The path to victory starts from your cubicle

As it turns out, you didn’t manage to make a dump truck of money on your 1st/2nd/nth Indie game. Turns out rent and bills are a thing you have to deal with. Turns out you might have to spend some time at a real job. And that’s great.

Releasing an indie game will be the hardest job you’ve ever loved. It will test you in every aspect – mentally, emotionally and physically. The competition will be fierce and unrelenting. But your day job has given you a hidden advantage – extra time to practice and train. Here are 10 exercises that you can do, right now, in your cube/workspace/subway to prepare you when the time comes. And as a bonus, they will probably make you better at your day job as well:

10. Look at some art – find what kind of art inspires you and what kind of art you would like to create or emulate. Find more work like it. Find artists that have a similar style. Learn how that art is created. Even if you’re not an artist yourself, it’s important to appreciate and understand the process.

9. Practice being healthy. When you’re stressed it’s easy to eat terrible things, skip exercise and become a chronic insomniac. But nobody can do their best work when they’re sick (or really, any good work). Practice now so you’re prepared when stress hits.

8. Practice organization & efficiency  – whatever you do, study how to become better at it. Learn to recognize where you’re being efficient and inefficient. Leverage tools that make your job easier. Seek out new techniques to make your job faster and easier. Once this becomes second nature, you’ll be able to apply it everywhere.

7. Find good people to help you – doesn’t necessarily mean finding your coder/artist/soundfx team. Seek out people that do interesting things. Find people smarter than you. Find mentors. If you’re a risk taker, find a risk averse friend; if you’re risk averse, find a gambler. Find people who will support you; find people who can give constructive criticism. You will need all of them.

7a. Learn how to help others. Find out how you can provide value to them. Learn how to give without expecting anything in return. I hate the term ‘networking’ because networking is shallow. If you practice building deep relationships by being the source of value, you will never find yourself without help when needed.

6. Practice generating ideas (borrowed from @jaltucher). James calls this ‘exercising the idea muscle‘. Whenever you’re bored at work, think about something your game/company will need. A shooter needs weapons, a RPG needs enemies, marketing needs promotions, etc. Then try write down 10 ideas for that something. If you’re still bored, pick an idea you made and write down 10 variations of that. For example, I could try write 10 things about how you help others. Work out your idea muscle every day.

5. Practice learning. A lot of people don’t practice learning new things once they leave school. It’s hard. It scares us. But you will have to learn a hundred new things before you release your game, so make yourself good at learning now.

4. Locate your center. Understand what motivates you. Understand what things can take that motivation away. Figure out your ‘WHY’ because it is the soul of your company. Write it down. Ask your friends what they think. Figure out what your culture should be, because culture eats strategy for lunch. Building a strong sense of ‘WHY’ now you will allow you to make the right decisions later.

3. Practice writing. Practice writing blogs, practice writing tweets, practice writing instruction copy. Practice being funny and being serious. Practice being quotable. Practice being the voice of your culture and mission. Practice writing things that scare you. Try to write and publish something every day.

2. Practice falling. It’s the first thing you’re taught when you learn how to surf. Make mistakes without hurting yourself; learn from your mistakes. Release something bad and ignore the trolls. Take a mistake, write about it, and share the knowledge with the world. You will make mistakes building your game; learn to fall so you can get up.

1. Learn how to be a leader. Not a manager, but someone people look to for leadership.You can be the lowest on the totem pole and still be a leader. Learn how to eat last and take blame first. Learn how to take responsibility. Learn how to be a do-er. Learn how to trust your people. Everyone at a startup becomes a leader, whether it says so in your title or not.

Finally, remember what Sun Tzu taught -“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” The path to victory starts from your cubicle.