The holidays are an interesting time for the video game industry. For consumers, it’s all about snagging great deals, giving gifts, and spending a fair bit of time cozying up on a couch in their comfiest jumper marathoning their latest games. But for developers, holidays can be a different story. To understand what it’s like on the other side of Santa’s workshop, we at YoYo Games, the creators of GameMaker Studio, decided to ask a handful of developers how they spend their holiday.
For Death’s Gambit developer Jean Canellas, this snoozy, snowy time is the perfect opportunity for them to hunker down and focus on their long-term goal - which in this case is getting Death’s Gambit’s DLC to its beta stage by the end of January. “I've already taken many breaks this year so I plan on making a lot of progress polishing the remaining levels and boss fights,” Canellas said. “I'll also be going pretty hard on our social media presence. This new DLC is huge so I kind of consider it like releasing a whole new game.”
“All this said I will also take some time off to see family and friends,” he added. “I'm certainly looking forward to seeing my extended family over the holidays."
Cook, Serve, Delicious! developer David Galindo similarly found themselves in a position of mild crunch during this holiday season, as their impending sequel, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?!, is slated for an Early Access release in January.
“[There’s] no time to relax as I have about two months left of work before I gotta release a game!” Galindo said of this December. “Despite that I'm not too concerned. We're in a comfortable place right now with our workflow and I'm very confident I'll get all of my goals done on time. Honestly I don't mind working through the holidays, I find those stressful anyways so why not add even more stress on top of that?”
For Galindo though, this consistent workload isn’t a bad thing. “The worst part about my job is when there's a lack of work honestly, as I can feel kind of lost,” he said of his self-employed lifestyle. “But I'm taking more care of myself, with more trips and allowing myself to just relax from time to time.”
When asked about what he was most looking forward to during this holiday, he said “Honestly, getting all this work done so I can take it easy for a few months before getting back to it again.”
But when that break comes? “I'm currently working my way through Death Stranding, which I find to be terrific,” he said. “I'm looking forward to ploughing through my gaming backlog once CSD 3 is complete.”
Galindo doesn’t seem to be stressing this too much, as 2019 was a landmark year for them, as they got to fly to New York to show off Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3 to one of their favorite game groups, Giant Bomb. “It was a dream come true in all kinds of ways and was an experience I'll never forget!”
Colt Canyon developer Jonathan Mannshoven is also planning to spend the break primarily working. “I am working on a game right now and I will keep working on it over the holidays because I am planning on releasing it early next year,” he said.
This doesn’t seem to bother him much, as Mannshoven genuinely enjoys the act of creating enough that the return to the regular hustle and bustle of January is a welcome one. “I love my work,” he said. “I will not spend more than a few days not working on my game. But of course I also have to take a break from time to time.”
When asked about any games he was hoping to play over the holiday, he said “I got over 200 games on my wishlist, dozens of them made with GameMaker. Unfortunately, I neither have the time nor money to play them all.”
Flynn: Son of Crimson developer Case Portman said that they generally work about 40 hours a week on Flynn, but they have another passion project in the pipeline that they’re hoping to make some headway with this Christmas. “My main side-project is a post-jam version of Gum Girl which I plan to have a demo ready for this Christmas,” he said. “Hopefully I'll stick to that plan!”
“In the last four years or so I've developed a bit of a tradition in which I usually take a couple of weeks off around Christmas/New Year and start on a new project utilizing bits and bobs of what I've learned over the year,” Portman explained. “I tend to team up with a buddy of mine to go over silly game mechanics, artwork and music. Even though these projects barely see the light of day, it's super fun and good practice. Taking things 100 per cent non-seriously and just fooling around in GameMaker is my way of kicking back when I'm not spending time with family/friends.”
Ultimately Portman finds this break a refreshing change of pace that helps him recharge by the time January rolls around and it’s time to focus once again on his main project. “Since I spend around 8 hours a day on Flynn: Son of Crimson burn-out can quite easily creep in and pull me into its dark depths of gloom,” he explained. “Since I take time off to completely free my mind of it during the holidays, I tend to get the opposite feeling of burnout. By the time January rolls in I can't wait any longer to get my design head on for our red haired laddo!”
Looking back at the year, Portman noted two major highlights that came to mind. The first was getting Flynn: Son of Crimson published by Humble Bundle. “It was an incredible feeling knowing that a wonderful and kind company that I know well and have been subscribed to for over three years wanted to take us under their wing,” he said of this partnership. And the second? “A huge stepping stone in my life was buying our first house back in May, which was made possible by the last half decade working full time as a game designer.”
As for The Walking Vegetables developer Santeri "REllU" Relander, he teased that he’s currently working on a game called Morbid. “[There’s] not too much about it that I can reveal at this point, but you can imagine what it’d be like if Dark Souls was a top-down 2D game, with guns and sanity,” he teased.
“For the sake of my sanity, I’ll try to kick-back from all this for Christmas,” he said. “Of course, being a small business owner, and an indie dev that’s quite hard sometimes, but I’ll try to.”
As for what he plays during this break, he said, “This might sound weird, but ever since I started coding, I’ve really not had the time (nor patience) to play games. But if I do, I’d say something like Doom would work for me! As long as it’s somewhat brainless, hah!”
Indie developer Alastair McQueen is currently working on the Early Access version of Overcrowd, as isometric management/tycoon/simulator about running metro stations. When asked about his holiday workload, he said “I try and create regular updates and give them a theme. On the first day of December I put a little update out that lets players build Christmas Trees in their metro stations. I think players like themed updates like that. It’s fun. Maybe I'll try and do more in the future.”
That said, he noted that he usually tries to take a few days off on either side of Christmas. “In the break I will see family and eat lots of food. I do play games in my spare time, but when away I won't be playing much. It's good to have a complete change of scenery,” he said. “Working at home on Overcrowd, I basically didn't leave my flat for three years. Literally weeks would go by. Since the launch I've managed to get outside a little more. It's quite nice out there sometimes.”
As for his holiday game, he said “I might try Red Dead Redemption 2 now that it's released on PC. I'm making a management game, but in my downtime I tend to play different genres.”
Looking back at the year, McQueen said, “I have to say the highlight was the release of Overcrowd in June. Despite the insane levels of stress in the run up to that, the feeling of finally shipping the game and also to see that some people liked it was awesome.”
Forager developer HopFrog is also in the midst of a major project, with Forager’s impending update in development - and it’s a major one too as it adds a lot of new content as well as full support for Steam Workshop mods. Aiming for a release later this winter, HopFrog said “I can't wait to go back to Forager and create even more content and updates for it!”
That said, he’s planning to kick back a bit too around the holidays and enjoy some family time. “When I am not working though, I have been really enjoying warm cups of coffee while playing new board games with family and friends,” he added. “Hopefully I will get to do more of that during the holidays!”
HopFrog is looking forward to winding down soon though, as 2019 was an exhausting, albeit landmark year for the developer. “2019 was a huge year for me! I released my first ever project, got married, and also moved to a new country!” he said. “Honestly, I wouldn't complain if 2020 is a little... slower paced!”
Overall it sounds like most of the indie dev community isn’t taking too much time off from their labours of love this month, but the more heartwarming discovery is how little they seem to mind. There’s something inherently rewarding about making something, and it’s refreshing to hear that these developers are so passionate about what they’re doing that the holidays have become something of a retreat that actually increases productivity. What a festive time for the whole community!