Before we start, big thanks to Joe here for stepping in as our guest artist this week. There is just so much to love about making games. Dreaming interactive worlds into existence is just an exciting thing. Of course, making games is also very challenging, requiring all manner of technical and creative skills. But there’s also another kind of difficulty you face making games, one not discussed nearly so often: The mental stresses of game development. ♪ Every phase of development brings its own mental strains. So today, I would like to offer some tips for minimizing those stresses. Stress Points #1: Coming up with an idea. When starting a new game, there’s a lot of pressure to make the right decision about what to make. At a professional studio, this decision will determine the next several years of people’s lives. At a smaller studio, you may be literally betting the future of he compny on this next game being a hit. My advise here is to not let yourself get bogged down searching for the perfect idea. Instead, just pick a pretty good idea, and charge at it. Building prototypes, and iterating as fast as you can. Experienced designers know that success often comes not from picking the absolute best idea at the outset, but from making the most of the idea you do pick. By testing and iterating on your chosen concept as early as possible, you reduce the risk of pursuing a flawed idea while keeping costs low. Once you’ve got a proof of concept prototype that’s been well-received, then it becomes much easier to move production forward with confidence. Stress Point #2: Getting in over your head. It’s tempting to let plans spiral when you’re excited and invested in your own game success. At some point, nearly all designers have publicly over-promised, and then fallen short on delivering on time …or at all. They have all got war stories and lessons salvaged from the wreckage. Failing to ship may sound like something that happens late in development, but we most often set ourselves up for these failures early on, by promising something before realizing it’s beyond our means. Just keep in mind, players tend to prefer a well-polished simple experience, over an ambitious idea that is badly executed. And you would be surprised how challenging it is to polish even a simple experience to a commercial level. Stress Point #3: Project fatigue. If your only prior game design experience is Game Jams, adjusting to longer-term projects can be really tough. It sometimes feel overwhelming, or like everything’s at a standstill. You start questioning the entire project. You struggle with burnout, you think about quitting. You may feel jealous or inadequate when comparing your work to what other people are doing. These internal struggles are part of what keeps turnover so high in this industry. When these times come, remember that other game makers are going through this too, and you can, and should turn to your peers for support. Remember that big things happen one step at a time. So celebrate the small victories every step of the way. And remember to take care of yourself, eat healthy, take walks, sleep right, get fresh air, and spend some time with non co-workers. Passion is important, but so is sustainability. You are no good to your team or your players if you burn out. Think big picture, not just about the game that you’re making now, but about all the games you would like to make someday in the future. This is a marathon, so don’t try to sprint the whole way. Okay, so let’s say that you have survived production, good for you. And you finally ship the game, congratulations. Breath the sigh of relief, celebrate, and then brace yourself for one of several things that might happen next. Stress Point #4: Your game flops. Let’s say you launch your game, and…silence, crickets. Sadly, this is the most common outcome when releasing a game. As great as it is that so many barriers to entry in the market has fallen, those barriers were partly in place to block games from going to market if they were unlikely to sell. It is now much easier to get your game into a marketplace, but that is equally true for the competition, and there is more competition now than ever before. Nearly 20 games get approval on Steam green-light every day. On mobile, over 500 new games are released daily. SteamSpy recently shared that 38% of all games on Steam came out last year. With so, so many new games flooding the place, fewer titles can be featured, and it’s rare to even stay atop of the new release list for long. And this no longer applies only to first-time amateur projects, either. Professionally developed games get lost in the crowd, too, dead in the water on release. The only thing you can do he is try everything possible, long before the game’s release, to make sure that people know about it, and are expecting it, s that people will dig to find it once it’s out. Like I said, flops are the norm now, and it is just devastating to morale. If it happens to you, just pick up the pieces, keep your head up, and try to make and market your next game even better. Stress Point #5: Your game succeeds. A more successful game release can lead to a tidal wave of player feedback, and some of it is going to be brutal. Strangers just do not care what you went through to make it, and plenty of them will happily mock your work and say things to upset you. Sometimes we can learn useful stuff from this feedback, sometimes it’s simply people taking their own frustrations out on your game …or just being toxic jerks. And the harsh words always stick with you longer than the nice ones. Sadly, you have to develop a thick skin in this business. Because the more popular your game gets, the more negative responses you’re going to receive. Stress Point #6: Your game really succeeds. Sometimes a game can do so well, either financially, or just in terms of awards or exposure, that it leaves you just freaking out over how you’re going to follow it With great success, comes increased expectations for what you do next. Gone is the freedom of taking big risk in the safety of obscurity. It’s also very easy to trip over our egos in the wake of success, to trick ourselves into believing that our game did so well because of our talent and our good judgement. You start overlooking all the other factors that got you here: Your humility or your caution, your process, your receptiveness to feedback, and the will to improve yourself. As much of a hindrance as self-doubt can be, it can also be a help. A form of internal quality control reminding us that we can do better. In the wake of great success, it’s really easy to start giving your hunches too much credit. Just try not to lose sight of the actions, thoughts, and other people that got you there. Oh, and one last thing, don’t count on every single game being a back-to-back hit. Even accomplished designers don’t expect that every time. Some people do achieve it, but it is incredibly rare. Most devs budget the money from one successful release to cover their next several attempts. Many devs dive back into Game Jams or low-profile personal side projects, just to loosen up between the major efforts. All of this to say, making games is awesome. Most everybody we know who does it agrees that it is worth it, but it is also really hard, and sometimes it’s hard in ways that are really difficult o see until you’re deep in the process. But if we didn’t enjoy a good challenge, I guess we wouldn’t like games so much, right? See you next week.