions, and – perhaps most importantly – a genuine connection. I get to see people figure out Habitat. They get it. Their eyes light up. They see the possibilities. And I know I’ve done something worthwhile with this crazy indie dream I’ve worked to make real.

I have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. We were a Kickstarter success, we have the support of indie publisher Versus Evil, we’re signed on with Microsoft and Sony for console releases; heck, we even got mentioned in the New York Times.

But these torn jeans remind me that what kept me going – and what will help us cross the finish line – are the players. The believers, the supporters of Habitat. We’ve got our first set having launched in Early Access in July, and we’re working hard to attract more, building new features and reaching out every day. I’m encouraged by what I see in our discussion forums, and I won’t rest until we’ve delivered a game they love.

The winter months are always hard for game development, but inasmuch as I can take a moment to reflect on where we’ve been, the sights we’ve seen – and delivered – I’m both humbled and energized all over again when I think about the players who have been our bedrock as we strive to make this game great, including those players still to come. Our Kickstarter backers, our early mailing list subscribers, our conferencegoers, skateboard winners, our forum denizens, our Early Access subscribers, our screenshot-takers, Twitch-streamers, YouTube video makers, Steam Workshop creators, our Facebook fans, Twitter followers, website visitors, YouTube channel visitors, Sony and Microsoft supporters, fellow Indie devs, 509th patchholders, Steam reviewers, press writers, reporters, bloggers, and podcasters of all stripes who have taken the time to play, believe, and be the spirit of Habitat.

I’m thankful for you.

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Habitat: Path to Success Keynote Talk at Indie Game Con

It’s been a big year for Habitat, my company’s first major PC gaming title. Alas, for the readers of this blog, most of the discussion about the game’s development has been scattershot across various other sites including the game’s own Steam forums and several gaming blogs where we’ve done interviews – pretty much anywhere but here.

However – I was able to bring my own personal take on the Habitat journey thus far to a gathering of indie game developers in Eugene, Oregon, just last week. The place was Indie Game Con, and my talk – the Keynote for the event and my first Keynote speech ever – was “Habitat: Path to Success“.

Spoiler: The path isn’t a straight line. Hope you enjoy.

Letter to my Team About Kickstarter

[The official Kickstarter for Habitat is starting in less than 48 hours. I wrote the following letter to my team about how we’ll go about connecting with our initial backers, and thought it summed up what I believe about Kickstarter, our community, and our journey so far.]

Okay, fair warning: this is going to be weird. And I’m making my own shitty clipart with a webcam to break up this mail. But I want you to read this carefully. All of it. Please. This is our future here.


Kickstarter projects share an important stat, as I learned from a post on LinkedIn:

“Solo backers make up over 70% of the pledges. In a bit of a simplification, I take this to mean you can’t expect the Kickstarter community to provide more than about 30% of your pledges. The rest come from your own contacts and promotional efforts.”

Our own contacts and promotional efforts, says the guy. And he’s right. And, this is good news for us. One of the largest benefits to being embedded in the industry as we have been is that network of contacts. We are not unknowns; we have the contacts.


But those contacts will only support us if we ask them to. We need to ask, we need to rise to the top of the inbox because every one of our contacts is busy, overwhelmed, overloaded. They have a million jobs to do, people to satisfy, fires to fight and crises to manage because that’s life. In this crazy world, people are only going to respond if they feel an emotional connection to what you’re doing, what you’re building, and showing them that connection is your responsibility.

So, as we prepare to launch the Kickstarter, I want you to get ready to mail the people you trust, who trust you, who want to see you succeed and love what you do.

You all have these people – they’re your personal backers, your cheerleaders, your friend groups, gaming groups, your mentors and fellow dreamers and believers in who you are, what you’ve created in the past and what you’re doing right now.

And understand: they want to hear from you, they want to know you’re doing well, they want to know that there’s momentum and excitement and energy and a future in what you’re building. Because we care for one another. With that in mind, I want you to begin crafting what you’re going to say to them.


It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be overly detailed. But it does have to come from you, and be true to who you are and what you’re doing.

Another bit of wisdom in the numbers:

“The current success rate for Kickstarter projects is 43.5. 81% of the failed projects ended at 20% of goal or less. Only 6.8% of projects that fail, do so with over 41% of goal.”

What this means is we need to push like crazy to make that first 20%, then again to make that 40%. I think we stand a good chance of doing it, but only if we call in every favor, every helping hand, every person that believes in us.

So when our Kickstarter launches at 10 AM PDT on April 2nd – and that’s less than 43 hours away at this point, I hope you’ve set your alarm – I need you to start mailing.


Yes, it’s annoying to have to do. It can even feel embarrassing. But these numbers don’t lie. Kickstarter is about the people who believe, enough to open their wallets for the games – and more importantly, the people – that they love.

It’s not begging. It’s not guilting. It’s inspiring these people to take action to help us realize what we’ve already worked so hard to attain. Ultimately you won’t be able to change people’s minds; what you will do is let them know you’re here, you’re making a stand, building something you love and inviting them to join us.

Obviously you won’t be able to get to everybody all at once, but this 30-day marathon is made up of small sprints, and this first sprint – the first 72 hours – is critical to establishing a momentum and infectious energy that will help people we don’t know believe and trust that what we are doing is legitimate.

That trust starts with people who trust us saying so, and backing that up with a pledge.


(I had limited resources, this is a handshake with a backer alright? :))

So get ready to reach out to them. Your personal backers – the people that believe in you – will not be upset to hear from you. I promise. They want you to succeed, and they’ll help however they can. If not in pledges, then in sharing your story with others who can pledge.

We have an incredible story to tell. And after GDC and all the excitement our game generated I know it’s only going to get more amazing. The time has come to tell the story of us so far, and like my favorite Muppet CEO, get this first round of backers on our Electric Mayhem tour bus to Hollywood.

Just like Kermit, we’re on a mission to make people happy. Let’s start with the ones closest to home, and they will help us reach the next step. Please get started on readying your mails and lists of contacts, and feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have.

I’m thrilled to be starting this journey with you. In less than 48 hours, we’re going to start building our family of people who want to take this amazing journey with us, starting with the lovers, the dreamers…

And you.

Get ready.


Indie CEO: Of Fear, Focus and Frogs

On this Presidents’ Day, I’ve got one thought just endlessly pinging around in my neural jungle gym. It’s persistent, it’s insistent, it’s non-stop, and it’s this:

Oh my God, it’s really happening.

You see, we’re announcing our next game in just a few days.
After that, we’re launching a Kickstarter campaign.
And after that we’re going to San Francisco to show at Game Developers Conference.


The trailer might look a bit like this…

And we’re going to live or die in public. In front of everyone.
I’m excited and I’m terrified.
And it got me thinking.

Indie CEO 2014: There’s No Such Thing as Manageneering

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Holy shit, I’m still alive. Sorry, that’s just the first thing I always think when I wake up on New Year’s Day. The world didn’t end (every year since 2012 is another quiet little victory over that horrible Roland Emmerich movie), but I’ve got a problem. And it’s one that can only be solved by a decisive, all-encompassing, fundamental change in how I go about this business of building my game.

So, obviously, calling it a New Years Resolution is a really, really bad idea.

We all know how New Years Resolutions go, because Google Trends tells us so. That said, I need to make what I’m about to try and do in the form of a pledge to me, to you, and to everyone, because if I don’t make this stick –


Thanks, Franklin, great to have you on the program. Seriously, though. It’s all hanging out there – let’s find out why, and what we can do to turn it around.