2018 felt like it was starting well for me, but it turned into quite a disaster in the end. So, I'm going to tell a bit more here's what happened and what I'm going to do about it.
tl;dr To be expected in 2019: designing easier to develop games, less deadlines, less blaming myself over delays, better time management, living cheap.
What went wrong anyway?
So, first of all, here's a brief list of most of the things that went wrong last year:
- Getting sick for a long time and having lots of trouble getting back to work
- Starting dating and not knowing how to fit that and work together
- Having a pretty bad case of feature creep
- Learning that scripting and testing the game is way harder than I anticipated
- Blaming myself for the delays and losing lots of motivation because of that
- Financial troubles because of the delays and not having any other income anymore
Yeah, it wasn't too pretty overall, I guess, but I guess it could have been worse too. Like, at least I didn't burn out badly or get hit by serious depression or such, I can pay the bills thanks to the side job, and I found the most wonderful girlfriend who has been supporting me all this time.
Also, despite all the troubles, I still managed to continue working, though not particularly efficiently because of the side job, stress and not knowing how to make the whole mess work together. But, well, I didn't give up. I didn't even consider giving up because I still want to do this so much, and I'm a bit proud of that little bit of determination at least.
What to do about it then?
Well, let's be honest: even if last year was just quite and not a total a disaster, that's not good at all. Hence, I have thinking of things a bit for the last couple of weeks. Like, what went wrong, why, and how could I make it better this year. So, here goes...
- Problem: Feature creep
- Solution: I guess I should just design my games so that there isn't too much room to expand them. Like, making something like Rose Seed Replica can be pretty bad for me since there's room to add routes, side quests, minigames and whatever almost infinitely, and it's just too tempting to do that. Especially if it's your first big game and you're insecure about whether there's enough content, it can get bad for me, it seems.
- Solution: Getting testers involved earlier. Well, I got some testers involved with Rose Seed Replica already, but a few friends doesn't quite do it, it seems. Hence, I'm considering the possibility of releasing a demo of my next game really early and updating it every now and then. That might help a bit with getting more feedback, which would hopefully help me focus my efforts better on things people really want from the game.
- Problem: Not knowing how long scripting, testing and polishing are really going to take.
- Solution: I guess I can just learn about my mistakes here and use the data I have gathered to make better estimations in the future.
- Solution: I could try to do some of the scripting and testing during earlier development phases to spot possible schedule problems earlier.
- Solution: I should perhaps avoid absurdly hard to script and test features when designing future games. Even though they might seem like something people might like in theory, it's not going to be too good in practice if it leads to me rushing things out or makes testing so hard that there will be so many bugs left that it kind of ruins it.
- Problem: Feeling really bad about missing deadlines and losing motivation over that.
- Solution: I should stop blaming myself. Like, starting to feel stressed, hopeless and worthless is just so bad for my productivity that it's not worth it. And, well, I'm not even particularly prone to things like stress and depression, so I can't even fully grasp how bad a negative loop like this could possibly be to you.
- Solution: Don't announce release dates for future games until the game is close to being finished. When you're working alone, there's just nothing you can do about getting sick, needing to spend more time with people you case and so on. It's just so hard to give a reliable date when something happening to you can delay everything by months, and if missing the deadline will wreck your motivation in addition, it's just not a good idea, I guess.
- Problem: Not knowing how to fit work, dating, side jobs and hobbies together.
- Solution: Well, judging by how much better I feel after taking a long break during the holidays, I guess taking a day off once each week and even having proper holidays sometimes might actually be a good idea. Like, seeing how last year went and how I feel now after the break, the days off totally pay off in the long term.
- Solution: I have been testing some time management schemes lately, and it looks like just working in 30 minute sessions and writing down what I have achieved seems to work pretty well for me. I don't know yet how well it's going to work in the long term, but I'm hopeful so far. Having an app ticking in the background somehow helps me not get distracted so much while I work, and thinking that you only need to work for 30 minutes and then van take a break sounds much less daunting than thinking that you need to work the whole day, even though the end result is more or less the same in both cases.
- Solution: If I don't have enough time for everything, I got to to priorize and at least make enough time for what's most important to me. So, girlfriend first. :D
- Problem: Financial troubles caused by the delays, and being poor adding to the stress.
- Solution: I got myself some side jobs, so I should be alright for a couple of months at least. Luckily, I was able to find something that gets the bills paid while not requiring full-time commitment, so I can still slowly continue working on games.
- Solution: I just need to spend as little money as possible for the next couple of years and enjoy the little, cheap things in life, I guess. It's pretty unlikely that I'll be able to live off my games in while, given how slow development and how lacking my marketing has been, but I'm still hoping that it'll be possible once I get a couple more games made and reputation built.