GameDev Thoughts: How To Get More Game Development Work Done In Less Time

New developers will find it easy to start on a project; after all, you just had a brilliant idea and it’s going to be built into the next best seller and will be amazingly fun to make! Most developers don’t actually manage to work on those projects until completion, however. They’ll find something else and put that project into their backlog so they can work on something new. This just leaves them with a bunch of half-finished games. Here are some tips to avoid falling into that trap by staying more productive and more motivated.

First, set some goals for yourself. If you have no ways to track your progress, you won’t realize how much work you’ve done and will lose the motivation you need to keep working. Make these goals specific — for example: “Create 3 game levels,” as opposed to just “Create game levels.” In addition, break those goals down into a bunch of subgoals. Those subgoals add to the feeling of progress, and it’ll also be easier to start working if there’s something manageable you can do. Similarly, you’ll find it much easier to work if you start by doing high impact tasks first, as that feeling of progress will be amplified. Don’t let anything distract you from completing your goals, and keep on making progress by breaking larger tasks down into smaller chunks. If those chunks still feel too big, don’t be afraid to break them down even further. Progress is paramount to success.

It should also be known that consistency is critical to your motivation. If you can turn development into a habit, you’ll find it much easier to work on your game. If development is just a side activity that you try to avoid as much as possible, obviously you won’t want to work on it much at all. Develop your habit daily and keep track of your progress so that you can see consistent progress and keep your spirits high. Maybe make some milestones that you aim to achieve in a week’s or month’s time, but try to do something that’ll inject urgency into your development routine. Even if you’re developing daily you still need to be making significant progress using that time — strive for efficiency. If you can’t keep up with your schedule here and there, that’s fine, but whatever you do don’t let yourself start missing multiple days of work in a row or that’ll undo the creation of the habit you worked so hard to create. It can take weeks to build a positive habit.

Next, you have to keep the scope of your game in check. Sure, you might’ve gotten the idea for some massive, ground-breaking game, maybe a space game in which you can do ANYTHING, including creating your own ships and colonies and whatnot. You might’ve even laid down the entire foundation for said game. The problem is that if a large AAA company with professional developers takes multiple years to build a smaller-scaled 4X game, how do you expect a tiny indie team with inexperienced developers and a limited budget to even come close to completion? I’m not saying that you should completely scale back your ambition, but you should definitely make sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew. Focus on getting prototypes out as quickly as possible so you can determine if your ideas have viability for making a fun game, and don’t expand too much on that prototype besides ironing out kinks. Find the fun first, then elaborate on that fun. Vlambeer’s quick and dirty Wasteland Kings prototype is just as fun as Nuclear Throne. Success leaves clues. Follow in their footsteps and create a small but extremely fun prototype first.

While this isn’t possible for everyone, being in a group will make the grind of daily development much less significant. Each member in the group can reinforce each other and motivate each other whenever there’s a feeling of doubt. Find some people that will keep you working, and you’ll definitely feel a surge of motivation from hearing positive feedback. These people can also help you out when you get stuck and will generally just smooth out your development cycle. I personally owe much of my success to the people around me. Conversely, avoid hanging around negative people if you can as that’ll just crush your motivation slowly and steadily.

In general, even beyond groups or people around you, avoid negative influences. View everything in a positive light and treat every small positive as if it were much bigger. Also, make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Don’t ruin yourself just because you feel the need to meet an arbitrary deadline; put yourself first. Eat well, exercise, and take breaks if you really need them. Find ways to put any harmful distractions behind you and figure out how you can make development into something much less stressful.

Important Takeaways: Newer developers often lack the motivation to follow a project to completion, so here are some tips for maintaining it. First, set goals for yourself so that you can see continuous progress and feel that your work has actual meaning. Next, keep a consistent schedule or you’ll find yourself slacking more often than you should be. Then, ensure that you’re keeping your game’s scope in chec. Taking on too big a task is just asking for failure to hit you when you least expect it. Next, groups will help you in every aspect. As long as they’re positive about your work, they’ll both provide motivation and may even help you with your development. Don’t forget to get feedback from others outside of your immediate circle of friends and colleagues though — those people can be the most honest with the constructive criticism. Finally, as a whole, just avoid negative influences. Anything that can take your attention away from the work you’re doing. If you leave yourself with only positive influences, your work will be nothing but positive in your eyes and you’ll never lose that motivation.

GameDev Thoughts: How To Find Out If You’re Trapped In An Endless Game Development Cycle Of Doom

Developers should be developing games, this much is obvious. Problems arise, however, when that development never actually turns into something tangible and released to the public. Lots of newer developers get stuck trying to develop their games when they keep adding on and adding on, or keep fine tuning until they’re “perfect.” This is a good way to ruin your career, however, as building a portfolio of shipped games is absolutely crucial to your success and momentum in the game development industry. Here are some signs that you might be trapped in this endless development cycle.

First, if you’re developing things that are cool for you, the developer and not the players, you’re going to end up in the cycle. All of those shiny features you’re adding don’t matter if players don’t see them or care about them. Because of this, you should be thinking about what the player will think of each feature or mechanic, and focus on improving the player’s experience before building things for your own sake.

Next, you need to be showing people your game. It’s understandable that it’s scary for others to judge your work, but if you’re not letting that happen you’ll never know if your game is good enough or not. You might be adding unnecessary features or modifying systems that were already perfect if you keep going without playtesting. Maybe your developer bias is hiding problems that any other person would immediately point out, or maybe it’s skewing your thoughts on how knowledgeable your players will be when they first start playing. The point is if you don’t show people your game you’ll eventually end up doing unnecessary work that’s stopping you from finishing development. Get feedback, early and often.

On a similar note, if you don’t have any unused, quality ideas, you’re definitely over-developing. Not every idea should be stuffed into every game; even if they’re wonderful on their own, having too many conflicting systems will just make a game complicated and water down the experience. It’s fine, and even encouraged to have a lot of these great ideas, but don’t try to fit them into your games if they aren’t absolutely perfect. Sometimes, even a perfectly fitting idea should stay out for the sake of keeping complexity down. After all, players play for the experience, not for the number of widgets in your game.

Quite the opposite of overly-stuffing a game, if you are constantly shifting focus you’ll never get anything done. If you find a new idea for a game that you absolutely fall in love with while you’re developing another game, remember you have to stay dedicated and finish what you’re working on first. Save that idea for later, but don’t try to switch your development focus to it. If you do this once, this may turn into more than once. Soon enough, you’ll likely do it again and again — this may mean that you’ll never finish a game.

Lastly, if you are developing your games just for the sake of developing, you should probably shift into gear. Oftentimes indie developers have no pressures to release their games; there’s no publisher, no deadlines, no audience, etc. Because of this, developers will often just freely work on their games and they never really get anywhere. You need to develop from the ground up with the idea that you’re going to ship that game at some predetermined point in time. Even if you end up moving that date, setting this goal is a must. This doesn’t mean that you should sacrifice quality, but you can’t keep developing without releasing and getting feedback from real players.

Important Takeaways: Developers can sometimes fall into the trap of endlessly working on games without ever actually finishing them, so here are some signs that that could be happening to you. First, you need to think of the player’s perspective in development or you’ll just keep adding things that sound and look cool to you but never get the game to a point where it’s enjoyable to players. Next, if you aren’t showing people your game, you’ll never get the feedback you need to feel confident that it is “complete” and you’ll just keep doing unnecessary work. Similarly, if you are using every single idea you come up with, even if they’re all good ideas, you’ll deal with feature creep and never actually finish the game. On the contrary, if you are constantly shifting to different projects that are currently catching your fancy, you’ll only have a bunch of half-finished games to your name. Stay dedicated to one project and ship it before you move on to your next projects. Don’t get stuck.