Game development is not easy by any means. If you are working on your first game, congratulations — keep going, and remember to keep calm. As a new game developer, you probably will not even know what it feels like to be in the gutter until you are really deep in development. However, getting stressed and feeling like you want to quit is inevitable. Lack of sleep, scary realizations about production and finances, and the minimization of social life to focus on reaching the finish line can leave you a little delirious. Yet, there are many developers that came before you and there will be many that come after you. There are several tips that you can use to curve stress in your favor and get yourself out of the trenches and closer towards shipping your game.
The number one mental trick is to think of game development as an endurance test. It is simply meant to see how far you can go and how much you can do over a longer period of time. The more you can accomplish the better, but you can only accomplish more if you pace yourself. Making a game is no different. You are working on a very tight schedule that would seem impossible to achieve to some people so it is best if you one, know what you can handle and two trick your psyche into thinking about long-term goals of your game rather than become bogged down with the bells and whistles of cool features and add-ons. Your main goal as a developer is to create a game and then to ship that game. That is it. Do not overcomplicate the end goals of your game by trying to do too much.
This is where many developers go wrong. They simply try to do too much at the same time and bump up the scope by a large margin. They fall in love with the idea of having a perfect or cool game without thinking about the risk of having no game at all if the game does not get completed in time. Know when to cut your losses and when to cut back on your game. If you start feeling like a feature is making you lose sight of the end goal in mind, go back to the basics and work on the mechanics. After all, most people would prefer a game they can play well with great polish, rather than something with a bunch of half-finished features. Consider adding said feature in another iteration of your game down the line when you have more money and/or more time.
You cannot finish what you do not start. We have all had the buyer’s dilemma when we buy something we later regret because we had too many options in the first place. We think that maybe if we had gotten something different we would have a totally different experience and that we would be blown away rather than disappointed. But the grass is not always greener on the other side. This type of remorse is no different for designers. Sometimes designers can become consumed by the possibilities of a cool idea without really thinking it through. They’ll start coming up with a giant design document, only to realize that they can’t actually follow through with their vision in the first place. Remember, a simple project that you can complete is worth far more than any combination of grandiose ideas, so the most ambitious idea is often not the best.
Choose your battles wisely. Narrow down all your possible ideas to the top three or five and slowly start to iterate for each one. Naturally, the list will start to dwindle as you realize that some games will require more time, more money, or more resources than what you are willing to spend at the moment. Pick that idea that is the most practical or is the best combination of practical and cool and go with that. There is no such thing as a patent on mere “ideas.” And really, a good idea does not go a long way without a solid execution. Learning how to be comfortable getting out of the idea stage is the hallmark of a good designer.
Another great piece of advice is to prepare yourself for anything. With so much competition in the market, it is possible for your game to get very little attention over less well-crafted games. Be prepared for your game to flop and conversely for your game to really blow up because the likelihood for both to happen is sometimes up to a coin flip. After all, look at all the absurd games that have made a name and brand for themselves that are relatively simple but the storyline of the game is absurd.
Now, in the rare event that your game eventually does make it big, be cautious. Invest a small portion of those earnings into some of your passion projects. Never take all of your earnings and blow it on something that you just “know” will be a hit. Adding twenty new team members could also be an unwise choice, as this might be a big money pit. After all, you made your most recent game with only the resources you have now, why can’t you make an even better game with the same resources now that you more or less know the “secret sauce” that makes a good game. Since you do not know how long you will be popular, it is a good idea to assume that this new fame will not last long and that luck will fluctuate with your next iterations. Luck plays a very important role.
Important Takeaways: No matter how simple the game there will always be immense stress when developing a game. Even more, designing an entirely cool and innovative concept will only add to that stress as you have no reference to really to pull from. The biggest part of managing stress is knowing when to pull back and when to go full force. This will ultimately come down to day-to-day decisions that will determine which direction your game will go and what parts of your game will be a priority. Dive into game development with a solid strategy and a practical means of creating your game. Remember though to have applicable contingency plans in case things don’t go as planned (they usually won’t). It’s important to know what you are getting yourself into and why you are designing this game in the first place. Because the “why” of your is sometimes the only thing that will keep you going.