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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