First things first. Determine whether or not your game is crap.
Don’t get defensive! You’ll know the feeling. Everything about the project is hard. And not in a “Oh, this is challenging and I should figure out how to solve it” kind of way. A bad game is not only continuously throwing problems your way, but it’s not exciting to work on. It takes more effort to boot up your game editor than it is to clean your entire house.
One of the things I’ve learned while making one game a week, is that if you’re not excited to work on the game, the chances of the game being any good, begin to drop dramatically. A good project has you thinking about the unknown possibilities of the game. A bad project has you thinking, “how the hell do I save this thing?”.
Here’s the thing:
If you’re an indie dev, you’re going to make bad games. If you’re not making bad games or prototypes, then you’re playing it too safe.
The beauty of being an indie game developer is that you get to take risks, but you need to be able to know when those risks aren’t going to pay off and cut your losses. Rejoice though!
“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried” – Stephen McCranie
Here are some things I’ve learned for dealing with a failed project.
1.) You already put in the work. Get what you can out of it.
I had three more days until my deadline to wrap up the week’s game. However, I knew the game was already a failure. Though I put quite a few hours into the project, not all was lost. I have assets I can reuse in another project, I’ve crossed off one more idea that “might work”, and I got some much needed experience.
If you see your game isn’t turning out the way you’d hoped, scrap the project and see what you can take away from it…then move forward.
2.) A bad game doesn’t excuse you from finishing it.
Yes the game was horrible. Yes, I had no motivation to work on it any longer. However, I had a deadline and I wasn’t going to miss it. I quickly got the game to a point where I could call it done. This means I did the least amount of work possible to get it to a finished state. No matter what, get into the habbit of finishing what you start. For me this came down to:
- Crappy one button menus. Play and Replay buttons were the only options.
- No major crashes or freezes. If this meant stripping out a feature that was causing the problems, then I got rid of it without thought.
- Building and making sure it runs.
That’s it. If you know the project isn’t going anywhere, do the least amount of work possible to get it to a finished state…then move forward.
3. Get started on the next project immediately.
As useful as it is, failing isn’t fun. Getting the game to a finished state will help with the disappointment, but you still won’t be able get over wishing that things had gone differently. The best way to get over this is to start on the next game as soon as you wrap up the old one.
This keeps the momentum going and gives you less time to dwell on your failure. Don’t get me wrong, you should absolutely do a written or mental post mortem, but don’t linger on it too much. You have work to do.
Don’t have any ideas for your next project? Just start playing around with something. Get things on screen and make them move. Inspiration isn’t always going to strike. If you’re like me, it strikes rarely. Unfortunately my one game a week deadline doesn’t care if I’m inspired or not. It expects a game delivered into the “Finished Fucking Games” folder on my desktop every Sunday.
Wrap up your old project. Boot up a new one…then move forward.
If you’ve invested months or years into a project - maybe my advice won’t fit your needs. I have, however, found that it’s difficult to save a bad game. Not impossible. Difficult. Whether you’ve been working on it for a couple days, weeks, months or years - take a good hard look at whether you’d be better off wrapping up the project…
Then, keep your eyes ahead and move forward.
If you'd like to follow my journey (essentially following in Adriel's footsteps), you can check out my site and games at starvingindie.com