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Productivity Strategy Guide

The unofficial strategy guide for Productivity, a time management game about indie game development.

Edward McNeill, Blogger

July 14, 2014

12 Min Read

[cross-posted from the Darknet dev blog]




Welcome to the strategy guide to “Productivity”, The Game of Getting Shit Done! In Productivity, you play as E McNeill, an indie game designer struggling to finish his “first big game”, Darknet. Can you complete the project before the final deadline?


This strategy guide explains some of the basic gameplay systems of Productivity. Read carefully! New players often find these systems to be confusing, illogical, or contradictory, but understanding them is critical to achieving your objectives. Good luck!



The Zone


We’ll start with one of the most important gameplay mechanics: the zone. Sometimes, your productivity will reach double, triple, or even quadruple its usual levels for no apparent reason. This is usually referred to as being “in the zone”. 


Much of your basic strategy will revolve around maximizing your time in the zone, but you may find it difficult to understand how or why you get there. Unexpected interruptions will immediately pull you out of the zone and prevent you from getting into it, so you’ll definitely want to avoid those as much as you can. Beyond that, however, getting in the zone is almost impossible to purposefully cause or predict! 


If you wish to maximize your chances of getting in the zone, you can choose to try various tactics such as limiting your internet access via StayFocused or using the Pomodoro technique to enhance your focus. Sometimes these efforts will yield real results, but other times, you’ll find them to be ineffective (or even counterproductive). Their effect may also change over time as you become more accustomed to them, and you may find it helpful to regularly switch tactics. Ultimately, even though you may get short-term results with a particular tactic, you shouldn’t expect to understand the fundamental causes behind getting in the zone. Just try to ride it out for as long as possible whenever it happens!





Most of your working time will be spent in a tiny home office with a desktop computer and a large monitor. This setting is almost always the most productive place for working on code, art, and audio, your most time-consuming tasks. However, sometimes you will need to complete other tasks, such as writing, answering emails, or doing design work on paper. Inexplicably, your character’s efficiency at these tasks is greatly reduced while working at your desktop. 


For these other tasks, you may find it useful to travel to another location such as a cafe, where special factors such as crappy internet access, ambient noise, and a change of setting can allow you to complete your non-programming tasks much more efficiently. Tip: Some cafes are within an hour’s walking distance! Although this option is limited by the weather and requires extra transportation time, it gives you a temporary bonus for Fresh Air & Exercise, which can yield benefits later on.





Time management is obviously one of the most critical elements of strategy, and since an indie game dev can work any hour of the day, you have a very wide range of choice. The sheer amount of time spent working is the most basic factor of productivity, but there are plenty of other considerations that affect your efficiency. For example, your most common concern will be your Work/Life Balance, an oft-neglected stat. Spending too many hours working will start to damage your Balance, which causes long-term penalties to happiness and productivity. It’s best to embark on projects that leave plenty of time for Work/Life Balance if possible. Don’t underestimate the importance of this mechanic!


Beyond that, your choice of which hours to work is also important. In this game, your character is a “night owl” and gains an efficiency bonus late at night (as well as a slight bonus to your chances of getting in the zone). If you stay up too long, however, your efficiency will drop again. You can increase the duration of effective late-night working time by sleeping until the afternoon, but this can awkwardly offset your schedule from that of those around you, which in turn can impact your Work/Life Balance negatively.





Breaks from work are a useful tool, but improper use can do more harm than good. The most effective breaks involve some activity that is very different from your current working tasks, which allows you to quickly rest and recharge, but you should be careful about when and for how long you take these breaks.


To start with, you don’t want to work for too long or too short a span of time. It usually takes up to an hour to accelerate to a good level of efficiency, but on the other hand, that efficiency tends to diminish after a random amount of time. Taking a short break will reset your efficiency to its default levels (for better or worse). However, if you plan a break in advance, it can harm your efficiency in the meantime, since you subconsciously won’t want to start working when a perceived interruption is soon to come. (Most players find this to be a particularly frustrating mechanic.)


Taking longer breaks is sometimes necessary to see the “big picture” of your work; you’ll often come back from a long break and find problems that you couldn’t see before, which greatly improves the final quality of the project. Longer breaks can also improve your Work/Life Balance. Occasionally, a break of several days (a tactic known as a “vacation”) is beneficial, but this needs to be weighed against the cost of losing that time for work. Further, as the project nears completion, your ability to revise the project will become more limited and your need to finish the project will increase, and so the value of long breaks diminishes.


Lastly, the most basic and important type of break is sleep, which is obviously required on a regular basis. Sleep can be difficult to control for new players; trying to go to sleep too early can be inefficient, and sleeping for either too long or too short a time can both negatively impact your efficiency. Getting too little sleep over a long period of time is known to cause consistent penalties, but, curiously, you usually won’t notice this effect, which makes it all the more damaging to your strategy.





Time management on a macro scale is called scheduling, and it has a huge impact on the overall quality of the project (and thus your final score).


Direct development tasks are the most obvious concern in scheduling, and you’ll need to arrange them thoughtfully, keeping their complex web of prerequisites in mind. Sometimes a task will take much longer than predicted, and you’ll need to leave room to accommodate those surprises! Sometimes this will require “cutting” features from the project altogether. Although cuts may feel painful at the time, most veteran players claim that cutting features is one of the most important skills in the game.


You’ll also want your schedule to allow for revision and iteration. It sometimes takes weeks or months before a required change or potential improvement becomes apparent, so you’ll generally want to implement the most important systems early. It’s also useful to regularly schedule time for playtests or other outside perspectives, which often accelerates the revision process.


If you’re willing to experiment with more advanced strategies, you may choose to contract out some tasks to external collaborators. This can free up some of your time for development, but it also increases the complexity of the schedule. You need to make sure you enable and respond to your collaborators, or else their efficiency will drop significantly. Beyond that, every collaborator works at a different pace and style, and you’ll need to organize your schedule around them on an individual basis. Before you bring on a collaborator, consider carefully whether the benefits are worth the cost of added complexity!





Deadlines are special points in the schedule that require certain groups of tasks to be completed. Some deadlines are relatively unimportant, with minor costs for missing them. Other deadlines are critical, and missing them can seriously impact your final score.


You’ll quickly notice one of the more curious rules in the game: an approaching deadline greatly improves your overall productivity, and the bigger the deadline, the more your productivity will increase. Essentially, in a pinch, you can usually get the work done in time. However, this tends to involve cutting back on quality, and so it’s usually not a good strategy to wait until the last minute and rely on adrenaline to finish the project.


One common winning strategy is to schedule smaller deadlines throughout a project to ensure that major tasks get done early, with time left for revision. However, “fake” deadlines (with no real and immediate cost to failure) are generally ineffective, so you’ll want to ensure that your mini-deadlines have some cost to them. For example, you could promise a collaborator that you’ll have something done by a certain date. For major milestones, you could announce a release date for a public beta or commit to entering a festival or competition.


Be especially careful about the final deadline at the very end of the project. Although this deadline has fantastic effects on motivation and productivity, these effects are countered by the surprising amount of extra work that materializes near release. You’ll need to integrate the work of your collaborators, be certain that the project works fully with your target platforms, and do more and more PR work as the release date approaches. 





As you’ve surely noticed, the gameplay systems of Productivity are complex and difficult to learn, let alone master. Crafting an effective strategy can be a slow and tricky process, and you may get frustrated at times. Deal with it! Try not to forget the joy of the work itself, and take satisfaction in the process of creation.


Mastering the game of Productivity can be extremely rewarding. Some players (perhaps most) regard it as merely a means to another end, and they play only because they have to. But despite being illogical and occasionally maddening, Productivity is also a fascinating set of interlocking systems, and it can be enjoyed in its own right. In the end, like many strategy games, it’s just another optimization problem. So go and finish that game!


- @E_McNeill

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