How can I overcome game development obstacles?

I have plenty of obstacles that *could* get in the way of my project each day, but guess what? I simply don’t let them. If you let them stop you then you don’t want to succeed enough, it’s as simple as that. Martial artists and sports people (and millionaires) know this, but many people fail to apply it to various aspects of their own lives.

I’ve just had a “mastermind” meeting with some good friends where we all look at positive ways to leverage our businesses, and then I read a thread on BlitzBasic.com about reasons why people’s projects have stopped and I realised that some people may need help in changing their mindsets. So I’ve made this blog post about it. I hope you find it useful!

Here are some examples of possible “project stoppers” and possible solutions:

I have a day job that takes up too much time and drains me

OK quit it, or see if you can work part time, or totally free up your evenings and weekends by not watching TV, going to the pub, or playing games. Warning: You’ll probably be tired in the evenings and feel like a break at the weekend, so quitting your job is actually the best option if you are committed.

I can’t quit my job because I need the money

So did I, but I did it anyway. I got loans, reduced my living expenses and gunned for success because I had no choice but to succeed. Also try to marry someone rich ;-)

My game needs art and I can’t find an artist

Artists will work for MONEY – funny that. Pay them and they will flock. There’s tons of artists on Indiegamer advertising and probably tons on the Blitz forum (and numerous other places) that will work for money and would love to work on your game if the price (and concept) is right.

I don’t have any money to pay an artist

For God’s sake! This is a lame excuse. Get a loan, juggle your finances, save up. You can even do stuff like get a loan and transfer it to a 0% deal on a credit card if you find the right sort (I did this, it’s called Stoozing, look it up). You can even ask relatives and friends if they are prepared to help you out (I didn’t do this, but I know that it works for some people). Not having the money never stopped plenty of millionaires who speculated to accumulate – don’t let it stop you.

I can’t get anyone to work for royalties.

Pay them then! But if I can’t convince you to spend any money then try this: make some simple free games to prove to artists that you can actually complete a game. Use free Internet graphics or make your own “programmer art”. Hopefully you may be able to attract a viable artist via this method. If your placeholder art is slightly better than plain squares, it may inspire artists who think “OK, I can make this look better and it would be fun!”.

Same goes for musicians. Put some free music in there that gives the general idea so that a musician can get inspired to improve it for you. Sound effects you can buy really cheaply (you can even record and try out lots of tester ones before honing it down to the actual ones you want to buy). If the musician can make the sounds for you, even better as they should be in tune with the music and more consistent theme-wise.

I don’t have enough time

Work out what consumes your time and make radical cuts. I’ve already talked about quitting your job, but look at other “pointless” activities you do and see which ones can be removed or trimmed down. Get into being an organised efficient person so that you can clear out daily non-game related tasks a lot quicker and then apply the same type of efficiency to your project so you don’t waste time on unnecessary time-consuming crap. How long do you spend in bed? Could you sleep an hour less without affecting your health? Are you prepared to find time at the weekend or on public holidays?

Warning: Make sure to devote enough time to exercise and eating healthily and even meditation or breathing exercises (these will give you more work energy and brain power!). Also be sure to make enough time for your partner and kids because if stuff goes wrong with your partner, it will seriously ruin your programming mood and also your kids will grow up before you know it!

My Engine is taking too long

Buy a framework or an engine for a head start! Don’t reinvent the wheel. Are you even using the right language? i.e. is it one you can make stuff happen in quickly? If you insist on making your own engine then KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Start basic and then make a game and add to the engine as you make the game, this will ensure you a) have a finished game and b) an engine with realistic features that your games actually need and not some crazy features that you’ll never use. You might even be able to sell the framework/engine like I did!

My partner won’t let me

This is a tricky one but the best option is to talk to them, explain how you FEEL if your partner is a woman and what you are THINKING about if your partner is man. Explain that it’s a dream and you want to go for it, and that it WILL disrupt your finances for a while, but that you aim to make good money and have good security from this (perhaps back this up with a business plan/facts ‘n’ figures) and that worse case, you’ll pull out of it and get a “proper job” ;-)

Other options include a) do it anyway no matter what they say, when you are rich, they won’t complain any more and you can say “see I told you so” or b) get a new partner (or none for increased programming time). I’m pretty much kidding on “get a new partner or none” but seriously, if they are holding you back in this way and you feel trapped in your day job, MAKE A CHANGE in your life, it’s up to you, not anyone else – you only live once!

It’s worth finding out if your partner is doing what they really want in life too. What if you can support them in making a change of career or starting a new fulfilling hobby too? Then you can both move forwards together. Perhaps you can offer to have more days with the kids so they can do something they really want to do. Strive for win-win and fairness.

I’ve run out of motivation

Well perhaps game programming isn’t for you but some other aspect of game production is? But maybe you just need to re-motivate yourself! There’s plenty of stuff about this all over the Internet. Try doing something that inspired you to make games in the first place – perhaps you need to play some of your favourite games, or boot up an emulator and play some old classics, or read some stories about other people’s success, or make a little fun minigame, or listen to some Commodore 64 tunes or Euphoric Trance music. Whatever gets you back into that space where you really want to have fun making and selling a game! Be sure to REPEAT this process whenever you feel your motivation dip.

Having a plan really helps out as you can chart your progress and see clearly what you need to do next. Also if you feel unmotivated, just START something, anything on your project and 5-10 minutes later you’ll probably be really into it.

The competition is strong

True, so you’d better get started right away at making games for the experience. Each game you make refines your skills and knowledge more and more. Keep looking at the competition to see if you can do it better. Make sure you find out LOTS about marketing your game or get someone else to do it for you. Be prepared to spend money to get your game noticed (on artwork/music, and on advertising, press releases etc). It may take several games before you hit the big (or medium) time, so be prepared to be in it for the long haul.

I’m not very good at programming

OK, so the best way to improve is practice by making games! Besides you don’t need to be a genius at programming to make great games at all (I’m not). You can even work as part of a team – perhaps with another programmer (to exchange ideas and share workload) or maybe you just end up designing and financing the game and getting someone else to make it.

I’ve run out of ideas

Wow, OK well maybe you shouldn’t be making games then. I have so many ideas that I’d never have enough time to make them into games if I lived to be 1000. If it’s just creative block on your current project, then play some other similar games, talk to trusted people about the ideas and see what you can come up with – brainstorming with two heads is way more fun that on your own! Read some books, watch some movies, go for a walk, relax in a bath, listen to some music. Basically get in a creative space however best suits you.

I have other more important things I should be doing instead

OK, well just double check they are really more important. If they are, can you tweak the time spent on them to free up more for programming? Also, of course, check all your non-essential time consuming activities and cut them out so that you can do BOTH programming AND your important things (e.g. family, health, other interests, other businesses). Failing all of that, then it sounds like you simply don’t want success in making games enough, so drop the pressure from yourself. Just have fun making mini-games or simply playing games and enjoy that without the pressure to have to make a commercial game spoiling your fun. Get a job writing business software instead (that’ll soon make you wish you made games for a living ;-) )

Conclusion

OK I could probably go on for ages but that’s a pretty comprehensive list. The long and short of it is: If you hear yourself complaining, then shut up and do something about it! You are in control of your life and your career, so if you encounter an obstacle, find a way round it or blast your way though it! Be bigger than your problems. Plan for success instead of failure.

As per usual if you have any new obstacles you’d like to mention or comments on the existing ones, then please post a reply! I look forward to hearing from you :-)

20 Responses to “How can I overcome game development obstacles?”

  1. Juuso Says:

    Great article Jake.

    I would like to add that “before jumping in the lake” one should first “test the waters”. Like… there’s no point jumping in an empty pool :)

    After selling one copy of a game (or earning $10 or whatever), one can see what it takes to get few more zeros in the end of that number…

  2. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Good point about testing the waters. Market research is always important. However, the downloadable games market is a proven market that you can make money in. Then only unproven factor is “yourself”. So that’s the bit that really needs testing i.e. have you got what it takes and do you enjoy it? I have heard head said that if you don’t jump in, you’ve got less to lose and won’t try as hard…

    Yes, I remember my first sale, what a great feeling, then seeing them come in is very addictive and thinking of new ways to get more Zeros :-)

  3. Videogame Biscuit » Overcoming obstacles Says:

    [...] obstacles Posted by admin  Published in Game Design Grey Alien Games has a great article about overcoming game development obstacles. A very useful article, since this [...]

  4. Jon... Says:

    Great article,
    Just to let you know I’ve linked to this article from a similar one I posted earlier.
    You can find a link at

    http://www.whitetreegames.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=20&Itemid=33

    Keep up the good work.

  5. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Thanks for the link Jon. Good points in your article which I totally agree with. On the resentment front, it’s true that some people seem to be in permanent resentment mode instead of being joyful at someone else’s success and realising that they too can have success with the right attitude.

  6. Matt Merkulov Says:

    “I don’t have enough time” – it’s good to start keeping count of time then, writing down amounts of time used for work and other activities during the day. A lot of people amazed of how much time they simply wasting.

  7. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Yes Matt, that’s a good idea. Find out how much time you really spend on work and other things. I log all my working hours for several reasons: a) at the end of a project I know how long it took as a measure for new projects and how much I earned per hour b) I can see how many hours I’m doing per day (or wasting per day) and if I’m on track with my targets c) sometimes it’s useful to refer back to parts of the log to see how long something took before, or what I discussed with a certain person on a certain day etc.

  8. u2o Says:

    Slightly harsh in places, but honest.

    Not too sure I agree with the comment “..do it anyway”, in the “My partner won’t let me” section. Support from your partner (and children, if any) is very important. I think going against the grain and taking the attitude “well I am going to do it anyway!” is not very compromising and a little selfish. The chances are your partner will be un-supporting and negative which will only add even more pressure to an already stressed situation. I guess “One person’s happiness is another’s misery?” I think if partners / family are involved, it is vital to have their support. They say “Behind every good business is a good woman”, well that’s what my wife tells me! :)

    Juuso’s comment about testing the water is probably one of the first things you should do before “jumping in”. Research and a business plan is a must, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”, but this goes for most adventures and tasks you take on in life.

    I always think that being positive will attract a positive response (and as a side product, make you feel good), however, contradicting myself; reality is not always that kind. Being positive during harsh times is sometime the most difficult thing to do.

    Some good points raised, thanks for sharing.

  9. Grey Alien Games Says:

    U2o: Sometimes honesty does sound harsh which is why people beat around the bush. I used to be very direct with people but they didn’t like it so these days I try to hint at things in a way where people can learn for themselves. However I switched that off for this article haha :-)

    Regarding the family thing, yes the “do it anyway” is the *last* resort. As you can see I’ve suggested discussing it, coming up with good reasons, supporting your partner in their own endeavours etc, but failing all that (and providing you’ve really tried hard) if you really believe in your “mission” you should go ahead and do it. You’ll either be right or wrong and there’s only one way to find out…

    Agree with researching a new business first and making a plan, but at a certain point you need to commit properly to it otherwise you’ll never be able to put enough time (and energy) in.

  10. Photon Storm » Blog Archive » Excuses for not finishing games Says:

    [...] http://greyaliengames.com/blog/how-can-i-overcome-game-development-obstacles/ // [...]

  11. Daniel Says:

    I totally agree with you!
    Game development is a maraton run, not a quick sprint!

  12. cliffski Says:

    great article, all very very true :D

  13. Kai Says:

    “This is a tricky one but the best option is to talk to them, explain how you FEEL if your partner is a woman and what you are THINKING about if your partner is man. ”

    Lame. Don’t use sexist stereotypes that get in the way of an overall very valid point. It would be a lot more powerful if you said:
    “The best option is to talk to them, and to try to put your thoughts and feelings into a perspective they will understand and appreciate – that it’s for your own happiness, or that it’s a dream of yours.”

  14. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Thanks Kai, your point is well made. I used to be in “IT sales” and I got the technique about asking a woman “how do you feel about the system?” and a man “what do you think about the system?” from a fellow experienced salesman, and it totally worked. It may be a stereotype but it has a good success rate. It’s also cropped up in some psychology books as well. Of course we are not all as polarised as my description implies, but I’ve found it helps me out in quite a few situations. I also sometimes deliberately use “how do you feel?” with some men when the situation is appropriate if I think/feel it will help them get something off their chest for example.

  15. jason Says:

    I stopped reading at “quit your job”. Not good advice for most people. They will likely make more money from that job than their game.

  16. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Jason: You are correct that most people will make more money at their job than making a game. But my point is that if people are complaining that their job is stopping them from making their game, then that’s just an excuse because they could quit their job and go at their game 100% and then see how it worked out. They’d either succeed or fail, but at least they would have tried. If they failed, they could either try again, or get a normal job again.

    Incidentally, I had a very well paid IT consultant/developer job which I quit to make games, then I didn’t make much money for a couple of years as I built up the business (this is often the case with any new business), but now I make more money than my old job + I work a home. So it is worth it if you stick at it and can make it work…

  17. Aung Sithu Says:

    Thanks. This post really motivates me to touch my game code which has been freezed for almost a year. :)

  18. Grey Alien Games Says:

    @Aung: You are welcome, good luck finishing your game!

  19. Parade of Rain » Blog Archive » Low Hanging Fruit and Project Motivation Says:

    [...] development project motivation and such, instead of going into other aspects of it I’ll just link you guys to a post by Jake Birkett, of Grey Alien Games, that sums it up very nicely for indies looking to get ’serious’ [...]

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