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Working from Home: Avoid the Lonely Indie Developer Syndrome!
by Javier Cabrera on 11/21/12 01:51:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Being an indie game developer is not for everyone. We’re a a rare kind, yes sir. We live the life of a writer; working all by ourselves or with a small group of people for what seems to be an eternity in our little apartment/home office with the door shut and the world happening outside. I'm speaking for experience. Neither Carlos or I are able to concentrate while there’s people talking or making loud noises around us, that is why most of our work happens during the night or after long office hours when the world is a bit more quiet. 

Now, many of us are used to work at big-ass companies where people are around us all the time contributing with new ideas and insightful conversations, but most indies are still in their bedrooms or their garages and some can't afford the luxury of an office. Then its only fair to ask, what happens to those of us who work from home? We get the Lonely Indie Developer Syndrome, that’s what.

Don’t worry though, I’m going to share some ideas to get you out of the cave and back to human civilization.

Like everything you will read at indielife (our blog), the content of this article comes from our own past experiences as indie developers. If we haven’t tried it ourselves, then we don’t post about it. So go ahead, read on and find out how can you make things interesting while making your next game!

Alright, so you are working from your improvised indie bunker. You have your gear ready, snacks, some beers, a cool record loud enough to mute life outside your windows and the family has been instructed under penalty of death not to come close to your door. You’re all set. Two months later and life is boring. All you do is getting up, working on your game, then going back to bed and repeat. The perfect loop you say? Not quite.

Smomdadfriends Working from Home: Avoid the Lonely Indie Developer Syndromeome of you may be lucky enough to have a job outside home at someone’s else office where you get to socialize, but if you work from home too (freelancer), things get nasty in no time. I have many indie friends who work on IT, webdesign, 3D art, etc and they don’t step outside the bunker for days. Pale skin and all. 

We aren’t built to look at a screen 16 hours a day, that's for damn sure. Carlos and I have the luxury of having our own office downtown at the most exclusive part of Buenos Aires (not really).

You can actually see our office the first couple of seconds in CYPHER’s trailer if you watch careful enough.

Makes no difference though, you get the Lonely Indie Developer Syndrome all the same.

Here are some quick ways we tried ourselves to overcome the lonely indie developer syndrome:

Fighting the lonely indie developer syndrome the right way: Get a Dog

Cats are cool too. We have two cats. They are really nice and you can’t live without them because they are so cute it hurts not to look at them all day. You MUST have a cat to keep you company if you work with computers, its a rule. But dogs are better to fight the lonely indie developer syndrome handsdown. They force you to actually use your legs in the traditional form of walking (a concept now long lost). Cats can do their stuff in the litterbox so you end up staying at home all day working on your projects, but dogs need to actually go outside to find a tree, see? That’s a good opportunity to socialize! Talk with people, walk around the block , maybe pick some magazines, etc.

It will get you going. It will make you socialize with other dogs owners too since most people need the urge to talk with the owner of the dog that’s trying to have sex with theirs. Don’t be surprised if you make some new friends along the way either, that's what happens when you take the dog for a walk!

While talking with some random stranger may not be what you’re looking for, it will relieve the pressure of being in constant imprisonment.

Bonus: get a female dog. Everyone will be around you sharing some time.

Do more with your online social networks: Use Facebook to stay in touch!

It can be 4 in the morning and I guarantee you will still find someone to talk to on Facebook. Communicating with others is an important part of human behavior, and although face-to-face experiences are irreplaceable, facebook provides a good way to stay in touch with friends and family on their spare time. No one uses facebook at work. Well, no one is supposed to anyway.

You will find indie gamers groups, artists groups, musicians groups, and a hell of a lot more on facebook. You can even chat with all members at the same time and share thoughts or ideas to release some of that accumulated stress before its too late. While facebook is not the ultimate answer to the lonely indie developer syndrome, its certainly one of the best places to find people who share your own mindset and have great conversations about game dev, and who knows, maybe you end up getting together with them for a gamejam session or just a hangout.

Warning: stay way from IRC. While some are cool, most of the time people come and go and you will need to be constantly trying to reconnect with someone you've meet there to continue a conversation. Better keep everyone in one place (facebook).

Have you tried Google HangOut? We did.

This must be one of the best tools I’ve seen for lonely indie game devs. You push a button, and instantaneity you get your invitation sent through all your contacts. Boom. It is like going out with your friends without actually being there! I’ve used it a couple of times to hangout with my friend Gaston and others and the name really does justice to its service. Six beers, some snacks (depending on your appetite) and you have an instant hangout tool to share with friends and coworkers alike. Not the real deal but, close enough.

You need to learn How To Play an Instrument

There isn’t anything more relaxing than trying to play the same chord over and over for six hours in a row. I started playing with a guitar when I was 13 but never really got into it until last year when I decided to be a rockstar (still working on it). It is one of the most frustrating yet rewarding activities a person can have and a skill everyone should try to learn at least once in life. You relax and try over and over until your playing becomes muscular reflex and you can really sit there and enjoy your fingers do the music all by themselves. Fantastic way to fight the lonely indie developer syndrome.

Practice takes a hell of a lot of time but when you manage to play a song all by yourself… there aren't enough words to describe how much stress can take from you because of the constant sense of achievement. See, when we are working on a project we set a very unrealistic amount of goals based on other people perceptions about us, our capabilities, and what others did before us in the field we’re trying to make a difference on.

But when we play an instrument... even coming up with the basic tuning for your instrument without some strange gadget can be rewarding. Small goals == small rewards == constant feeling of achievement.

Now imagine how playing a song you learned all by yourself on the right tempo feels. Fantastic.

Go talk with some friends and have fun!

And I don’t mean virtual friends. You don’t have to gather everyone in one place, just email one of your friends and ask him/her to have a cup of coffee with you at the local Starbucks for breakfast and take it from there. I’m not going to lie here: most of the people I know are entrepreneurs or work at startups, so all we talk about is work and more work, but at least its fun to get around the people you know and respect for a couple of hours outside the computer. It can be the difference between enjoying the indie lifestyle and going back to sending CVs.

So tell me, how do YOU fight the Lonely Indie Syndrome? 

You can find the original articles and many others at

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Peter Eisenmann
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Enjoyed the read, you seem to be an entertaining guy. Not sure about the instrument thing though. Yes it can be rewarding, but, unless you play in a band, it's an additional lonely activity in your already lonely life. Better to go out and meet people (in person not on Facebook). For the indie dev, time is the most valuable thing and it takes a whole lot of it before you can play an instrument in front of people without embarrassing yourself.

[edit]the last point may only be true for people who have as little talent as I do oO

Javier Cabrera
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Good point there Peter. I found playing an instrument also separates from your family a bit, since you need to work on repetition a lot and if your family is around they will go crazy hearing you over and over the same chord 45 times in a row. It can work as a bridge to release stress though. Instead of punching someone in the face or screaming at the screen (the only two choices for any indie developer) playing a musical instrument clams the beast within ^_^ at least for me!

Joel Christiansen
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Great article Javier. I spent a couple years as a solo indie developer/online game arts instructor and I can certainly relate to the feelings of loneliness and detachment you describe here.

Living and working in near total isolation in the backwoods of East Texas for a year was probably one of the loneliest times of my life, and as you said it is not natural to just stare at a monitor for 16 hours... The thing that really helped me through it was exercise. I started running every day, not because I particularly wanted to get fit, but because I just couldn't stand being alone in the house anymore. When I was in CA I used to surf every day, and this had the same effect of calming my mind and restoring some level of emotional balance. I read somewhere that "if you don't surf, you don't clean your soul", and I have felt the truth of these words--even paddling out on a flat day and just floating there is better than just sitting at home.

I am lucky enough now to have a job where I teach live classes, and interacting with my students really helps keep me from feeling too lonely and isolated; however I am still a solo indie developer and I have found that developing this way is by its very nature an isolating experience. Probably indie development appeals most to those (like myself) who don't mind spending significant amounts of time pursuing personal goals in near-total isolation, and as you said this approach may not be for everyone, but for me the freedom to pursue creative ideas and design goals that I find personally meaningful far outweighs the negative feelings of struggling on alone for endless months. To all the lonely indie devs out there: don't give up! You are absolutely not alone. Feeling isolated and detached is simply the nature of the beast, and if you love your work and believe passionately in what you are doing then in many ways your project is already a success

Javier Cabrera
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Thanks Joel!

I also think this kind of jobs are getting us more and more into isolation. What worries me is not only our quality of life but the quality of our own products if we spend too much time in the bunker working on our stuff! Exercise sounds like a good idea, we have a fixed bike here at the home office we use every now and then but the way to go is what you described: going out for a run, seeing some green and getting fresh air.