10 tips for getting past “the wall”

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Quite often I see posts on Indiegamer about people who have nearly finished making their game but then they’ve hit “the wall” and seem to have lost all motivation to continue. Their story is often all too familiar: been making a game for two years, been doing all the work on their own, recently come to the realisation that there is still a ton of stuff to do before it can be released.

I’ve hit the wall a few times myself, so here are some tips that might help you to climb over or break through your own wall:

1) Should you really be finishing this game anyway? Sometimes you might just be flogging a dead horse. Perhaps the best thing to do is ditch the game and begin work on a new one (or give up making games completely, gasp!). There’s no shame in changing projects when you know that the game won’t be financially viable, or you’ve had a much better idea (providing that you don’t have a “better” idea every week and never finish anything) – you’ll have still learned something e.g. how not to do it and how to make your next game faster and better.

I ditched Iron Fist and made my first match-3 game and it led onto to a fantastic career in casual games.

2) Make a To Do list of all the remaining tasks and bugs. Don’t forget to include publishing tasks, which can add up to weeks or months’ worth of work. Then add time estimates to all those tasks. This way you’ll get a decent idea of how long the game may actually take to complete. You may then decide to cut features and only include the high priority tasks in order to bring the launch date nearer, or you may decide that it’s not worth investing any more of your time in the project.

One good thing about having a prioritised To Do list is that you have a clear path about how to proceed and can get satisfaction from knowing what to do each day and crossing off completed tasks. The game doesn’t feel so massive once it’s split into discrete chunks.

3) Get the game play tested (privately or publicly). If the play testers think the game sucks, then maybe you should ditch it unless you really believe that you can still make it great without too many changes. If they think it’s great, then hopefully this will motivate you to finish it and make it even better – especially if they keep asking you when it will be ready.

4) Tell everyone a launch date. Once you commit to something publicly, you are much more likely to complete it in order to not look like a fool (or a “sayer” but not a “doer”).

5) Get some other team members on board who can help finish it and so you can motivate each other (like going for a jog or to the gym with a partner). Of course getting reliable team members is a whole can of worms in itself…

6) Get a publisher or portal interested so you know that you have at least one outlet for sales.

7) Visualise the goal! Remind yourself why you started making the game. Was it just to have fun? If so, and you’ve stopped having fun, then make another game and have fun again, it’s that simple! If it’s to be financially successful, then see the finished game in your mind looking great and selling bucketloads – and figure out the shortest route to get there.

8 ) Take a break. Maybe totally away from the computer (go and do something healthy). Or maybe by playing games that inspire you to get back to making your own game. Sometimes taking a break allows you to come back to your game with fresh eyes so that you can make better decisions.

9) Make a mini-game for a few days. This may get your creative juices going again so that you can get back to your original game with enhanced vigor. It may even make you realise that you need to ditch your game in order to make a better game.

Tips 8 and 9 may work for some people, but part of me still thinks that they are procrastination techniques when you should really just …

10) Finish it! Professionals are finishers, and hobbyists/wannabes are not – sorry if that sounds harsh but it’s true. Stop messing around, just knuckle down and finish it. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s a real slog, but you just have to push on through and finish it to savor the sweet joy of launching a game. If you want it bad enough, you’ll do it. So, what are you waiting for? Close your browser and get to it!

7 Responses to “10 tips for getting past “the wall””

  1. James Says:

    Whip your Elephant!

    Everyone WANTS to be more productive. No one sits around and thinks: “Hey, I wish I finished less stuff.” It’s easy to get emotionally charged behind a new product but the elephant that we’re riding has Attention Deficit Disorder.

    The tips above are great. They’re like tips and tricks passed down from an old hand.

    Do you want to understand the root of the problem? Do you want data based on years of research by University Professors?

    Read the First Chapter for Free:

  2. Helen Says:

    I love it!
    closing browser now…

  3. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Thanks for the link James, I’ll check it out.

  4. Skully Says:

    good suggestions!

    However, the biggest challenge I face is media. I can code anything to happen but I can only create “coder art” which in the grand scheme of things is weak. I’ve been poking around the PD art market but the problem is that your artwork is not consistent looking. Again, even when you find art listed as free/PD, you never know where they got it which runs a risk…

    What do you suggest for that issue?

  5. Grey Alien Games Says:

    @Skully. Always check the licenses to see if the artwork is available for commercial use, as sometimes it is only available for personal use. If there is no license, or there is any doubt over the source of the art (or fonts or music/sounds), probably best to avoid. There are also some sites where you can license art pretty cheap. I used istockphoto for a couple of my games.

    Other potential options are:

    – Get the game working well with programmer art and see if you can get a decent, committed artist on board who believes in the project who will work for royalties. It’s easier to get people on board if you have a track record, or at least a 80% finished game.
    – Just pay someone. You might be able to work out a part cash and part royalties system which will save you some upfront cash. If you don’t have the money to pay someone, figure out a way to get the money. There are many ways if you want something bad enough.

  6. Chris Swan Says:

    (Disclaimer: I’m work on an initiative that helps indie gamers get their games to market)

    Great post 🙂 From experience and what I’ve witnessed I would definitely emphasise creating the hitlist (and breaking everything into small chunks) and the public commitment.

    Ideally you should be pushing out news about the game pretty much from its outset, and if you’ve already got some public exposure around your game PLUS you’ve stated an end date it’s going to be pretty hard to then give up!

    I’d also suggest that if possible you should really try and get someone with a fresh pair of eyes to look at your game AND your hit list. It can be very easy at this late stage to lose sight of what the game needs most since you are so close to it, but on the flip side you’re also at the stage where you can add great bang for buck to the game if you focus on the right things (ie the 80/20 rule).

    The last thing I’d suggest would be to bookmark posts like this one, and read them again if you ever start hitting the wall. There are lots of other blog posts/post mortems from devs who have struggled past this hurdle and then reaped the rewards, and these could all be very motivational to read if you get stuck. Hmm… might have to compile a list of these myself! 😉

  7. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Great summary thanks Chris! 80/20 rule is definitely a good one because often as programmers we are too perfectionist and that last 10% takes 90% of the time!