Making lots of money made this indie developer feel guilty

Ridiculous Fishing developer Rami Ismail says he felt guilty about watching his mom drive to work while he made thousands on a game about shooting fish with a machine gun.

In a new feature at The New Yorker, Ridiculous Fishing and Super Meat Boy designers open up on what can happen after your game strikes gold and you become rich overnight.

Ridiculous Fishing developer Rami Ismail and his business partner Jan Willem released their game in March 2013, and by the time Ismail woke up the next morning, he had made tens of thousands of dollars from the game. His first feeling was not happiness, but rather guilt.

Ridiculous Fishing

"Ever since I was a kid I've watched my mom wake up at six in the morning, work all day, come home, make my brother and me dinner--maybe shout at me for too much 'computering,'" he said. "My first thought that day was that while I was asleep I'd made more money than she had all year. And I'd done it with a mobile-phone game about shooting fish with a machine gun."

Ridiculous Fishing netted more than a hundred thousand dollars during its first month on iTunes and passed 1 million in sales within six months of its initial release. Ismail and Willem began making games together working in a makeshift office space and living on a diet of Ramen noodles. The hard work to release Ridiculous Fishing is not lost on Ismail, but he struggled shaking the feelings of guilt related to the game's success.

"Somewhere in the back of your head you know that you worked hard, that you sacrificed your stability, and you took on the risk of financial ruin for a long while," Ismail told me. "You did things that other people were not willing or capable of. And that paid off. But, even so, it feels awful. I couldn't get rid of the image of my mother in her car, driving to work."

Super Meat Boy co-creator Edmund McMillen is also featured in the New Yorker piece. He warned that his rise to financial prosperity is something people might see and latch onto without understanding the full picture.

"I don't like the feeling that I've perpetuated a myth that people can get rich making games," McMillen said. “The money has made relationships complicated,” he added, noting that distant family members and old acquaintances have reached out to him for financial assistance.

"I'm just a guy who makes games. I'm an artist who likes to be alone. This success has artificially elevated me; it’s caused jealousy, even hatred. If my games hadn't sold, I would be in my crappy one-bedroom apartment making more games."

"Maybe I'd be even happier than I am today."

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @EddieMakuch
Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

Written By

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and would like to see the Whalers return to Hartford.

Discussion

85 comments
macca366
macca366

It would be one of the happiest moments of my life if that happened to me - it would mean I have the funds to continue making games and doing what I love; what the game's earned isn't just personal salary, its funds to put back into the business and continue developing. As far as guilt goes, my parents would just be very proud of me. If I made over a million dollars, no doubt I would openly offer a certain amount to a few immediate family members. I get the mindset behind this, and I've never made 10's of thousands over night before, but why feel guilty? Surely if he thinks of his mother doing the 9 - 5 to scrape by, he could easily give her some of the excess he's made. You can definitely be humble, grateful and grounded, without needing to feel guilty.


However, I can imagine it would feel strange suddenly becoming rich without seemingly doing anything - the money piling into your bank account separate from all the hard work you put into developing the game ages ago. That discrepancy might feel wrong. I'll admit it does feel right working 9 - 5, and getting that reward every fortnight, you really feel you've earnt it.

Dilandau88
Dilandau88

So you became a developer to live in poverty and squalor your entire life? Da fck?

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

Don't be as weak-willed as Dong Nguyen, please.

sadscooterpipe
sadscooterpipe

There is no shame in being humble.  Allowing it to become guilt, however, is something I hope you are able to work through.  People who have money are able to do tremendous good if their heart remains in the right place and you seem grounded in a reality that is lost on most.  Hug your mom, it sounds like from your own words she did a very good job....which is far more than many can say.  That is a true gift.  Congrats on the success you earned, and pay it forward.

SphinxDemon
SphinxDemon

And that's why I'm pursing developing a game as a side job while I go to school... wish me luck! XD

Halloll
Halloll

flappy bird the movie.

ArchoNils2
ArchoNils2

Then give the money to those that need it? Or help new studios on Kickstarter? Really crying about having to much money is prett stupid

codeman101360
codeman101360

If you feel so "guilty" then why not just give the money away? Maybe because you're full of shit?

zerohournow
zerohournow

boo hoo for them...do an article on the unsuccessful game makers and then Ill feel sorry for someone....

brxricano
brxricano

I would've made myself feel better by giving mom some money?? Just one of them crazy ideas.

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

That's certainly honest. Fair play to the both of them. I can see where they're coming from. It shows a level of self-awareness I admire.

I wouldn;t bloody go looking for a handout from anyone I knew with money.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Why be guilty about success?  I don't understand.  You work in programming, a high skill highly paid industry.  You're probably going to be making more than your mom.

SnakeEyesX80
SnakeEyesX80

"I'm just a guy who makes games. I'm an artist who likes to be alone. This success has artificially elevated me; it’s caused jealousy, even hatred."

Then don't associate your name with a game, use a "pen name" like writers do.

wgerardi
wgerardi

I received a large chunk of money when I was 24 (won that Doritos crash the super bowl contest thing in 2010)... I can honestly say it's probably the most depressed I've ever been in my life. I grew up lower/middle class always thinking money was going to instantly make me happy- it doesn't do shit. Just fucks up friendships and makes life extremely complicated. The world is so fucking weird.

OllieBrown
OllieBrown

A cautionary tale that has been told a million times before: money != happiness.

It is especially true for anyone working in a creative medium.  If your art makes it big, sells for oodles of cash, what then?  Was that why you made it?  To get rich?  That's certainly not the case for these developers and for MANY developers in the indie game scene.

Take GAME_JAM.  The developers involved would have certainly made more money if they had not revolted and walked off the set on day one.  They did not care, they weren't there to make money.

We'd do well to remind ourselves of all of this as we consume these games.  The effect this has on the people that put it out there has little to do with their bank accounts: Alexander Bruce was beset by depression making Antichamber, Phil Fish has endured hatred and bullying over Fez as did Zoe Quin for Depression Quest, Davey Wreden chronicled his anxiety over releasing The Stanley Parable to the world and being nominated for GOTY.  All of these developers have made money.  I'd wager none of them would say it was a perfect, happy experience.

We all wish it were as simple as get rich, die happy.  The reality is mo' money, mo' problems.

grenadehh
grenadehh

At least the kids humble. But if it truly bothered him, he'd have paid off his mother's debts so that she didn't have to work.

graceemjohnsin
graceemjohnsin

.It's hard work and when you dedicate 3-4 years of your life to a game (and people enjoy it and are having a great time with your game) then I think you deserve all the money you can get. I know I would use the money to take care of my parents, before I'd worry about my own problems, because family is all that matters. When you do that, there's no reason to feel guilty.   http://qr.net/stx3

xboxdone74
xboxdone74

Then quit making games...commie.

sofaking2323
sofaking2323

i have so much money!!!! My life sucks!!! oh please

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

So what is his mum going to do instead? Fly?

I'd still work even if I had tonnes of cash. Sure when I did have time off I'd definitely go to my second home in some exotic place for a break but the rest of the time I would be bored out of my skull.

b74kd3th
b74kd3th

I wish I had their ability because I would take the Cash and spend it without a second thought

blackothh
blackothh

to the first guy, get a nice retirement fund going for your mom


to the second guy, If money made your relationships complicated then all those "complicated" people need to be removed from your life because they were not really friends to begin with, and find better people to be around.

DeusGladiorum
DeusGladiorum

My God, I really wonder how I manage to be surprised and infuriated every single time by the reoccurring levels of absolute arrogance that GameSpot comments consist of.

helbertpina
helbertpina

Maybe Peter Moly-fucking-neux should have a chat with indies like them. True love for gaming.

PixelAddict
PixelAddict

Success makes hipsters uneasy about their 'feels'

Awesome.

warriors30
warriors30

Interesting article. I'm making a game myself and I think game developers shouldn't feel guilty for a game that took years to make, blood, sweat and tears and all that stuff...It's hard work and when you dedicate 3-4 years of your life to a game (and people enjoy it and are having a great time with your game) then I think you deserve all the money you can get. I know I would use the money to take care of my parents, before I'd worry about my own problems, because family is all that matters. When you do that, there's no reason to feel guilty. 


ramiismail
ramiismail

@sadscooterpipe  Thanks so much! It was an interesting thing to struggle with, and this interview is actually quite a bit older than it seems. We're using the money to try and help other game developer communities around the world, making new games and sponsoring small events with speakers and the like.

ramiismail
ramiismail

@codeman101360  Because that wouldn't actually remove the guilt. The guilt was for realising money was coming in at that rate, and giving it away would only drive home how ridiculous this situation actually was.


We've found a good way to deal with this by now, and we're using the money to try and help other game developer communities around the world, making new games and sponsoring small events with speakers and the like.

psx_warrior
psx_warrior

@codeman101360  We shouldn't jump on people for being successful through their hard work and hours spent making an idea come to life.  At least they are creating something.  What are the bankers doing?  They are fleecing people like you and me out of our hard earned money just so they can stay rich.  They are the ones that are full of the brown stuff. 

limbo12
limbo12

@Thanatos2k  I'd say his is a healthy reaction; you on the other hand, not so much.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@wgerardi  

I personally would not write such things on a publicly viewable webpage if I were you.

ramiismail
ramiismail

@grenadehh  My mom would never allow me to give her anything like that. The only gift she has ever accepted from Vlambeer money is an iPad, so she could play Ridiculous Fishing.

warriors30
warriors30

@graceemjohnsin  I don't understand the connection between my comment and Titanfall? O_o


EDIT: 1000 people working on a game for 4 years, or 3 people working on a game for 4 years makes a huge difference...I was talking about indie devs.

nl_skipper
nl_skipper

@Dannystaples14   They're called hobbies... if you really can't think of anything to do that's more fun than work... you need some.

ramiismail
ramiismail

@blackothh  She wouldn't accept that, but we got one going for ourselves now. Looking at the money from a 'time' perspective really helped us out. 

hotwog21
hotwog21

noodles, so cliche, cant wait for the next one about "outsourcing the app for couple hundred to india" wake up in the morning millions. eff off!!

AceJakk
AceJakk

They're not hipsters.

ramiismail
ramiismail

@warriors30  I'm afraid my parents allow no such thing. They worked hard to allow me to do this, and they'd feel terrible accepting any of what I earn in return for that. I agree though, and I spend time every weekend that I'm in the country to visit my parents. They're lovely people.

sadscooterpipe
sadscooterpipe

@ramiismail  How about that, I never expected a reply....I just find myself being somewhat disappointed in the forums anymore when I try to keep up on my hobby.  I grew up a gamer and have been a school teacher for a little while now.  This commonality makes for some wonderful opportunities to make connections and build relationships with kids that otherwise don't exist.  


Many of the kids that I work with are diagnosed as being emotionally disturbed and family, or thinking of others is about the last thing that they have going for them.  It is a hard road, and the successes are few, but they are always meaningful.  In a world of get-mine, and instant judgement and gratification it is nice to see a story that reminds you that hardworking and decent people exist and appreciate their accomplishments and the help they received from others.  So happy that you are helping the community and I wish you all the continued success in the world.  I've never been a mobile or pc gamer, but I will be rooting for you guys.  Thanks for writing!

OllieBrown
OllieBrown

@zerohournow @OllieBrown  Good for you!  I'd say just because money doesn't buy happiness doesn't make the two mutually exclusive.  They just aren't correlated.

I think their might even be an inverse relationship for creative personalities.  There's plenty of rich, self-destructive celebrities out there to point to that are not grinning ear to ear just cause they are rich, tortured authors and musicians that take their own lives at the height of their fame.

blackothh
blackothh

@ramiismail @blackothhIf she would not accept free money then there is absolutely no reason to feel guilty for making a truck load more then her. I think its reasonable to assume that she would accept it.

PixelAddict
PixelAddict

@AceJakk  Some are. Some aren't.

Whether he is or isn't, I'm hoping the big piles of money help comfort his feelings of panic over having success.

Let's all pray for him.

hystavito
hystavito

@Thanatos2k @limbo12  Maybe he didn't work as hard as he says, and that's the source of his guilt?


A lot of people do "get lucky" so to speak, and in the mobile games market it probably happens often :).