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Zen Game Development: How process over product keeps motivation alive

Keeping motivation alive long enough to see your game projected completed is challenging. I talk about some practical tips on how to keep motivation alive without wearing yourself out.

Imagine you’ve decided to swim to across a large lake to a tree you've set your sights on. You're determined to get to that tree. You've wanted to make the swim across for a while now and today is finally the day. You keep your eye on the tree and your head above water as you swim with everything you’ve got. You realize a tenth of the way there that you’re getting tired. That doesn’t matter - you're determined. You narrow your vision on the tree - never once losing site of the vision - and push even harder. A quarter of the way there you have nothing left in the tank and you realize that all your energy, motivation, and determination is gone. You turn around and slowly swim back. Maybe you'll try again, maybe you won't.

Swimming to the tree across the lake is a lot like game development. Why do so many of us fail to complete games? If the idea is good and we're determined to make it a reality, why is it that some of us continually fall short?

It's simple: we've focused too much on the tree - the end product.

Usually, when starting a game development project, we begin by drafting up ideas - maybe even do a couple quick sketches. We talk to our friends at the local meet up and maybe recruit a couple people to the project. The more you think about it the more you can't sleep at night.

"I have to make this game," you say.

The problem with this approach - and we're all guilty of it - is that the idea of this game is fully realized in our minds. We focus so much on the details of the end product that we become blind to the actual process of making a game: The grind of finding and fixing bugs; the marketing; the late nights; the failed mechanic prototypes - the list goes on.

In order to have any hope at reaching the tree at the end of the lake, as game developers we have to put our heads down and focus on each individual stroke and breath as we swim closer and closer to our vision - poking our heads out of the water only to make sure we're heading in the right direction, then putting it back down and focusing on our stroke. 

We have to make each breath count; each stroke, perfection.

To execute on your game projects, you need to focus on the process as opposed to the product. This might seem radical to some, but if you're a small team, this is critical. Knowing where you want to go is great, but sometimes dreams have a habit of getting in the way of actual work.

Love the dream, but love the process even more.

Here are the 2 keys to making sure you focus on the process of completing games over the product that’s in your mind:

Love the Process

If you don’t love the act of making games, there are a million other things you can do with your life. It’s harder than ever to make a living making games. The only thing that’s going to keep you building games - well after the glamour and promises of riches and fame have gone - is loving the process of creating the best thing you can create. Shoot to make the best game you can - it’s that simple.

Don’t get attached. You are not your game’s end result. You can only know if you’ve done your best, regardless if the game turns out good or not.

Stay in the present and do one thing at a time

This sounds corny, but it’s true. When we focus on the end product or the vision in our minds, we tend to take on too many things. The scope gets larger and larger and eventually we begin to get discouraged or lose motivation.

Focus on the single, next most important task and execute on it as best you can. Timeboxing is great for this. This could be checking for bugs, doing programmer art, or testing usability - however small or large, focus on making each “stroke” the most efficient possible. While working on your task, don’t think about the next thing on your todo list. If an idea interrupts your flow, write it down quickly and reevaluate it after you’ve completed your current task.

Game development, especially if you're a solo developer or small indie group, is about taking one stroke at a time and one deep breath at a time. Look up at the tree (your end vision) every once and a while to make sure you're still on course, then put your head down and get back to work.

If you've found this article helpful, please share and drop me a line on twitter @gamewritr or gabrielcornish.com. Also visit www.fuelpowered.com for other game insights. Cheers.

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