Developing Games In Your Spare Time

I’ve been developing games part-time for about 6 years now and at this point I’m only spending about 1-5 hours a week doing anything at all related to game development (including updating this blog).  I used to spend 10-20 hours a week when I was in college, but its tough these days.  When I come home after 8-12 hours of software development, I just don’t have the motivation to jump right into game development, but the more I procrastinate, the worse I feel about it and the less motivated I get… its a vicious cycle.

For all the part-timers out there, here are some tips that I’ve picked up along the way to help us break the cycle:

Tips:

  • Pick a project you can see yourself working on for at least the next 2 years.  Let’s face it, you just can’t crank out games as fast as the full-time guys and if you get bored after a couple months and ditch the project, that’s a lot of wasted effort… believe me, I know! :sad:
  • Create a design document for your current game project… the more detailed the better.  Document anything you can think of that’s even remotely related to the game (it helps to categorize the design doc into sections).  If you are like me when I started 6 years ago, you might be thinking, “Design Doc?  That’s ridiculous… I know exactly what I want to do!”  Believe me, when you’re only spending an hour or two a week, you’ll be really happy when you can refer back to the design doc and remember exactly how the player shop interface should look… or whatever.  Think about how much time you could save by documenting a detailed interface design upfront versus debating over where to put each button/control every time you have an hour long work session.  Another thing to remember is that the design doc should be a living document.  Feel free to modify it or add to it throughout the project to clarify certain aspects of the design, but beware of Scope Creep (hmmm… sounds like a peeping tom with super powers :shock:   See the next bullet).
  • Try not to increase the size of the project’s scope after the initial design.  This is one of the things that leads to abandoned projects.  Keep to your design doc and don’t go adding in every bell and whistle you can think of.  If you find yourself doing this, add a section to the design doc (at the bottom) called, ‘Sequel Enhancements’ and add all of the superfluous crap you think of down there… the keyword is Sequel… meaning AFTER you release your game!
  • Work at least a little bit every couple days (or every day if possible).  Even if you’re not feeling very motivated, make the time to work a little bit… even simply reviewing the design doc is helpful.  I found myself doing this multiple times on my current project and each time I made needed clarifications to the design so it wasn’t wasted time and it also kept everything fresh in my mind.
  • Keep a log.  This is a great memory-jogging trick.  Make a few notes when you are finishing up each work session… enough so that you know exactly where to jump back in next time.  Task switching can eat up about 15 minutes of each session and if you’re only working for an hour, that’s a quarter of your time!  In Tom DeMarco’s book Slack, he goes into detail on the subject of how much time is wasted by task switching.
  • Don’t surf the web or check email during a development session.  Don’t get me wrong, you need time for those things too, but this is time you set aside for development… don’t waste it.  Think about how the task switching mentioned above plays into this.
  • As you’re falling asleep, think about the current task or problem you are facing.  I do this all the time and usually wake up with a solution to the problem or at least a new path on the way to solving the problem.  The mind is an amazing thing!  If you’re laughing at me right now, thinking I’m a few coins shy of an extra life… check out this book.

Keep with it folks and one of these days you’ll actually finish that MMO or RTS you’ve been working on!  If you think of any other good tips, post a comment.

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3 Responses to “Developing Games In Your Spare Time”

  1. Htbaa says:

    I recognize every point you’ve written down here, and agree with all of them. Except for the last point. Thinking about a problem whilst trying to sleep prevents you from getting to sleep. At least it does for me. Afterwards I don’t wake up with the feeling I’ve had enough rest.

    Task switching does indeed consume a lot of time, so I notice on my daily job. You need to make preparations, focus, charge yourself up for the task and then get to it. Switching halfway means you need to properly postpone finishing your current task, and then follow the whole process again. I hate nothing more when I’m on a go and making lots of progress, to get suddenly sidetracked because of a manager or something.

    Doing this at the daily job consumes a lot of energy. So just like you when I get home I don’t have much energy or motivation left to start game development. It’s not that I don’t like it, I’m just drained. And usually when I think about getting something done after a hard day of work, I can’t decide which task to choose and thus I start browsing the internet… Grrr!

    So the time I do have for game development gets totally wasted on doing nothing :-) . It would be a lot easier if this was the only hobby I had, but it’s not.

  2. Yeah, I thought about that when I wrote it… for some people thinking about a problem just keeps them up. I think the key is not to stress about a problem. What I do is just relax as I normally would when I’m ready for sleep, then just as if it were a fun logic puzzle, I try to come up with possible solutions and think about why one solution might work or why another one wouldn’t work. I do this for about 5-10 min as I lay on my back, eyes closed, and when I feel like my thoughts are becoming too unfocused to solve the problem, I let the problem fade out of my mind and turn on my side. Turning on my side is kind of a mental trigger for me to say, “Its time for sleep now”. It takes some practice to think about the problem in a relaxed mindset and not stress about the problem. I almost find that it’s what gets me to sleep some nights :) … sadistic, I know.

  3. Aiursrage2k says:

    Part time game developer with no job here! Seems good advice.