For the Narcissist Lover in You…

The Next Big Thing.

So here we go again.  I’m about to release my Next Big Thing, a new mobile game called RobotGladi8tor.  For all you word purists out there who are about to get all snarky about my replacing letters with numbers, let me just respond thusly: yo mama.  Also, there wasn’t room beneath the little game icon to fit “Robot Gladiator” and the main character is called “number 8”.  Granted, I added that detail after I realized I’d need to abbreviate the name and wanted to fake some sort of narrative reason for it, but that’s just between you and me and that rock over there.

With this game I have been either amazingly lucky or miraculously blessed, depending upon your particular religious worldview and/or belief in leprechauns.  I started the game in early December and finished it at the end of January.  Granted, I cannibalized a lot of models and environments from previous projects, but that’s still, even to me, a spookily fast turnaround.  And still, amazingly, the game turned out even better than I had anticipated.  For you creative types out there (and I assume that’s most of you) that is an all-too-uncommon occurrence.

Furthermore, when I attempted to refresh my previous contacts at Apple, I had no expectation that they would 1) remember me, or 2) like what they remembered, even if they did.  After all, they see tens of thousands (probably hundreds of thousands) of apps per year.  Dream:scape, while successful for a first-time game by some no-name schmoe from flyover country, was certainly no Angry Birds.  It was loaded with glitches, crashed for a lot of people, and had virtually no traditional gameplay.  But not only did the Apple people remember me and the game, the new guy in charge of games for the AppStore, who I had never spoken to before, had played Dream:scape and was looking forward to checking out the follow-up!

Let me put that in perspective: that’s a bit like approaching J. K. Rowling at a book signing and having her fondly remember your name as the author of that Alternate Universe Potter fan-fiction you wrote six years ago.  Seriously.

“Seriously, we should collaborate on your next fan-fiction.”

So, long story short, after nearly a week of agonized waiting, my contacts at Apple suggested that I release RobotGladi8tor on Thursday, February 16th (Thursdays being the days they update their featured apps on the AppStore).  This is no guarantee of anything– for probable legal reasons, they never officially admit whether any given app will be featured or not.  But it’s either a very good sign or they’re having a lot of mean-spirited fun playing with me, which is probably unlikely (but certainly not impossible).

And does this mean that I am sure to experience wild success with the sales of this game?  No, not in the least.

If there is one thing I have learned over the past few years, it’s that failure is always, always an option.  I know a lot of you are big believers in Positive Thinking, be it good vibrations, the Force, the Secret, Karma, or good old fashioned name-it-and-claim-it prosperity theology, but I have increasingly come to believe that failure is not just always an option, but can up and squash even the most earnest and persistently upbeat ambitions.  That sounds really negative (or cynical, and yes, I’ve been accused of needing a few weeks’ vacation at the old Cynic Clinic) until you realize that failure isn’t inherently negative.  What’s negative is how we might choose to react to failure.

Wow.  That sounded pretty Tony Robbins-esque, didn’t it?  Next up, I’ll be asking us all to measure our Personal Potential Matrix and tape pictures of Lamborghinis to our bathroom mirrors for daily motivation.

“Dammit, I got toothpaste on my ground effects..”

But just because something is cheesy doesn’t mean it isn’t necessarily true.  It just means it’s so obviously, patently true that we’ve all grown used to ignoring it, and have probably made an unconscious pact not to remind each other of it.

Thing is, failure IS always an option.  If one never fails, one is probably not attempting anything particularly difficult.  All the while I was making RobotGladi8tor, I was telling myself that failure is always– always— only one mistake or miscalculation away.  I know this is true for the very simple reason that I have failed.  “Ruins of Camelot”, my last book, is currently a world-class failure.  It isn’t that the story is no good– I still believe that it is possibly my best work.  It isn’t that I promoted it poorly, or neglected its packaging, or failed to submit it to as many blogs and review sites as I could.  It failed because– and this is the truly important thing– no one can control every circumstance regarding their success.  No matter how talented one is, or how hard they work, or how perseverant they are, they simply cannot control the innumerable external circumstances that influence their potential success.  I made a great book, packaged it with extreme care, promoted it tirelessly, and it tanked.  It happens.  Failure is always an option.

And yet…

Failure can be very beneficial in the larger scheme of things.  Realizing that, like “Ruins of Camelot”, RobotGaldi8tor could fail spectacularly, I found myself constantly sifting through the progressing game with an eye toward anything that might become its Achilles’ Heel.  I slaved over the tiniest problems and glitches, knowing that any of them could be the fatal flaw.  And even still, the game could fail.  I might have missed something.  I probably missed something. But hopefully it won’t be a fatal something.

I really want to point out that this isn’t negativity.  It’s pragmatism.  As much as many of best friends will hate to hear this, I have tried the positive thinking approach– I truly, firmly believed that “Ruins of Camelot” (and others) would be huge, dramatic successes.  It didn’t work.  By contrast, pragmatically calculating the odds of failure and working vigilantly to reduce them at every step may also not work, but I am confident that it at least improves my statistical odds.

I think the problem might be the movies.  Movies and popular culture have created the idea that if one simply tries hard enough, is pure enough of heart, and (most importantly) feels a deep sense of cosmic destiny about their creative endeavors, then God and the Universe owe it to them to make those endeavors a wild success.  If movies represented reality, The Karate Kid most likely would have gone home with a third place ribbon, a modestly boosted sense of self respect, and maybe a cracked rib or two.

“Karate may not be your thing.  Ever consider writing fan-fiction?”

Movies play God with destiny in some wildly un-lifelike ways.  The thing is, in real life, sometimes people who try really, really hard just end up bitter and resentful with a life that didn’t hold up its end of the bargain.  In real life, even pure of heart people sometimes fail because of bad timing, or because the market wasn’t right, or because their ideas really just weren’t all that great.  In real life, everyone feels a deep sense of cosmic destiny about their creative endeavors.  If that was a sure-fire key to success, no one would ever fail.

So yeah, I suppose I am a cynic.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe there isn’t a meaning behind it all.  I do actually believe that sometimes– sometimes– destiny steps into the mix.  I happen to believe that destiny is just another word for God, and I do think that God chooses sometimes to get actively involved.  One never knows when or how, and I don’t think it is fair to assume that He always will just because we ask Him to (or, at least, to assume that He’ll get involved in the way that we want Him to), but I do believe it happens.  I’ve seen it too many times in my own life to doubt it.  I could tell you stories (maybe someday I will; they really are pretty amazing) but I think many of you have similar stories of your own and know what I am talking about.

So next Thursday, here we go again.  My Next Big Thing finally comes out.  Last time, with “Ruins of Camelot”, I thought it was going to be huge.  I was prepared for it to be a massive success. This time… well, I am not assuming it’s going to be huge, but I am not assuming it’s going to be a failure either.  I am trying not to hope too much, but trying not to lie to myself either.  I just want to be able to provide for my people.  I just want to be able to keep making stuff.  It’s what I was made for.

Here’s hoping that RobotGladi8tor succeeds– that people buy it, and like it, and give it good reviews.  Here’s hoping that all my painstaking efforts to avoid the always-possible failure pay off, that my vigilance resulted in my finding most or all of those potential fatal issues.  Here’s hoping it provides for me and my family for awhile, and paves the way for a new project, maybe another book this time.

I would say “here’s hoping that God gets involved and doesn’t just leave all of these things to random chance”, but I am confident that that, at least, has already happened.


15 responses

  1. Ai, you are bumming me out and inspiring all at once. I think about the same stuff all the time. Struggle with similar dilemmas. Question whether I am going to truly break through the sound barrier at some point. Or be stuck here for good. It’s not a bad place, really – life is not bad at all. I am in Seoul right now, at the Ritz, looking at the cityscape with sunshine and snowflakes. Haven’t slept in two days because of a creative jag working on my next thing. No kids, no husband, no employees – just me in my room with my laptop and ginseng tea. No distractions. Pure heaven.

    Except I don’t produce anything that would go huge – it’s just the stuff that would sell in rather limited professional circles. People have been bugging me to write it so I am writing it. Also got a contract from a publisher for a book today – another project that won’ t make me rich but will keep me busy. Now if my head weren’t hurting from not sleeping and I my brain wouldn’t move so sloooowly, it would be perfect.

    What I obsess about is building the company larger. It seems that every time I make some progress, things bounce back. Someone leaves, or we have unexpected expenses that wipe out our reserves, a client doesn’t pay for several months, or business slows down suddenly to a halt right as it’s been moving along swimmingly… I try to look at all the setbacks it as progress, yes – Tony Robins-esque, trying to disreguard a little voice inside my head wondering if I should just call it failure. Again. We have been growing at a steady rate (60% last year, 100% the year prior), but I feel almost like a failure because it’s not spectacular enough in my book. We are still a struggling small business and in my head I have been building an empire.

    See – I like to think I got all the ingredients to make it, but I also think I lack steely pragmatism and perspective at times to do what I know needs to be done. If I could just step away and look at my own business and just implement like a “real” business person (aka my imaginary businessman – usually a male, who doesn’t get mired in emotions while making well-calculated business decisions), I could pull it off.

    You say “It isn’t that I promoted it poorly, or neglected its packaging, or failed to submit it to as many blogs and review sites as I could. It failed because– and this is the truly important thing– no one can control every circumstance regarding their success.”

    But what happens when you know you should have done it, and you didn’t? I struggle with that. I know what I should do most of the time, but I get tired, and then tell myself one person cannot possibly do it all; and I get too exhausted or God-knows-what to reach out for help. I get creative and don’t like to just plow through the “to dos” organized around a ruthless schedule. I wonder if I could get so much more done if I would focus more and get more organized, and get better about delegating, and do a tad less “processing.”

    Anyhow, I think I am going to take some Tylenol and melatonin, and wake up when it’s the middle of the night here to take up the work where I left it off. You got me thinking, as usual.

    Good luck with your new game – seriously.

    February 10, 2012 at 6:31 am

    • Thanks for this particularly bald and strangely reassuring comment, Olessia. I can relate to your frustration very specifically. I suspect what you described is the perpetual worldview and struggle of virtually every very creative, very driven individual. I find that, metaphorically, I inhale egotism and exhale self doubt. One fuels me, the other forms a cloud around me, constantly poisoning me just a little. At least the self doubt keeps us marginally humble (if only in private).

      Success is a constantly elusive thing, as I blathered about in my previous post, methinks. The moment I think I’ve nailed it, I find that the goal line has changed, slipped once again just outside my reach. And like you, when I examine my life realistically, I see that, in the ways that matter, I have already achieved more success than I probably deserve– life is, as you say, quite good.

      But still, as the famous Browning poem says, our grasp should exceed our reach. Just not so much, I suppose, that we break our metaphorical wrist. Heh.

      February 10, 2012 at 3:32 pm

      • Geo – how did your app launch go on Thursday?
        I launched my next new thing with moderate success.
        Hope your launch is going spectacular!

        February 17, 2012 at 9:50 pm

  2. RICK

    Wishing you success for your launch on Thursday.

    February 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    • Thanks Rick! Having someone with your talent, drive and passion rooting for me is extremely heartening. Back atcha, my friend. Email me and tell me what you are up to these days whenever you get a chance.

      February 10, 2012 at 3:33 pm

  3. Lisa

    George; everything about you is amazing!

    February 10, 2012 at 1:22 pm

  4. Hester

    Hey Geo! I was wondering when you would surface…. 🙂

    I, personally, am disappointed to hear that Ruins of Camelot was a failure at the box office. This was one of those stories that we go to the movies to see. Because I go to the movies and read books to escape reality. I want to see the good guys win, the guy get the girl, right overcome might… you know. Real life is just that…real. We all need some fantasy in our life.

    Not to mention this was/is (next to Riverhouse) some of your best work. Maybe the “readership” wasn’t into a strong female fantasy character written by a burly 6ft 2 guy… Maybe Geogianna Le Claire would have caught their eye? Who knows…sigh…

    But success is all about timing and, apparently, this was not the “time” for that piece of work. Like you, I believe that if one never fails at anything, one is not stretching or trying hard enough. ( Or there is some cosmic force at work which hardly ever happens.)

    Maybe your wishes are coming true but you don’t recognize it. The Apple/JKR parallel comes to mind. Perhaps some hand is guiding you in a different direction….

    We are currently in production for Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”. Talk about dark fairytales,,, One of the musical numbers is about “wanting” or wishing…

    “Do you want what you wish?
    Are you certain what you wish is what you want?”

    All the characters say “yeah” and at the end of Act I, everyone gets what they want and lives happily ever after… until Act II. Mwa haha… and then it all pretty much falls apart.

    I am not a gamer but your newest game looks like it will appeal to those who are. The thing about gamers is that they are always looking for the next game, the next thrill, the next “Big Thing”.

    As we say in the theatre, break a leg!


    February 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    • I was particularly hoping for a response from you about this, Hester. Thanks, as always. Your advice and perspective is golden.

      You hit on one of the major questions I have always had about positive thinking, no matter what flavor it comes in: what if what we are asking for is actually not good for us? When famed mega-pastor Joel Osteen released his book, “Your Best Life Now”, I asked myself how often my kids thought they were getting their “best life now”. The answer would surely be “not all that often”. Kids tend to want a lot of things that aren’t particularly good for them. I’d be a rotten papa if I gave them everything they asked for. Of course, when it’s God that’s the parent and me the kid, when I don’t get what I want, I still throw a tantrum. But later, in retrospect, I realize that even if I don’t understand it now, there might be a very good reason why God didn’t give me my platinum plated Lamborghini.

      Everything is a journey. I do love making games. If game development gives me the financial freedom, at least for a time, to write books that bomb, at least I still get to write the books. And I do love writing books. Somehow, someway, it will all fit together. I persist in believing that despite my cynicism.

      Hope the play goes well! Have fun!

      February 10, 2012 at 3:40 pm

  5. Jake

    Hey George,

    I love your stuff and I’m looking forward to checking this out. You’ve mentioned in the past how you’ve done a lot of work and taught 3D modeling. I was wondering if you are also doing the bulk of the programming for these game or if you’re working with someone else or a shop. If you’re doing the programming yourself, how hard was it to learn and do you recommend any resources?

    – J

    February 10, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    • Greets Jake– I do create the programming for my games myself, and I use the word “create” deliberately. I don’t write it. I have no idea whatsoever how to program. Fortunately, the game engine I use, Epic’s Unreal, includes something called a “visual scripting language” (Kismet). That means that chunks of generic programming have been packaged into modules that can be cobbled together simply by dropping them into a window and connecting them. Using this, non-programmers can accomplish some pretty impressive gameplay dynamics.

      Kismet does take some practice. I learned it from a book (Mastering Unreal, Volume 1). Fortunately, Unreal’s game engine (UDK) is downloadable for free. I say grab it, get a secondhand book on it, and go to town.

      February 11, 2012 at 3:59 pm

  6. Zixi

    I’m so glad to see you back. Wish nothing but the best for your new game. I would buy it if I were able to afford a tablet or smart phone. Since I can’t, I’ll keep all my fingers crossed and say a prayer for your success.

    Meantime, thought you might be interested to know you have inspired me. For the first time in decades, I’m writing again–and enjoying it. I’ve written almost 9,000 words this week, and can hardly wait to find out what happens next. Yes, I do have an idea where I’m going with the story, but as always with my writing, I’m never sure the route I’ll take to reach my destination. Consequently, writing, when it goes well, affords me nearly as much pleasure (and surprise) as reading. Anyway, thanks for the inspiration, and welcome back.

    February 12, 2012 at 6:58 am

    • Thanks Zixi– I am delighted that my little tales encouraged you to get back to writing! Keep it up! And, er, maybe I will too… (:

      February 12, 2012 at 10:24 pm

  7. Zixi

    You’d better! 🙂

    February 13, 2012 at 7:13 pm

  8. geo, as always i have faith in what u do. an Ruins of Camelot wasn’t a failure. it was a great piece of writing. Just because everyone didn’t buy it up over night doesn’t mean it or you failed. If i’m remembering right harry potter didn’t have a following over night. just keep ur head up man and I’m looking forward to playing the game

    February 17, 2012 at 9:02 pm

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