Should you con­tin­ue devel­op­ing your dream game?

Have you ever came to an impasse and won­dered: should I con­tin­ue devel­op­ing my dream game or is it time to put it to rest and make some­thing else?

This may be a strange top­ic for start­ing a new blog, but the thought of cre­at­ing it has haunt­ed me for quite some time. At first, I want­ed to start with the basics — go over how some­body gets into game devel­op­ment, what a game design­er should know for devel­op­ing dream game, which books to read, and so on. But I real­ized that there’s a more press­ing mat­ter — a ques­tion that starts both­er­ing me when­ev­er I get stuck with a new project: 

Should I fin­ish devel­op­ing this game?

Every indie devel­op­er in the world at some point in their life

Do I clench my teeth and press on in the hope that every­thing will turn out alright, or do I ditch this project, throw it into the recy­cle bin and try start­ing some­thing new? 

Real­iz­ing the prob­lem is the first step toward its solu­tion, so if you’ve ever won­dered if your project is tak­ing too much time, ask your­self this: 

Am I still work­ing on it, though I thought I’d fin­ish long time ago?

If the answer is yes, let’s fig­ure out why this hap­pens and how you can avoid it. There are a cou­ple of rea­sons why you may find your­self in a sit­u­a­tion like this, but the most obvi­ous one is planning. 

Not enough planning

One side of the coin is poor plan­ning. When you think about your future project, what you need to do and how you should do it, you may not get the whole pic­ture or under­stand what is involved in this process, what is behind all those ideas in your head. It’s like starv­ing and think­ing that you can eat EVERYTHING, but you’re full after a few small pieces. 

The same thing with game devel­op­ment — you may be per­fect­ly capa­ble of doing every­thing you planned and pos­sess all the nec­es­sary knowl­edge to cre­ate every piece of your game alone. But you may not be able to do so because you lack resources such as time. For instance, you esti­mate your project to take two months to be com­plet­ed — but then some per­son­al busi­ness comes up, or you get ill — and all of that takes time. And after two months, your game is still not ready. 

Why? How did this hap­pen? You haven’t planned enough. Or your plan was not good enough. Or you over­looked some­thing. Maybe you did­n’t con­sid­er a real­is­tic sit­u­a­tion — you thought you’d be able to work 8 hours a day on your project, sev­en days a week. But some­times you just could­n’t force your­self to work because you took no breaks? Crunch­es exist not only in cor­po­ra­tions work­ing on AAA games and are about work­ing 16 hours a day. If you work too hard on some­thing, you can get sick of it, no mat­ter how much you love it. It’s because your neu­rons don’t gen­er­ate that much dophamine as they used to in the begin­ning. So that requires con­sid­er­a­tion as well when you’re try­ing to fig­ure out the scope of your project.

Too much planning

The oth­er side of the coin is over­plan­ning. Now that you’re aware that not plan­ning your devel­op­ment process can get you won­der­ing whether all this is worth it and if is it a good idea to keep going, you might want to plan every­thing to the small­est detail. But this won’t save you from falling into the same pit called Devel­op­ment Hell. Try­ing to lay out your ide­al game on paper is a good idea, but only if you don’t over­do it. If you try mak­ing your design doc­u­ment too per­fect and spend two years mak­ing it — that’s a prob­lem. Try­ing to pre­cise­ly pin­point what you want before mak­ing the game will get you stuck with too much paperwork.

The solu­tion here will be to find the gold­en mean. Don’t spend too much time on doc­u­men­ta­tion. Instead, try out­lin­ing your core game­play, mechan­ics, and oth­er stuff, and get your ass to pro­to­typ­ing it. Don’t think about pro­to­typ­ing as a waste of time. Like if a pro­to­type is not work­ing the way you imag­ined, then it’s wast­ed time you could’ve put into cre­at­ing your GDD. But then, at least, you’ll know whether some­thing works or not. Imag­ine fin­ish­ing your mas­sive design doc­u­ment after two years (or even four months) only to dis­cov­er that when pro­to­typed, some mechan­ics don’t work well with each oth­er, while oth­ers don’t work at all. Now that’s a waste of time. It’s bet­ter to try and make some­thing, even if it won’t work exact­ly how you want­ed it to, than sit and the­o­rize on it.

Comix strip about developing your dream game

Do not obsess over your doc­u­men­ta­tion and plan­ning — OCD and per­fec­tion­ism are only good in small por­tions. If your pro­to­typed fea­ture looks good but “could be bet­ter,” — move on to the next one, don’t get stuck pol­ish­ing that one thing. Per­son­al­ly, I have fall­en into this trap too damn many times in the past. I got car­ried away pol­ish­ing the UI or try­ing to make the ani­ma­tion smooth and per­fect when I could’ve devel­oped new fea­tures in that time.

Some­thing in between

Aaaand there’s one more tricky thing that can get you, even if you’re aware of plan­ning: fea­ture creep. As an indie devel­op­er, you can eas­i­ly get car­ried away with adding new fea­tures to your game. It’s under­stand­able — while devel­op­ing it, even if you have every­thing planned, you get new ideas, see fur­ther ref­er­ences, and imme­di­ate­ly want them in your game. It can start with the most minor things but quick­ly turn into a nightmare.

Huh, game X has a cool fea­ture, why not add it to my game?

Sweet sum­mer indie developer

Unless you’re just start­ing… Don’t do that. It won’t be long before you start adding more and more fea­tures, expand­ing your project scope. By adding new fea­tures, you add devel­op­ment time to your project. The time you might lack or not have. You will even­tu­al­ly end up with the very ques­tion asked in the begin­ning. You’ve spent so much time adding new fea­tures and pol­ish­ing those you already have, but are you clos­er to fin­ish­ing your game? Should you continue?

Stop for a second

To answer these ques­tions, stop for a sec­ond. Take a deep breath and look at your project. So much time sank in there — so much effort. So much work done.

Think about your ini­tial inten­tion. Why did you start mak­ing this game? What did you want with it? Was it mon­ey? Was it fame? Or was it some­thing else? Being an indie devel­op­er, you devel­op a con­nec­tion to your project, and the thought of killing it creeps you out. You don’t want to make that deci­sion. You just can’t, can’t you?

“But wait, there are some leg­endary indie games that were in the devel­op­ment process for years!” — you might say. Yes, there were. Lim­bo, The Wit­ness, and a cou­ple more titles. But they are an excep­tion to the rule rather than the rule itself. There are count­less legions of games that burned down in the Devel­op­ment Hell. So it’s bet­ter to shake off that thought about mak­ing a game for ten years and wak­ing up famous one day. Pre­pare for the worst.

So, to answer a very sim­ple — and yet very hard at the same time — ques­tion “Should I con­tin­ue devel­op­ing my dream game?”, go back to the very begin­ning of your project. Why did you start mak­ing it? What was fun about it? What was the core idea?

Then think about what you are doing. Reassess where you are now. Are you strayed from the course? If you have, har­ness your willpow­er and get back on track. Set a min­i­mum tar­get and think how long it will take to get to the MVP. Bare min­i­mum of graph­ics and func­tion­al­i­ty. Just your core game­play mechan­ics. Yes, even if they are not per­fect and won’t work exact­ly as you envi­sioned. If you hit that mark­er, you will already have some­thing. Not just a pile of paper or a proof of con­cept of a sin­gle fea­ture, but some­thing playable. Maybe ugly, but playable. You can iter­ate on that lat­er and improve it, but right now — you already have something.

At the end of the day, only one per­son in the world can answer this ques­tion — you. If you under­stand that you’re stuck with your project and have lost faith — maybe it’s bet­ter to throw it out of the win­dow than forc­ing your­self to work on it. Don’t be afraid to move on. After all, we’re learn­ing in the process. After one mis­take, after one fall, you’ll know more and do bet­ter. Yes, you’ll almost cer­tain­ly make new mis­takes and throw even more projects out, but you’ll learn.
And if you’re adamant that every­thing is going to be okay, you’re back on track and mak­ing your mag­num opus — then rock on! But keep in mind what we’ve dis­cussed and reassess your project from time to time to avoid los­ing perspective.

Good luck!