How to never finish a project

Not finishing projects is the bane of many game developers around the world. Here is my confession list of how I do not complete projects. Do not do what I did.

Do not begin

I’ve often not wanted to make games. This is not because I do not like making games. I love making games but sometimes I just think too much about whether I should start or not start. You want to be clear whether it is a project worth starting so that you do not commit precious time and resources on badly considered work. I would pass my days, weeks or months thinking about it, and eventually other matters consume my attention. More days, weeks or months pass by before I remember the project. For me, it may take months up to a year to start on any project at all. This kills the principle of publishing games often. Not a good thing.

Begin without the end in mind

The adage “begin with the end in mind” rings true to almost every endeavor worth considering. The reverse is therefore often true if you want to fail in a project. Especially in my earlier years, the hallmark of a successful indie game developer to me was to start a project. Sound the horns! Post on social media! Tell all my friends that I am writing a game! Get started! It did not take long to realize that I did not know where I was going to.

As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, that if you do not know where you are heading to, any path will do. I therefore got very busy, not sure where my project is heading. I thought I had an idea of where to steer in the winds, but the winds were indeed steering me.

Tattoo art by Manuela Lai.
If this appears in front of me in an indie first person shooter game, I would unload a shotgun. But seriously, it is beautiful tattoo art by Manuela Lai.

After some time, friends started asking where my development is headed to. Clever ones will ask me what my game is about now. When I realize I could no longer articulate that without being confident that I knew where I was heading, I knew that I’ve not been managing the project correctly.

Begin with too grand an end in mind

How about going too far with the vision? Not uncommon, from what I come across from other game developers. Less experience developers tend to not realize yet how difficult it really is to write a game. Grand visions of astounding graphics and sounds fill the imagination. Thinking that Reddit, Unity forums and Stack Overflow will definitely answer all development questions. Without graphics, UI and UX experience, I used to think that I could slap something decent for my games in quick time. There was no reason to worry about grand visions… until I could not get pass finding all the answers I needed at the Unity forums. I realized that I was punching way above my weight, and in turn got knocked out by reality instead.

My grand idea of a game never got very far.

Hanging out too much on social media

Social media is an excellent site to talk about game ideas, share problems and make friends with like-minded game developers. We are social creatures even if we may be introverts and do not like socializing in person, social media is an great outlet.

Sometimes I spend a long time scrolling Indie Game Developers on Facebook for various reasons (great group though!), which I should actually be working on my project. It has been the same with YouTube channels also.

Never putting ideas, progress or anything on paper (or screen)

Not Eminem writing Lose Yourself.

Why did I have to write things down when I could just produce a game from off my head? Sure, this may be possible if I were just thinking of making another Flappy Bird clone. However, if more complex and especially original games are on my mind, I would need to consider a lot of things to make it successful. There is only so much the mind can hold to attention. Putting thoughts down on paper definitely helps.

Have you experienced being very clear about certain viewpoints until you spoke with someone else which suddenly gives you a wider perspective? It is almost the same as when you write things down on paper. When you do that, your mind is freed from retaining information. The paper functions like a sounding board that you can also revisit over time. If you have someone else to work with, you can share that piece of information too.

How about using other mediums like a Word document, or project tools like Atlassian Jira and Confluence? They all certainly help, especially when it comes to collaboration with other team mates. However, at least to me, paper has irreplaceable value for articulating and studying ideas, processes and any thoughts related to the project. There is also something less taxing to the mind in writing than it is typing while navigating screen interfaces.

Starting the next project before finishing the current one

Some situations may require you to start on a new project before you are done with an opened one. While I see that as quite unavoidable especially if you are an employee of a commercial game development company, it usually is not the case for the indie developer. Indie game developers tend to end up in this bad situation due to the shiny object syndrome. This is when the developer gets bored with the current project and/or comes across an attractive new idea and cannot wait to try it.

Don’t do it. Really.

Especially if your resources and attention are limited, one sure way of never finishing your current project is to embark on a new one concurrently. From experience, both the current and new projects will eventually never complete as the split attention would likely wear you out.

Giving myself too far away a deadline

I have no publisher to answer to. I have no worldwide customer base to answer to. Besides, I don’t often announce projects that I am working on until I am at the final phase of the project (and the reality is, not too many people care about my games currently).

However, this freedom tends to work against me. Over a passage of time, boredom sets in, and it gets harder to complete a project. I have lost the motivation to complete projects largely due to this reason.

Giving myself too near a deadline

I took the countermeasures against the above issue a little too far. I had at times cracked a whip over my own head and burnt away late nights and weekends to work on my project. This served me well only for one project, but most of the time it made me not want to work on my game after a couple of weeks off. I only recommend taking this route if you really need to complete a project within a timeline for any particular reason.

Not taking regular breaks

It is common knowledge that prolonged working with no breaks is bad for our health. Likewise, whether your indie game project is a hobby or you count on it for your bills, it is still work.

I have a tendency to work for hours with little no break. While this can be a virtue to an extend, it gets dangerous when you ignore its harm or worse, define your self worth by unearthly work hours. This is nothing to be proud of, and often in the longer term, it deflates morale and hinders quality.

Taking too many regular breaks

The reverse is also true when you break momentum and concentration for too long. Supposed brief breaks that end up as regular binge watching of YouTube videos, is not going to help in your projects.

The issue to me isn’t often about long breaks, but about having too many breaks. One long break like an hour hike in the nearby nature park often returned the favor with a more alert mind and improved spirit.

Doing other things

If it is time to work on your game, work on it. Just like how I would like to remind myself to get off writing so I can get back to what I should be doing proper.

Photo credits Warner Brothers, Manuela Lai, Nguyen Nguyen, Jordan Benton.