Episode 3 – Keeping motivated, managing your time and avoiding burnout
Welcome to Episode 3 of So, You’ve Decided to Make Your Own Indie Game. Diving right in, we’re speaking to developers about the ways they stay on track when developing their games; motivation, avoiding burnout, and even how they network with others within the gaming industry.
We start by asking about staying motivated, and the best ways to approach keeping the momentum of development going.
Alessandro Cossidente from Meta Publishing recalls a particularly somber experience: “I distinctively recall an experience where someone asked this question to a group of us at a post-event gathering, and this guy with the most somber demeanour just said “You don’t!” and left the room.
“[On staying motivated] This guy with the most somber demeanour just said “You don’t!”
They weren’t exactly wrong; you can’t avoid losing motivation, especially if you’re working solo. Mitigate the effects by finding ways to not become completely overwhelmed.
Start by making technical documents before you even begin, so you have a clear path with milestones and goals to follow. Have a good picture to follow, a map of sorts.”
Beidi, the Art Director at Lantern Studio, the team behind LUNA The Shadow Dust recommends setting clear goals, and breaking down years of development into manageable steps: “Set clear but small goals for every day/week/month and stick to it.
“Set clear but small goals for every day/week/month and stick to it.”
Developing a game can take years, so you really need to break down your timeline and have mini deadlines. Showing your new level or demo to players is also a great way to receive feedback and keep yourself motivated.”
Casey Lucas Quaid, community manager at Dinosaur Polo Club, the studio behind Mini Metro adds her advice to the mix, with a focus on keeping schedules varied and interesting: “One of the best things I can do is to work on lots of things at a time. Some people like to work on one thing at a time. I like to hop and skip between things, so that I stay interested and engaged with whatever I’m doing. Make sure to not spread yourself too thin, and set aside time to not work. You need to give yourself time to rest your brain.”
Domiziana Suprani from Studio Evil thinks the key to staying motivated is regular communication: “As a producer, I feel that communication is key. When you develop a game in a team, you’re often managing a small subset of it and you can lose perception of how the whole project is progressing. . Setting up daily short meetings, sharing roadmaps and milestones, and discussing the most recent developments helps the team stay focused on the final goal and be actively invested in the project.”
Former Those Awesome Guys’ Christopher Wulf believes striking a good work-life balance is what keeps motivation strong: “A good work-life balance! No matter how motivated and excited you are about your project, it’s good to have some downtime by giving yourself a break to relax, take care of other chores or just play some games! Every once in a while, when things get too much, take a step back to consider the current direction and make sure you are confident and excited about the approach.”
Being motivated is all well and good, but what about ensuring everything is being done on time?
Beidi, like Domiziana’s answer to the previous question, thinks that being in regular contact is what keeps things moving forward: “We have regular team meetings (both long and short) and set goals and timeline for everyone, aiming to have these issues sorted before the next meeting.
“We all respect the deadline.”
Everyone in the team then works in their own preferable way; I work from 9-6 like normal office people, and that suits me the best. Our developer works whenever he feels like, 48 hours marathon then sleeps like he’s in a coma, but we all respect the deadline.”
Casey Lucas Quaid stresses the importance of producers, and the need for a system that keeps everyone on the same page: “Fortunately, we have incredible producers who keep us on-task. The best thing to do is to break tasks down into their smallest components. You can’t just say “develop a system”. It needs to be broken down into elements like “research, development, testing, and so on”.
“You can’t just say “develop a system”. It needs to be broken down into elements like “research, development, testing, and so on.”
For indie teams specifically, be honest with your team on how long you’re spending on your work. If you don’t let people know you worked additional hours to make something happen, they’ll assume that everything is fine and that that is output you can produce over and over again.”
As a developer, you might be busy with your head down and creating something great, but it can be easy to stop and wonder where you are, and what you’re accomplishing. Phenomenon like ‘Imposter Syndrome’ can crop up and cause doubts and questions to form. How do our developers tackle such issues?
Beidi comments on LUNA being their first game, and her commitment to making it, leaving doubts and anxieties until after development is finished: “LUNA is our debut game. However, I never felt this [imposter syndrome] during development. I believe I have given my 100%, and it's only after the game is out that I start to experience imposter syndrome. I just have to treat it as a reminder to myself to stay humble and keep learning new things.”
Casey likewise thinks it’s important to remind yourself of where you are, what you’re doing, and make light of such feelings: “Imposter syndrome is an interesting one for me, especially as a woman in the industry. Imposter syndrome is so normal, especially if you’re not already making money on something.
“You ask yourself “Am I a real developer?” at times like that, a sort of ‘Pinocchio’ moment.”
You ask yourself “Am I a real developer?” at times like that, a sort of ‘Pinocchio’ moment. I found that a small amount of anxiety keeps you from getting too full of yourself and on your toes, but any time I feel a bit of imposter syndrome, I play a game with myself by pretending that I’m a spy that’s infiltrated the industry. It’s silly, but it’s tough to feel bad about yourself if you’re laughing at yourself at the same time.”
Comparatively, Christopher likes to beat the feeling of being an imposter by talking about it with others, and minimising its effect: “Talking to other people about it! The beauty of this industry is how most people are kind want to and talk about their experiences, therefore letting you understand that imposter syndrome is something that happens to everyone.
“The beauty of this industry is how most people are kind and want to talk about their experiences.”
Giving yourself space to talk about your concerns goes a long way and will be much healthier than keeping them internalised in the long run. It’s never a sign of weakness to ask for help or to seek out professional advice.”
Being overwhelmed is more than just taking care of your own mental health; it’s also keeping on top of business elements, like finances, business documents, and more.
Beidi starts things off by commenting on the challenges the studio faces: “It’s quite challenging for us when overwhelmed by unfamiliar issues. We have to learn how to do it ourselves. At the end of the day, it’s us who want to make games, sell them, and start a company. We HAVE to do it ourselves.”
Christopher adds to this by recommending the person that’s managing the administrative tasks of business actually enjoys it: “Make sure the person dealing with these aspects of running a company enjoys doing so (as much as possible), otherwise you run the risk of those tasks becoming a responsibility they’d rather avoid and therefore don’t give the necessary attention to. In a young studio it’s crucial to not only think about the game’s development, but also making sure your studio can stay afloat.”
Casey recommends outsourcing the stuff that’s going to take precious time away from making your game: “My best advice? Just hire an accountant! The number of hours you’ll save yourself not having to learn all of that. You can learn all of it yourself, but that time would be better off spent developing your game.”
When all the work is done, and there’s time to reflect, we ask our developers what they do to mark the occasion, perhaps with a milestone or tradition.
Beidi cracks a joke on the never-ending cycle of work facing small studios: “There’s too much other work that needs to be done, there’s no time for rituals! [She laughs]. Does sleep count?”
Casey and the team, in contrast, take a reward-based, self-care approach to celebrating milestones: “At Dinosaur Polo Club, we are very lucky in that we operate on one of Wellington’s streets that quite possibly has the most ice-cream parlors per square mile, outside of Italy, I want to say? We take full advantage of that for big sprints or updates. I think it’s very important to celebrate as a team.”
“I think it’s very important to celebrate as a team.”
Moving onto reaching out to industry peers, we dive into networking habits, community building, and tips on the best approach to connecting with others.
Domiziana thinks networking is a vital part of succeeding in the gaming industry: “Networking is very important in this industry. Not only because you need to create opportunities for your project, but also because game development has a lot of uncharted territories, and developers can share experiences together and learn from each other.”
Meanwhile, Beidi considers networking a weakness traditionally for developers, and not something she wants or needs to do: “Game developers are usually not very good at this. I don’t force myself to network, unless it's absolutely necessary.
“I just play other people’s games and if I like it, I talk to the developers.”
I just play other people’s games and if I like it, I talk to the developers. A friendly email or short message will do; don’t spam everyone with a template response and expect a good reply. Treat people nicely. Be genuine!”
Sarah Johana from Toge Productions, best known for When The Past Was Around and Coffee Talk agrees with being genuine and participating in wider gaming communities, organically interacting with others: “Go to places where people who have a large influence in the indie game industry are at; Twitter, Discord servers, online or offline events, etc. Be active, and don’t be shy to say hi. Don’t be afraid to share what you’re working on with the world.”
Janneke van Ooyen, who works at Bandai Namco Mobile, and previously worked with Crytek, thinks there’s no reason not to network and connect with peers: “You always miss the shots you don’t take. Just try. Even if you try 100 people, many will say no, but plenty will also say yes. Be pro-active. Always have business cards. Don’t just network in conventions; there are plenty of developer groups to be a part of.
If you’re approaching bigger companies, make sure you do some background research on who you’re approaching, try not to just wing it.”
Christopher recommends an honest, open approach, without the subterfuge: “Please be transparent. At the end of the day, it’s a job you are doing so nobody will be mad when you connect for a business discussion. If you pretend you’re here to make friends while actually just wanting to make the most of a business opportunity, it’ll leave a sour taste.”
Developing a game is more than just putting code to computer; it starts with great ideas and original concepts, but quickly becomes about ensuring you’re managing time correctly, and taking care of yourself and the team you might be working with.
Tune in for Episode 4, as we look at how working with a publisher can help lighten the load, and whether it’s worth it for you to partner up with a publisher yourself.
Developers and publishers interviewed in this series:
- Casey Lucas-Quaid, community and engagement manager at Dinosaur Polo Club.
- Janneke van Ooyen, community manager at Bandai Namco Mobile, prev. Crytek.
- Beidi Guo, art director at Lantern Studio.
- Alessandro Cossidente, PR and influencer manager at Meta Publishing.
- Christopher Wulf, prev. Those Awesome Guys and IndieMEGABOOTH.
- Sarah Johana, community manager at Toge Productions.
- Kris Antoni, founder at Toge Productions.
- Domiziana Suprani, producer at Studio Evil.