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Making An Indie Game In Your Spare Time

A few strategies I used to maintain self-motivation while working on a project part time.

James Bowling

July 1, 2010

5 Min Read

For the last 3 or 4 months I’ve been working on a start-up gaming company, Last Level Games. I’ve been tackling server side development, while a friend manages the client side. We both do this outside of our day jobs. We’ll have our first game looking for release in about a month, and another project we’re keen to get back on very soon.

What I’d like to share with you are my experiences I’ve had maintaining self-motivation to keep on working on an unpaid project at the expense of free time and much needed sleep, while also maintaining healthy social ties around me. Finding that work-work-life balance required to make a transition to a full-time indie studio. I don’t pretend this will be relevant to everyone, these are just my experiences so far – and we’re most certainly not there yet, but I can see we are on the way.


For a little background of the kind of worth ethic I have, I’m one of these don’t-normally-apply-myself kinda guys. I’m the B student that probably could have done better if I did a little more work, but I was always content with the above average grades. So, how have I managed to maintain motivation the last few months? How have I managed to keep being productive when all I wanted to do was curl up in bed with a DS? These are some of the strategies I’ve been using.


Accept that with the good, comes plenty of bad.


I’m a developer because I like developing software. I like designing games because I think I have a knack for game design. But along with all that stimulating sitting around thinking about crafting afun user experience comes a truckload of boring, tedious and difficult work, especially if you’re branching into new and unfamiliar fields like we are. You will be bashing your head against third party libraries, user interfaces and uninteresting glue.


But I don’t really approach this as something I just need to just “suck up”. I think of it as part of the whole game developer package. Embrace the difficulties – this is what it is to be a game developer. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, so when I’m having to force myself to sit down to do something dull, I’m doing it right. I also make sure to alternate where I can. Swap between the interesting and mundane tasks as I complete them. 

Which brings me on to…


Know when to not work.


I also need to keep in mind when I just shouldn’t bother working. Energy is indeed a finite resource and taking breaks is important, especially with this project not being my day job. Avoid burn out. It’s also worth using this time to make sure I keep up with friends and family. While I definitely don’t spend as much time with my social circle as I’d like to, I still take the time to see them. Quite often I set a night to code, and if a friend tries to organise something on that night I tell them I’m busy. Same goes with the reverse. If I commit to something socially, I don’t cancel it for work. I know if I don’t take the time to unwind, I’ll burn out and lose motivation on the project.


If they can do it, so can I.


This isn’t being arrogant, this is merely a reality. The successful game developers out there mostly likely aren’t leaps and bounds better at their craft than me, they just had the motivation to see it through. I use their success to visualise my own. With that in mind I find it easier to get myself in front of Visual Studio and getting in the few nights here and there required to get these things done. Part of what motivates me is seeing the success of people around me, and knowing I have the skill set to achieve what they have. It’s not a case of thinking I’m better than someone, it’s a case of respecting my own abilities.


Don’t lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel.


I find it very difficult to maintain motivation for a project I don’t believe will go anywhere. It’s important that I can see an end to what I’m doing. This is one of the reasons I want to get into indie development. I want to feel like I’m working towards a tangible and realisable goal. I stay focused on what’s good in our project, and have trust in our ability to work out the kinks as we find them. I accept there will be plenty of design bumps on the way, but as I mentioned in my first point – that’s part of the whole game development package. I try not to beat myself up too much when we hit a stumbling block.


That’s just a few strategies I use to maintain focus and motivation. 


What are some of the methods you use to stay productive? 

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