Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Five Steps To Get Motivated to Make Your Indie Game

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 31, 2012

Full-time indie game developers have a pretty accessible motivator called “the bank account.”  Sadly, it works best when diminished, which is not it’s preferred state. But let’s say you are a part-time indie, or an aspiring indie, and your ability to keep eating is not tied to the completion and success of your next game. With all the other hectic issues of life, you lament, it’s so hard to get and stay motivated to work on your game.

Been there, done that. Here’s a secret five-step trick that works for me:

#1 – Play your game in its current state just long enough to generate a list of things that are Not Working (or not working right). If your game isn’t playable at all, it shouldn’t take long at all to generate a list!

#2 – Write the list down. Order it in whatever order you’d like to work on things. Or not. Just make sure the list is in some usable form. I prefer .txt files, though in the past I just kept  a paper notebook. This doesn’t need to be exhaustive, just maybe a dozen things you saw during step #1 that you wouldn’t want to ship unless they were taken care of.

#3 – Start working on one of the items on the list. If and when you finish, mark it off, and begin working on the next one.

#4 – Repeat step 3 until you feel motivated, or complete the list.

#5 – Go back to step #1 if the list is completed.

If you complete all five steps without ever getting motivated, well, guess what? You’ve got a game ready to release, now. Release it. That oughta motivate ya!

Okay, so this post is a little bit on the flippant side.  But if I’m harping on this, I’m just as much harping on myself, ‘cuz it’s a problem I also face. And the above solution, dumb as it sounds, is IMO really an answer to a key problem:

Motivation (and it’s cousin, inspiration) doesn’t come when it’s convenient.

If you only work when you feel “motivated” you aren’t going to get anywhere. Making games can be a lot of fun. But a lot of the time, it’s work, and not particularly exciting. Spending hours debugging a rare save-game corruption is every bit as NOT exciting as it sounds.

(Okay, I’m lying a little bit. I’m a programmer. Sometimes I take great glee in hunting down and killing bugs in code. It’s not exactly a motivating factor for me, and it’s often extremely frustrating, but there’s a huge sense of job satisfaction solving a major puzzle in your code. But I digress.)

Bottom-line – and again, I’m preaching to myself as much as anybody else – is that making games requires more professionalism than motivation. And really, working on a game after all the other jobs and chores of the day are done can feel a little overwhelming. Getting a session started can be a pain.

But much as a swimming in a pool can be much more enjoyable once you’ve dived in and forced yourself to get acclimated to the water temperature through a quick shock, I find that forcing myself to work on the game when I don’t feel much like working is the best way to get myself in the ‘zone’ where I am most productive AND really enjoy what I’m doing.

This works for writing, too. Sometimes I have to write crap for several minutes before I actually get inspired to write something worthwhile. I “fake it ’till I make it” – go through the motions until my brain finally agrees to go along in the direction discipline or professionalism or stubbornness is leading.

This seems to be the best way for me to get things done. Make it a habit, and motivation and everything else will eventually follow along.

Just don’t forget to make the list.


Filed Under: Production - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • GBGames said,

    I hear that. I have tried a few different ways to motivate myself. I found that if I get started, momentum takes over, and I’m happily productive.

    The problem was getting started.

    “Bottom-line – and again, I’m preaching to myself as much as anybody else – is that making games requires more professionalism than motivation.”

    Substitute “discipline” for “professionalism”, and that’s the conclusion I came to. I had to create a regular habit of starting. As an indie, you have no one else to get you to work, no external boss or the threat of being fired for showing up late or simply sleeping the day away.

    So you have to be disciplined. I read “The Now Habit” and learned that sometimes you just need to dedicate a half hour to a task, focusing all of your attention on it for that 30 minute block, and then giving yourself a small break. What usually happens is that you end up continuing to work on that task past the 30 minutes.

    If you don’t feel like it, that’s fine, but as you noted, the trick is to not care if you feel like it. You do it regularly no matter what you feel like. Call it discipline, professionalism, or stick-with-it-ness. The idea is that you need to take action regardless of external pressure.

  • Armaan said,

    I can’t begin to count the number of times I felt motivated to write just as I was getting into bed at 2a.m. and had to wake up at 6 to do something important. So, I agree when you say motivation doesn’t come when it’s convenient.

    I find that getting started is the hardest part, though. Once I start working for the day, the momentum builds and I don’t need motivation to keep going.

  • Xenovore said,

    …forcing myself to work on the game when I don’t feel much like working is the best way to get myself in the ‘zone’…

    Could not agree more! Aside from the whole make-a-list thing (hella important), just running the game is usually enough for me; then I see something that needs work and I can jump on it (and/or add it to The List).

  • NaweG said,

    One of the thing that helps me is to work with others. Not on the main game, but by having VAs and/or testers, and knowing that they are expecting the game by date X, can keep me focused even when my copy of Civ V starts it’s siren call to me… 🙂

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