Even After Success, Super Meat Boy Developer Felt Like ‘A Titanic Failure’

Even After Success, Super Meat Boy Developer Felt Like ‘A Titanic Failure’

It’s easy as an outside observer to look at the success of Team Meat’s Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac and think the guys behind it have a handle on their abilities and experience. But that wasn’t the case for programmer Tommy Refenes, who recently spoke about “Impostor syndrome” and the effect it had on his way of thinking.

At this year’s GDC, Refenes gave a talk on “Impostor syndrome”, a condition apparently common among “high-achieving individuals”.

According to Wikipedia, those affected by the syndrome are unable to “internalise their accomplishments and [have] a persistent fear of being exposed as [a] ‘fraud’“.

In his GDC talk, Refenes gives the example of being asked to talk at a convention back in 2015, along with the likes of Jonathan Blow (designer of Braid and The Witness) and Ron Gilbert (Secret of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, among many others). Refenes found the idea ridiculous:

I felt really strange about it. I felt like maybe [they] needed another person, or felt sorry for me and I was thinking “Why the f**k would you want me up there? You have all these titans and some dips**t that made a game 5 years ago that’s been working non stop ever since but has yet to put out anything and the things he’s been working probably won’t see the light of day… I’m not a titan… I’m a titanic failure.”

Refenes goes on to say that he had to tell himself to “knock it off” and to take the request at its word. Towards the end of his talk, Refenes provides some sound logic in dealing with the “impostor” feeling:

It takes a lot of guts to wake up every day and jump into the unknown. It takes a lot of confidence to rely on your own abilities and put yourself, and your work, out into the world … If you’re a person who’s put even the tiniest little bit of yourself or your work out there… guess what? You’re not an impostor, you’re not pretending, and that tiny little voice in your head that says you are a Titan, start listening to it, because it’s right. You are a Titan.

Pretty good advice from someone who has lived through the indie resurgence and knows a thing or two about the emotions involved.

Impostor Syndrome [Tommy Refenes]


  • I think Super Meat Boy would have been more successful if Twitch streaming was available when it was launched.

    • Super Meat boy was insanely, mind blowingly successful.

      It has twice as many people as Undertale on Steamspy, and it had an Xbox live arcade release back in the golden age of Xbox live arcade with its insane install base

  • I thought we were supposed to slam Indie devs who show emotion as unprofessional?

    Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit but damn is it fun.

  • Polygon did a great article on the impostor syndrome, especially when it comes to game developers (not just indie). If you found the topic interesting in this article, the polygon article would be a nice read 🙂

  • I enjoyed this games more than most titles in the last 2 years (I found it late). A real breath of fresh air.

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