Grow a Snowball into a Glacier

How many games have you started? And how many have you finished? Why does there always seem to be such a huge discrepancy between those two numbers?

It’s easy to start a game, but most hobby projects between friends never get finished. If you were like us in the past, your projects get to about 60% completed and then development gets stale. All of the ‘fun’ problems have been solved, the core loop is done, and all that’s left is the boring stuff. You’ve burned out and lost the passion you had when your game was a bottomless sea of magical ideas in your mind. Even with strong project management and a solid personal work ethic, your project will still hit snags that can cause it to end prematurely.

But there are ways to manage and avoid the development doldrums. Project slowdowns can be prevented before they happen and recovered from once they’ve already begun. Below are a few of the ways we’ve found success in taking projects all the way. Remember, this is all a part of our agile game design philosophy.

Start Small

We’ve talked about this before because it is by far the single most important thing you can do. The number one way to kill a project before it’s even hit the prototype phase is to design something unrealistic for your team and budget. Whether it’s an overly rigid design, having too many cooks in the kitchen, or simply dreaming too big; being too ambitious on your projects will set you up for failure. You need to learn your team, your tools, and yourself before you can take on a giant long term project.

Set a Healthy Pace

Making games is fun. That’s why everyone wants to do it. But it’s easy to lose yourself in the initial romance and develop some bad work habits. If you have a full time job or school schedule, then you are already crunched for hours. Adding hobby game development on top can make your spare time even more limited. But forcing yourself to work late nights, giving up sleep, exercise and social time is a huge mistake in the long run. It might seem easy on paper but making these sacrifices long term can have hugely negative repercussions on your life, as well as making the time you spend on development less effective than if you had a healthy routine. Determine a fair and healthy amount of hours to work each week and don’t over do it. You might be okay dropping everything in your life at first, but a few months into the mid-production doldrums, you’ll miss your health and your friends more and more each day. We’ve found that an average of 10 hours of ‘work hours’ per person is great for our team, and we’ll be writing more about our work scheduling soon.

Keep Goals Manageable

You probably have a lot of personal goals. Creating an amazing game is one. Sharpening your skills might be another. These goals are hugely important for success. But company wide short term goals help the team move forward together. Too many teams only worry about the final deadline and skip the minor ones along the way. This can be dangerous if you are stretching out a big project for months, only a few hours a week, and never get the sense that you are moving forward. Break up your large tasks into short manageable goals. Instead of having one huge task to ‘Do Quest System,’ break it into pieces. ‘Get quest events handled correctly,’ ‘implement quest rewards,’ ‘get 10 quest verbs functional’. These are all much more manageable tasks then a hugely ambiguous ‘Do Quest System’. Focus on the baby steps and your goals will seem much more attainable.

Show off

Everyone loves to show off what they’ve accomplished. Having other people marvel at your new art, additional levels, or some nicely re-factored code feels good and validates your hard work. If you’re running with Agile you can even make this a part of your sprint reviews. Set aside some time to play with all the new features you’ve implemented and show your work to strangers too! Using social media sites like Twitter and Facebook can get your work to countless people who’ll love to see what you’ve been working on. Always having a playable version of your game is huge here, as you can always instantly get a grasp of how far you’ve come. It’s easy to forget what you are giving up your spare time for, and showing your work to the outside world is a great way to remind yourself why you are developing games.

Game development is a lot of fun. Don’t let avoidable mistakes sour the journey. By starting small, working at a healthy pace, keeping your goals manageable, and showing off your accomplishments you can keep that fire burning all through development.

UI Artist by Day, Tech Artist by Night

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