Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

How Much Time Does Indie Development Demand?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 26, 2013

Andrew Lamb, on Gamasutra, writes about Dispelling Some Myths for the Indie Studio Newbie.

I really enjoyed the article. I’d say much the same things if I’d written it myself. So kudos to Lamb.

But I wanted to talk about one of his points – about how much time and effort it takes to develop indie games. And he’s not wrong – it takes a hell of a lot of time and effort. These days, making even a simple indie game of reasonable commercial value is crazy-hard, and takes far more time than the neophyte would ever guess.

But I think he overstated his case – or underestimated his fellow game developers – with making a blanket proposition about people with full-time jobs and families are “probably screwed.” There are many people out there who hold down multiple jobs to make ends meet – with a family – that’s how I treat my game dev “job.” Or, rather, it’s how I treat it when I’m doing it right, and not-so-coincidentally, when I’m making the most progress.  It does require building your lifestyle around it, though. And having a day job that doesn’t get too insane with the overtime.  And – if you are smarter than me – choosing a project that is relatively small in scope.

It’s really a matter of time management and priorities. A week is 168 hours – we all have the same amount of time no matter our life circumstances. Let’s assume a full-time job takes up 50 of those hours… 5 days a week, 8 hours per day plus two hours for the ol’ commute, lunch, whatever.  So that leaves you with 118 hours a week for everything else. Sleep is also a necessity. Now, some people say that would take up 8 hours a day, or 56 hours per week… I make do with six (or less), which gives me about 14 extra hours in the week. That takes some work to get your body used to it, but it’s possible (and it cured me of the frequent bouts of insomnia I used to have when I was younger). But lets go ahead and say 56 hours goes to la-la land. So now you have 118 – 56 = 62 hours per week remaining for life.

Assume 2 hours per day, and 4 on weekends, to get stuff done needed for life. Cleaning the apartment, cooking meals, paying bills, doing laundry, shopping, etc. That’s 18 more hours off the week.  So now we’re squeaking in at only 44 hours per week left for everything else – social life, family time, entertainment, and so forth.

So can you limit “everything else” to just 14 hours a week? That would leave you 30 hours for game development.  24 hours? Surely everything else can fit in 24 hours a week. That would give you 20 hours a week to devote to game development. While you can’t get everything done in that much time as a full-time indie devoting 60+ hours each week to his passion, you can still get a lot done.

With a family, you might be able to economize a little in the “getting things done” department, but especially with smaller children, it’s going to take a lot of your time. But I still think 20+ hours a week of game development effort is possible for anybody with a full-time job that isn’t too excessive. (When my full-time job has me working 60+ hours a week, I admit my own game dev efforts drop down to a trickle).

But I don’t think that’s unreasonable, and possible for almost anyone. I think there are a few things that a prospective indie will have to do to make it happen:

#1 – Keep a firm schedule. Designate development time, and treat it like a full-time job. Hopefully your family or significant other will support you in this. One trick is to pick times when nobody else will be up. Some indies wake up early to get stuff done a couple of hours before the rest of the house gets up. I try to do it later at night after everyone goes to bed, but that is a harder time to be productive (‘cuz I get tired…)

#2 – Try to stay focused – family members  aren’t the only ones. This is NOT the time for browsing the web or dinking around on Facebook. Sure, emails and research are part of the job, but you’ll want to keep that focused on getting the job done.

#3 – Set goals and milestones for yourself.  This is a big deal for me, as it’s really easy for me to get to “spinning my wheels” on a task if I haven’t pre-determined exactly what I need to get done.

#4 – Keep the scope small. And then shrink it more. You can grow to larger projects as you get experience, but on a limited time and a limited budget, it’s going to be hard enough learning to get something small done.

I think it’s pretty doable, but these are all things I have to re-commit to on a regular basis to build or maintain good habits. But I think they’ll work for most other aspiring part-time indies.

This doesn’t at all invalidate Lamb’s point – you can’t get away without finding a way to devote that kind of time and energy to an indie project. But I think that with the proper approach, it is within reach of almost anybody.

Filed Under: Game Development - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • Dave Toulouse said,

    What I don’t like in this kind of article is that you often hurry to make short and easy to remember points but end up leaving out pretty important stuff too. That’s why I’m never enthusiast about the latest “advice giving post around”.

    Like when he says this:

    “If you have a full time job it’s still possible to get an indie project off the ground, but don’t expect to have much of a social life, or any other hobbies.”

    I’m sorry but I’ve been doing this part-time for 6 years now and I’m doing fine. Of course I don’t work as fast as others doing “just that” but in the end if I end up hating my life because I put all my free time in game development then what’s the point really.

    It doesn’t mean that shouldn’t be disciplined about it. If like me the goal is to eventually be able to make it full-time you better be prepared for it.

    There was yet another post of “don’t quit your day around” around lately and I see that sadly these posts still have a purpose. Game development can be harsh and when you decide to jump on it full-time without having first released something that brought starting cash and got you known a bit then you’re just asking for trouble IMHO.

    The thing Andrew should have said instead is that yes, doing that part-time will take longer and you should expect so but that you can also find ways to create more time.

    For example I decided to work only 4 days a week on my day job leaving me 1 full day to work on day + any time I can squeeze at night or on weekends. I was fortunate enough that my boss was okay with it and for me it’s a way to spend more time on what I really want to do later while still not gambling it all on 1 project that might force me to get another day job if it fails.

    So my view is that if you’re not able to manage a healthy balanced lifestyle before going full-time then maybe you still have to figure a thing or two about yourself because the pressure will only get worst once you’re on your own and have only yourself to rely on to get a paycheck. So doing it part-time do brings a few important lessons IMHO.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I guess you can go two ways – you can dispense a bunch of quick-and-dirty advice, or you can go in depth with one subject. I chose the latter with my article, though I think there’s a lot more that could be said on the subject. So while his rationale for each debunked “myth” may be a bit too pat and not entirely correct, I think for the most part they stand well as good rules of thumb.

    My biggest concern is that with this article and “don’t quit your day job,” there’s a bit of a focus on the negative. And I think it’s probably a good thing to warn people that it is way, way more challenging than it looks from the outside. That’s partly why I wrote my article earlier this week about the gap between prototype and product. It’s a crazy-hard job of the kind that would usually be glossed over in a movie with a training montage filled with three-second highlights.

    Yet that’s where the most difficult 80% of the job will be. I think it’s good to have people forewarned of some of these pitfalls, so they have can handle the curves and bumps a little better.

    But I also don’t want to dissuade anybody from trying, if they have their heart set on it. Maybe it’s a case of where anybody who is truly a game developer at heart will still do it in spite of the warnings. But I don’t want to make things sound overly daunting, either. It’s a hard slog, but it’s not out of anybody’s reach.