Three months ago, I quit my job so I could work on The Last Time, a narrative-driven adventure game. During that time, I’ve come to realise that I was getting into some bad habits which were taking a toll not only on me, but on the people close to me. There are plenty of articles giving indies advice on economic survival, but not so many on survival in the more literal sense of the word; the following is a list of five tips which I wish I’d known when I started out.
1. Go outside
This might come naturally to most people, but it can be easy to forget to do it when you’re focused on work. Taking breaks can seem like a waste of time when you have so much game development to do, but it will negatively impact your physical and mental health if you don’t, which in turn will be bad for your productivity. Can’t get to sleep because you’re seeing pixels or lines of code when you shut your eyes? Go for a walk.
2. Connect with the indie community
Remember: even if you’re working alone, you’re not the only person who’s doing so. Go to indie dev meetups, whether it’s large conferences or social gatherings with a handful of people; you’ll learn a lot from other people’s experience, and also have a chance to unburden yourself of any weight you’ve been carrying by sharing your stories with people who can relate. Turn off your computer and go meet some other indies - your work will still be there when you get back.
3. Reach out on the internet
The whole concept of social media and marketing scared me when I was starting out, but in a few short weeks I’ve come to embrace everything the internet has to offer. It’s more than just a case of getting word out about your game; it’s also about connecting with people. Because of Twitter, Reddit and game forums, I’ve met people who I’d otherwise never have spoken with, and gained invaluable support and feedback as a result. As long as you’re connected to the internet, you’re never alone.
4. Don’t forget your friends and family
When you’re working on a project that means a lot to you, it can take over your whole life. After a couple of months of devoting almost all of my time and energy to game development, I realised that I was neglecting people close to me. I was hardly spending any time with my family, and my long-suffering girlfriend was having to put up with my inability to stop thinking about game development for five minutes. No matter how important it is to you, your game is not the only thing in your life; don’t let yourself become consumed by it.
5. Have a schedule
It’s hard to find the discipline to keep regular hours if you’re responsible for your own timetable (which, in my experience, often means not having any timetable at all). However, most other people are keeping to some sort of regular routine, and if you don’t, then your work patterns will likely be out of sync with them. Have a sensible schedule; it’s hard to attend meetups or socialise if you’re working until midnight every day.