Should you continue developing that game?

This may be a strange topic for starting a whole new blog, but the thought of creating it has been haunting me for quite some time already. At first, I’ve wanted to start with the basics – go over how somebody can get into game development, what a game designer should know, which books to read and so on. But I realized that there’s a more pressing matter, a question, that’s been bothering me from time to time, whenever I get stuck with a new project:

Should I finish developing this game?

Every indie developer in the world at some point in their life

Do you clench teeth and press on in the hope that everything will turn out alright or do you ditch this project, throw it into the recycle bin and try starting something new?

Realizing the problem is the first step towards its solution, so if you’ve ever wondered if your project is taking too much time, ask yourself this: Am I still working on it, though I thought I’d finish this long time ago? If the answer is ‘yes’, then let’s try to figure out the reasons why this happens and how can you possibly avoid it.

There are a couple of different reasons why you may find yourself in a situation like this, but the most obvious one is planning.

Not enough planning

One side of the coin is poor planning. When you think about your future project, what has to be done and how it should be done, you may not get the whole picture or understand what is really involved in this process, what is behind all those ideas in your head. It’s like when you’re starving and think that you can eat EVERYTHING, but you’re full after a few small pieces.

The same thing with game development – you may be perfectly capable of doing everything you planned, you may possess all the necessary knowledge to create every piece of your game alone. But you may not be able to do so because you lack resources such as time. For instance, you estimate your project to take two months to be completed – but then some personal business comes up or you get ill – and all of that takes time. And after two months your game is still not ready.

Why? How this happened? You haven’t planned enough. Or your plan was not good enough. Or you overlooked something. You didn’t take realistic situation into consideration – you thought you’ll be able to work 8 hours a day on your project, but sometimes you couldn’t force yourself to work, because you gave yourself no time away from it, took no breaks? Crunches exists not only in corporations working on AAA games and are about working 16 hours a day. If you work too hard on something, you can get sick of it, no matter how much you love it. So that requires being taken into consideration as well, when you’re trying to figure out the scope of your project.

Planning too much

The other side of the coin is overplanning. Now that you’re aware that not planning your development process can get you wondering whether all this is worth it and is it a good idea to keep going, you might want to plan everything to the smallest detail. But this won’t save you from falling into the same pit called Development Hell. Trying to lay out your ideal game on paper is a good idea, but only if you don’t overdo it. If you try making your design document too ideal and spend two years making it – that’s a problem. In attempting to pinpoint precisely what you want before actually making the game will just get you stuck with too much paperwork.

The solution here will be to find the golden mean. Don’t spend too much time on documentation. Try outlining your core gameplay, mechanics and other stuff, and just get your ass to prototyping it. Don’t think about prototyping as a waste of time. That if a prototype is not working the way you want it to, then it’s wasted time you could’ve put into creating your GDD. But then at least you’ll know whether something works or not. Imagine finishing your massive design document after two years (or even four months) only to find out that when prototyped, some mechanics don’t work well with each other, while others don’t work at all. Now that’s a waste of time. It’s better to try and make something, even if it won’t work exactly how you wanted it to than just sit and theorize on it.

Do not obsess over your documentation and planning – OCD and perfectionism are only good in small portions. If your prototyped feature looks good but “could be better” – just move on to the next one, don’t get stuck polishing that one thing. I, personally, have fallen into this trap too damn many times in the past. I got carried away polishing interface or trying to make the animation smooth and perfect when I could’ve developed new features in that time. This time I’m doing it differently.

Something in between

Aaaand there’s one more tricky thing that can get you, even if you’re aware of planning: feature creep. As an indie developer, you can easily get carried away with adding new features into your game. It’s understandable – while developing it, even if you have everything planned, you get new ideas, see new references and you immediately want them in your game. It can start with the smallest things but quickly turn into a nightmare.

Huh, game X has a similar feature, why not take what’s good about it and add it to my feature?

Sweet summer indie developer

Just… Don’t do that. You won’t notice how you start adding more and more features, expanding your project scope. By adding new features, you basically add time to your project. The time you might lack or not have. Even slightly alternating your features with “sub-features”, changing and tweaking them will get you nowhere. You will eventually end up with the very question asked in the beginning. You’ve spent so much time adding new features and polishing those you already have, but are you closer to finishing your game? Should you continue?

Stop for a second

To answer these questions, you just have to stop for a second. Take a deep breath and look at your project. So much time sank in there. So much effort. So much work done.

Think about your initial intention. Why did you start making this game? What did you want with it? Was it money? Was it fame? Or was it something else? Being an indie developer, you develop a connection to your project, and just the thought of killing it creeps you out. You don’t want to make that decision. You just can’t, can’t you?

“But wait, there are some legendary indie games that were in the development process for years!” – you might say. Yes, there were. Limbo, The Witness, a couple more titles. But they are an exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself. There are countless legions of games that burned down in the Development Hell. It’s better just to shake off that thought about making a game for ten years and waking up famous one day. Prepare for the worst.

Finally, we’re pretty close to what we came here for. To answer a very simple (and very hard at the same time) question: Should I continue developing my game? For you to answer this, go back to the original goals of your project. Why did you start making it? What was fun about it?

Then think about what you are doing. Reassess where you are now. Are you strayed from the course? If you have, harness your willpower and get back on track. Set a minimum target and think how long will it take to get to the MVP. Bare minimum or graphics and functionality. Just your core gameplay mechanics. Yes, even if they are not perfect and won’t work exactly like you envisioned in your head. If you hit that marker – you will already have something. Not just a pile of paper or a proof of concept of a single feature, but something playable. Maybe ugly, but playable. You can iterate on that later and make it better, but you’ll already have something.

At the end of the day, there is only one person in the world that can answer this question – it’s you. If you understand that you’re really stuck with your project and lost faith – maybe it’s better to throw it out of the window, than make yourself work on it. Don’t be afraid to move on. After all, we’re learning in the process. After one mistake, after one fall, you’ll know more and do better. Yes, you’ll almost certainly make new mistakes and throw even more project out, but you’ll learn.
And if you’re adamant that everything is going to be okay, you’re right on track and making your magnum opus – then rock on! But keep in mind what we’ve discussed and reassess your project from time to time not to loose the perspective.

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