From war child to ‘hobby’ game developer and pharmacist

Mar 5, 2020
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Hi there, my name is Nafei and let me tell you my story as a ‘hobby’ game developer and how I ended up creating a farming clicker game called Farmtale - https://store.steampowered.com/app/1231520/Farmtale/

It might inspire you; it might scare you; it might even make you laugh. In any event, I want to get my story out there. I know how much boiling hard work is involved to develop a game from start to finish, followed by a release, especially if it’s your first release and you’re getting less sleep than usual. Although I am not earning a single cent from game development, it is no less demanding than the most hardcore full-time job out there.

The struggle is real. Every day, you are drowned in self-doubt and hesitation. Every day, you repeatedly question yourself. Did I really make the right choice? Are all my efforts going to be worth it? What is the actual point of putting all my time into something like this? Every day, you are constantly on the edge of giving up once and for all. Even if it’s the best game you’ve ever created, six months into development you will wake up and hate your game. You will feel tired and wish that someone would take over and finish it for you. However, at the same time, you want to keep developing it, playing it and getting it done. On some days you feel like your masterpiece would absolutely smash World of Warcraft and RuneScape to smithereens. On other days you feel like your piece of crap would only sell 10 copies, 9 of which are to your family members.

Running away from destruction

I started life in a pretty rough place. I was born in the capital of Iraq where the war took place. Everyday I would wake up looking at smoke from missiles around the city. Not knowing if I would be alive the next day.

Luckily my parents, brother and I fled to Denmark before anything bad happened to us. The only thing we took with us was $200 which we needed to live for at the very beginning. It was rough. Mostly for my parents because I was still 8 years old and didn’t understand it as much. We had to do everything we could to survive. Together with my whole family, I became a paperboy delivering newspapers when I got back from school. I did that for a couple of years and I would give every cent to my parents. They always took care of me, and I wanted to take care of them too.

My dad bought one of those old computers that my brother and I could share. From that day on, I got addicted to video games. What a great invention to escape into, when you’re struggling with life. In the toughest nights of my life, a young and clueless me lied on a bed thinking about my character in RuneScape or how I should complete the next level in Mario.

Pharmacist working 80 hours a week

Since I liked chemistry and biology, I became a pharmacist to secure a future for myself. I needed a job to support myself and my family. I have always wanted to design and develop my own game, but I never had the resources or opportunities to properly learn the relevant professional skills. I could only teach myself during the very limited spare time I had.

I started learning game development through YouTube videos and google searches. It all started 5 years ago where I got into 3D modelling and texturing. I’ve been trying to make a game for 5 years now, but I didn’t have the luck back then because I was a student. And of course, not many serious programmers would help me code my game without getting paid. And as a student, I only had $180 the whole month for myself so I couldn’t afford anything.

Currently, I am working full-time as a pharmacist in a hospital in Denmark. When I started working 2 years ago, I said to myself: “Hey this is great! I can start making my own game and fulfilling my dream!”. So, did I start working on my own game? Yes. Did life become easier? Unfortunately, no. I work as a pharmacist to gain money so that I can pay people in my game development team when I get home. So I’m spending almost nothing on myself but instead putting it all in on game development not knowing if I would ever get my thousands of dollars back. It would feel like I worked 2 years as a pharmacist for free if I failed my game. This affects me emotionally and I’m constantly carrying that fear with me on my shoulders.

I work from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm at the hospital, I get home to eat and then start on game development right away. Technically I’m working 2 jobs full time with a total of 75 - 80 hours a week. That’s what it feels like even though game development is a ‘hobby’ and doesn’t earn me a single cent right now. The struggle is very real, and I can feel the toll my dream has on me every day. I get very tired when I get home from work. And then I have to develop my game for 4-5 hours. I’m also married so I have to give time to my wife too. And I get very little sleep which is very unhealthy. Sometimes it’s 4-5 hours of sleep each night the whole week.

The motivation that kept me going

Why am I still doing this insanity? That’s a really good question which I can attempt to answer. I would say my motivation came from two things, one of them stronger than the other. My first and “weakest” motivation is that I want to work full time as a Director and Game Designer for my own game company Titanforged Entertainment. However, my second motivation is what really got me going through my worst days and pulls me back on track every time I consider giving up. Let me tell you about my second motivation.
My parents have always been supportive and helpful, even though they think game development is a silly thing. At a certain time during my game development process, problems arose within my family. Problems that went on for years. We did our best to deal with everything, but my parents ended up with huge debts. My parents are always so helpful, and they would drive 5 hours just to pick me up. I want to think that the problems are over, but I know that what happened, added up with the debt, is still a heavy weight on my parents. One day my mom entered my room with a slight smile. I could already see the sadness in her eyes. Without saying a single word, she sat on a chair next to me, laid her head on my table and began to shed tears. I was heartbroken and felt helpless. I couldn’t help her with her debt. The only thing I could do is hug her.
From that day I promised myself that I will keep developing my game, release it and pay off my parent’s debt. Every time I get tired through the game development process, I think of the day my mom cried next to me. I want to help my parents and I will not quit on my Game Designer dream.

Back to real life

So, I am still sitting here, still working on my game Farmtale. It is almost done. At the end of the day, you can only tell yourself that the toughest days would be worth it when the game is released. I am getting closer and closer to the release date. The Steam page is ready and everything is slowly coming together. Is life easier now? I am still trying to tell myself that. Did I finally make it? Is it going to sell? How loud will I cry when it flops? I really don’t know. Right now, it is 4:28 am in the morning and I finally finished venting my feelings. I have to get ready for work soon. I am tired, really tired, but at the same time I am very hopeful.
Let me ask you a question before I leave. What is it that keeps you motivated? Whatever it is, hold to it and stay strong. Your game is as good as mine if not better. As long as you put your heart and soul into your project, it will all pay off in the end.
 

MaddMann

A nerd that found his place
Community Contributor
Jan 17, 2020
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Thank you so much for sharing! Hearing tales like this always leave me inspired. While I have never been a game developer, I have always had a passion for photography. I actually tried making a living of it once, and learned just how hard it can be to turn a dream into a revenue stream. My motivation was always that feeling I get when I see a photo that I took on somebody's wall. I am so very happy to hear how much your parents supported you and I think that is something that is always extremely important.

So keep being awesome, we need more people that think about more than just themselves. Working for profit is great, but it always seems to me that if you work solely for a paycheck and not because you see a goal, you burn out real fast and loose sight of your dreams.
 

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