How to Stay Motivated When Creating a Game

One of the question that is often asks when creating game is “How do you stay motivated?”.  I can’t hostnestly say that I do know what will work for you, but I can tell what works for me.  First though, we need to establish some definitions.

Enthusiasm, Discipline and Motivation

Enthusiasm gets you started, discipline keeps you going, motivation gets you through.

For me, it’s very easy to get enthusiastic about new things : I like to learn about new things, I find it thrilling and it gives me a kick.  It usually translates into being very productive for a couple of days/weeks/months, but invariably, this will wither with time.  This is when discipline needs to kick in : it keeps you working efficiently until the next wave of enthusiasm.  Even though you’re getting tired or integrating assets, or converting data, or whatever repetitive/boring tasks, discipline will make you see through it.

Enthusiasm

This is the thing that gets you started.  You have a game idea, you’re excited about it, and you want to do it.  This is the excitement that you usually get at the beginning of something new.  It helps fuel your motivation, but it not motivation itself.  It is also fleeting.  Invariably, you will lose your enthusiasm.  You’ll have some boring task ahead of you, and you can’t seem to see the end of it, or there is always something wrong, you lose too much time fixing benign/unimportant errors.  The good news though is that it comes in waves : You get enthusiastic for a new project, then get demotivated because of the data-entry is painful to do, but you start imagine ways to automate it, and suddenly it’s back!  It’s a wonderful productivity tool, but it’s an unreliable one.  Use it to the maximum effect, but don’t rely on it as your sole source for getting stuff done.

Discipline

Discipline is what helps you remain efficient and productive when enthusiasm is gone (which it invariably will be).  It is the deciding factor which makes or break most game.  People with discipline will sit end on end with some boring, repetitive tasks.  They will bring themselves out of bed to finish something.  They will stop binge-watching shows on Netflix to work their 1 hour allotted time per day on some boring feature that is necessary for their game.  If enthusiasm gets you started, discipline will keep you going when it is gone, until the next wave of enthusiasm kicks in.

Motivation

This is the “why” you do what you do in the first place.  High-level athletes can relate to this a lot.  If you are trying to do a game,I suggest that your goal be definite and have an end like “Complete one game” or something similar.  Open-ended motivations are nobles, but they don’t tend to be as rewarding, and there is no end to get to, which is demotivating.  For instance “Learn how to make a game” is very nice in intention, but it is also ill-defined for when you have attained it.  You can learn how to make a game without ever doing one yourself (there’s various blog and resources available with tons of insights) and it will never end.  But if you want a finished product, I highly suggest that your motivation should reflect that.

Be aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect

Here’s what it looks like :

Dunning-Kruger effect.png

It will happen to your enthusiasm.  You are confident that you know how to do something.  Then some detail comes up, and your confidence is shaken, your enthusiasm gets a kick in the chin and your motivation fades because you don’t want to refactor an entire system.  I’ve found that once I became aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect (at least concerning my enthusiasm), it helped with my discipline tremendously.  Know that it exist, and in the saying of a great wise man : Knowing is half the battle (literally my case).  Discipline up, get through it, and await the next wave of motivation.

Don’t Overdose on It

In my experience, game developers are very passionate people (yes, even programmer, in their own fashion).  They love what they do, and they do what they love, and that’s great!  Except that it’s easy to turn something you enjoy into something bad for you.  For instance, I love poutine.  It’s one of the best food in the world.  When I started having a stable income, I would get one every other week.  I would be passionate about it : getting it from different restaurant, each having their own specialties, and I was determined to find the best one I could, and friends would even help me and enjoy finding the best one with me.  All good things come to an end though, and Inot only was I  starting to gain weight (it’s mostly 3 greasy ingredient : french fries, cheese curds and gravy), but I was starting to not enjoy poutine as much anymore, and even resent it.  I had overdosed on poutine (figure of speech, I didn’t literally fall down convulsing).  The same thing happens to anything you do/get/consume too often.  I’m sure it would be a kick ass job to be paid 8 hours a day to be sitting on the beach sipping on piña colada all day, every day, but after a year, I’ll get sick of it, and I might want to try something else.  Nowadays, I enjoy a poutine every now and then, and I am careful not to overdose on it again.

Divide and Conquer

Another important part of staying motivated (for me at least), was dividing my tasks into smaller tasks, until they take an amount of time I can digest.  Right now, with a wife, a baby girl, and a full time job, I am able to program in my spare time about 3 hours a week.  What I do have though is a 35 minutes commute time, which I often use to prepare a lot more carefully when I’ll program during my 3 hours.  For instance, I use Trello to keep track of my tasks.  I make them as small as possible, and as descriptive as possible.  For instance, my current Trello list for my yet unannounced game looks like this :

trelloboard

and we if we expand the “Add new Unit Archetype(Circle)”, it looks like this :

TrelloDetails.PNG

Each of those item in the checklist is a task that takes about 5 minutes each (except the “Acquire Visual asset” one.  If you know of good artists that do freelancing, let me know!).  The point is, make your tasks as small as possible in your “off” time.  Completing lots of small tasks helps to stay motivated (for me at least), and it helps a lot to manage my very scarce time.  It also helps a lot when I consider how many hours I spend programming.  My velocity seems very high, as I churn through tasks quite quickly.  I do spend maybe 1 hour preparing those tasks first though, so it’s not free, but since it’s during my commute anyway, I consider it free.

Final thoughts

My suggestion for people getting easily demotivated is to make sure you define motivation, enthusiasm and discipline correctly.  Knowing that, identify what helps you keep motivated after the enthusiasm subside.  I talked a lot about small tasks and Trello as it works well for me (I’m sure Evernote also does a wonderful job, just never used it), but try to identify one more thing that keeps you motivated.  More importantly though, determine what is your motivation, and set your expectation accordingly.  Do you think you’ll still be motivated after your initial enthusiasm subside?  Do you have the discipline to go through once the motivation goes away?  Sometimes motivation goes away without warning.  Discipline helps to keep you going forward, and helps with the return of said motivation.  More importantly though, don’t overdo it.  If you find something is no longer enjoyable, it happens.  Don’t become depressed because you’re doing something that you actively hate.  Discipline can get you far, but if you hate it all the way, don’t push yourself too hard either.  After all, the journey should be part of the fun.  It doesn’t have to be fun all the time, but it should be fun nonetheless.

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