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Maintaining Motivation in Game Development: Part I

It’s 8:30pm on a Friday. The coffee-fueled mornings, uninspiring commutes, and labor of the workweek is finally behind you. It is just you, your laptop, and the game idea you have been itching to work on. It seems as though the stars have aligned and all is right in the world – Wizards That Fart (WTF), your new adventure game, can finally be brought to fruition! All you have to do is sit down and do it…

It goes without saying, but finding energy to work on something after a long day and workweek (whether that ‘something’ is the yard, a game, or raising a child) is a particularly daunting task. I should clarify that this series of blog posts isn’t aimed at exploiting loopholes in your daily schedule, which you can fill with game dev time. Instead, with it I hope to outline a handful of steps you can take to help maintain motivation about your project, within your team, and for yourself. By the end of the post, you should have at least a few takeaways that you can utilize when you just can’t seem to bring yourself to open up your Unity3d project.

Before we get started, and since this is the Internet and I am not sure what creepy eyes might find these words, let me address whom this blog post is targeting…

Target Audience

Hint: The answer is in the title. Game developers. This post is meant for game devs in all their flavors, sizes, shapes, and salaries. Whether you’re a budding developer, sneaking in a few hours of programming a night after mom’s famous ravioli dinner and Algebra homework, or an experienced project manager working on her sixth shipped game – this post is for you. If you happen to not find yourself in the spectrum of developers listed above, then kindly scroll up, copy the link in the address bar, visit your favorite social platform, and paste this link and share it with your developer friends.

With that out of the way, let’s jump in to the first major step I’ve discovered to maintaining motivation with a game project:

Identify Common Roadblocks

You need to be able to identify roadblocks as they happen, but more importantly, you must become an expert at anticipating common roadblocks before they happen. I have come up with three common roadblocks that will undoubtedly rear their head during the game development lifecycle. I’ve dubbed them, The Tumultuous T’s. Again, the purpose of listing these here is meant to highlight three common roadblocks that will surface at some point during a game’s development and having a preventative mindset and planning for them is essential to mitigating their cumulative effect on motivation as it relates to your project, team, and yourself.

  • Time
    • This is the most obvious roadblock that has a universal effect on not just game devs (indie vs. AAA), but on anyone and anything that breathes. Everything takes time, raising a family, building a bridge, drawing a picture and of course, creating a game. Being cognizant of the fact that you will eventually be limited on time (sometimes daily, weekly, etc.) is a key component to being able to plan for and help maintain motivation about a project. Like all of the other Tumultuous T’s, time as a surplus and time as a limited resource can have catastrophic effects on motivation.
    • Time as a Surplus
      • Generally, when there is an abundance of time, we tend to ignore priorities and work with the assumption that there is this bucket of “future time” that we can use to complete whatever task we have — #procrastination.
    • Time as a Limited Resource
      • This is usually the time roadblock we are most accustomed to as we never seem to have enough hours in the day, days in a sprint, sprints in a milestone, milestones in a release…
  • Talent
    • Rarely is it the case that a single developer can handle all aspects of game development, from project management and marketing to engineering and asset creation. Due to this fact, it becomes a requirement for developers to be able to accurately assess their own talents, the abilities of the team, and with that information mold the project to utilize and capitalize on these strengths.
    • Talent as a Surplus
      • Call me crazy, but it is entirely possible to have too much talent at your disposal. If the talent that you have access to isn’t being utilized properly, or is under utilized, it is conceivable that motivation for the project can diminish as a result.
    • Talent as a Limited Resource
      • Again, this is usually the talent roadblock we are most accustomed to, as we never seem to have the talent to architect the perfect AI for our enemies, create an epic CG trailer for our game, or manage project resources to bring our game to a shippable state.
  • Team Size
    • Similarly to its sibling T’s, time and talent, a project’s team size can play an important role in either increasing overall motivation and inspiration about a project or decreasing it. As I’ll cover in more detail later in this post, it is not the actual number of the team members that most greatly affects motivation, but instead it is how its members are leveraged and utilized that does.
    • Team size as a Surplus
      • Problems arise with larger teams when you start to have too many cooks in the kitchen and some voices become overshadowed by others. In such cases, where there exist a sentiment that voices are not being heard and/or ideas valued, it can be demoralizing and potentially be a stressor on motivation for a project.
    • Team size as a Limited Resource
      • On the opposite end of the spectrum, a small team (including single-person) can have a similar dispiriting effect in that all of the decisions, effort, and responsibility fall on a handful of individuals. The pressure of production is on just a few shoulders… if the project isn’t moving forward, who to blame is never in question – and that is a lot of pressure and can be a huge stress on motivation.

In knowing that the Tumultuous T’s exist and can, and generally do, if not properly planned for, adversely affect motivation during the game development lifecycle… what can you do to plan for them? Your plan can be summed up in a single word:

Scope.

Time, talent, and team size… their ebbs and flows, their plus and minuses, their roles as surpluses and as limited resources all come down to scope! How you scope out your project and game idea as it relates to time, talent, and team size has an almost direct correlation to how the three affect motivation within the project. Underscope and the potential for misusing your time, your team’s talent, and properly leveraging your team’s size will be there. Overscope and never having enough time, not being able to find the necessary talent, and not having the team size to support your game’s goals will be there as well.

Your main objective as a game developer during the onset of a project is to preempt potential problems concerning motivation by planning and scoping your project as it relates to time, talent, and team size. By doing so you are taking the first steps to maximizing motivation for your project, your team, and for yourself.

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5 Comments

  1. May 11, 2016 at 4:06 pm — Reply

    Nice, things to think about across many fields!

  2. Vivian
    May 12, 2016 at 1:17 pm — Reply

    This is very applicable to every area of our lives, especially getting back to your dreams big or small when you have been stuck in life routine for too long.
    Read this article and take another step towards your dreams/goals.
    Thanks

  3. iioyo
    January 22, 2018 at 9:15 am — Reply

    Hi! Thanks for this information and motivational words.

    And… the second part comes….¿?

  4. Hector
    April 7, 2018 at 2:49 am — Reply

    The section that touches on the talent aspect is one of the things i am struggling with. I have been on/off learning to make games for 3 or 4 years now. I’m struggling with what it is i actually want to do and what i am good at. Sadly i am not particularly at anything and have used tutorials to make the assets and anything needed for my projects. I have also always wanted to learn how to program, but im just not that good at it and i can make some 3d models, but can’t really model a character. Long story short im not actually good at any one particular thing. How can i find out what it is im really good at?

    • April 8, 2018 at 4:38 pm — Reply

      Hey Hector!

      Interesting thoughts here and I’ve found myself in a similar situation in the past as well. Quite frankly, I think you’ve gone a step further than I have by exploring the many options of game development (modeling, programming, etc). Hell, I couldn’t even model a 3D cube if you asked me! This may sound like a “sunshine and rainbows” response, but I think that contrary to what you believe are your inadequacies — is actually a strength and talent!

      Not many developers have had the courage to step out and try the many disciplines necessary to create a game (audio, art, engineering, design). I believe that your knowledge and experience with these disciplines is a talent in and of itself. It has a place in game development and at countless game studios (via roles such as: Producer, Product Manager, Project Manager). This experience and know-how gives you a window into communicating and understanding each aspect of game dev.

      That said, if the ultimate desire is to be on the ground floor of game dev (i.e. in Visual Studio, Maya/Max/Photoshop/Blender, code & cubes), then my suggestion is to not focus on finding “what you’re good at”… because, in my opinion, that isn’t something you can “find” — it’s something you “create.” You create “what you’re good at” by performing it over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. Practice makes perfect, as the old saying goes. Excellent artists, exemplary engineers, and imaginative designers get to where they are (skill-wise) by practicing their craft constantly. By reading books. Creating new games. Joining teams of varying skillsets and knowledge, and learning and growing from them.

      I’ll end with this… 3 or 4 years may seem like a long time (and for some careers/projects it is) — but in the context of game development and learning a craft, it is no time! It took me longer to finish my first game. Keep working! Keep grinding! Keep shining! And keep creating games.

      Cheers!

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