How To Stay Motivated

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This is arguably one of the most important articles I could ever write, because motivation is hard to come by as an indie game developer and it's something that everyone struggles with. We have all experienced the initial excitement of coming up with a game idea and digging quickly into development. That excitement can last for days, weeks, even months, but as you start to approach numerous months and years for a single game, that excitement fades.

Some of these ideas may seem obvious, while others may feel new - in either regard, I hope this article can reignite your spark of creativity for your games.

Here is a formal list of the 10 items that I follow as a means for staying motivated:

  1. Motivation Is Fleeting, Drive Is Not
  2. Mix Up The Work You Do Each Day
  3. Take More Creative Liberties
  4. Stay Accountable Through Communities
  5. Be Inspired By Other Game Devs
  6. Document Your Progress
  7. Play Other Games
  8. Make Your Goals Physical
  9. Adopt The Growth Mindset
  10. Don't Guilt Yourself!

Let's dive deeper!


Motivation Is Fleeting, Drive Is Not

Using "motivation" is a bit misleading, in that it only really captures the feeling you have towards your game. Everyone is excited about their game, even when they don't feel like working on it. In this case, you're always motivated for your game. The real struggle is the "drive" that stems from motivation.

Drive is habitual - it's the ability to continue working on your game no matter the circumstance, because you have specific goals you want to achieve. It shouldn't be unnecessary pressure, but a simple commitment you make to yourself each day to work towards your objectives.

Start with something small each day - if all you do is make a square in MS Paint, import it into your project and call it "Placeholder NPC," then that's already good enough! Every small action you do each day brings you closer to your goal, and it's better than a base of 0% progress. These small actions quickly add up over time until you've suddenly made massive progress on your game.

Just commit to a small amount of development to your game each day, and evaluate from there on if you can commit additional time.


Mix Up The Work You Do Each Day

Game development requires numerous jobs - engine based toggles, scripting, scene setting, environments, music, sound bites, modeling, artwork, texturing, fonts, marketing, level design, brainstorming, testing, etc…

The list could go on forever, because there's just so many different skills that game development requires. Use this to your benefit as a way of continuing to work on your game each day. You may randomly wake up in a "coding" mood and suddenly realize how to fix dozens of bugs. Other days, you don't feel like touching the actual game, and would rather work on community-building and promotion.

Use these feelings as an opportunity to mix duties up every day, and it won't always feel like a chore. I've often found that walking away from a certain aspect of game design for a few days will re-energize my thoughts later on, which enables greater creativity.

Indie game dev affords a luxury that many people dream of - YOU decide what you get to work on each day, and how much effort you put in - use this to your advantage to vary the daily grind!


Take More Creative Liberties

Creativity is what fuels game development, and that simple reminder can help re-fuel your motivation. If a certain aspect of development has become tiring and frustrating, take the time to step back and evaluate the "why" behind what you're trying to achieve.

One example is with my inventory system, specific to dedicated chests in my world that could store items. I spent ages trying to set up item limits for stacked items in chests, and being able to evaluate groups of similar items. At a certain point, I asked myself why this constraint was even necessary. I had only applied it because the mechanic was wide-spread in the genre, but my own experience with it was often annoyance. I decided to drop it and allow any quantity of items to be stored, and this worked wonders! Players during testing have appreciated this small detail, and have

In the end, I was able to cut development time and create a more elegant solution that players enjoyed. It wasn't the original design in mind, but in an effort to stay motivated, taking those creative risks was exactly the confidence boost I needed.

Taking the time to be more creative and open to changes with elements of your game is a direct way to overcome roadblocks that can otherwise tank motivation.


Stay Accountable Through Communities

What's interesting about this point is that I stumbled across it unintentionally. As I've continued learning more about game development, I have been able to connect with tons of amazing individuals through platforms like Discord.

Beyond the help that indie game devs afford one another, there's also a level of accountability that comes up. In tracking the progress of other games, I've found those people to be extremely honest about how their development has progressed or stalled. This leads to rounds of encouragement that is always appreciated.

Development can be lonely, but it doesn't have to be! All developers have similar end goals, so it only makes sense to connect with one another and foster a community of positivity that desires the best for everyone.

Use indie game dev communities as a mechanism of accountability - it's a great way to push yourself in the right direction again when the motivation fades.


Be Inspired By Other Game Devs

In a similar vein to staying accountable, viewing the work of other indie game devs can greatly help with the creativity behind motivation. This is more dependent on how you operate, as some may find a struggle in comparing their works to others. I've found it to be inspirational, where seeing the neat projects other devs are working on pushes me to continue working in order to show off my own progress.

Seeing how other developers approach similar challenges to you can also help reshape how you approach problems. You may find that your own design may need to be reworked, or that the mechanic you thought was crucial to add to your game did not have the same payoff as expected.

I especially recommend watching indie game devlogs, where creators share not only the progress they've made, but the time and effort it takes each day to reach their goals. The player will only see the final product, but other devs can appreciate the amount of time it takes to produce a polished game.

Do not be intimidated by other indie game devs - allow their journeys to be a motivator in order to continue working on your own game.


Document Your Progress

Perfectly connected to devlogs as an example, findings ways to concretely document the progress you make is a great motivator. It's easy to forget just how much work you've already accomplished when there's still a lot to do. I've enjoyed documenting progress through Discord, in that I take the time to write up what I achieved after a few weeks, what lessons I have learned if any, and what I aim to do the next time.

Documenting progress has all of these benefits:

  1. Builds up marketing skills by communicating in an effective, engaging tone
  2. Provides a solid source of work completed at an overview level to help break down remaining work
  3. Excites both players and yourself about changes and new features

It doesn't need to be elaborate - simply logging different types of progress during development wraps up the work in a more satisfying way that keeps you motivated for the next bit of necessary work.


Play Other Games

We make games because we love games! We shouldn't stop playing games just because we start to make them. It's like a musician no longer playing their instrument while trying to compose music - it's doable, but why restrict yourself in that way?

Playing other games is a way to relax from the stresses of development, and also becomes a small reminder of what features make games enjoyable for us. I would also encourage you to branch out into new genres, especially if the genre you are developing is identical to the games you enjoy playing regularly. Using elements of different genres is a great way to mix up your game, and brings a renewed look at design during development.

Don't push yourself to develop 24/7 - Continue to spend time playing games that you enjoy to build motivation for your own game.


Make Your Goals Physical

Whether you're looking to make the next AAA game, simply entertain others, or even just make lots of money, we all have greater goals as part of the indie game dev dream. I would encourage you to write out your larger goals, and place it where you can see it every single day. Maybe that's above your desk, on your fridge, or next to your bed - wherever you know it will be visible.

Having this physical reminder of the goals you wish to attain through game dev helps keep the bigger picture in focus. Yes, you still want all of your smaller, manageable goals lined out for daily work, but it helps to keep your larger-than-life objectives at the back of your mind too.

You may feel motivation slipping when the minor details are confusing, in which a physical, visual reminder of your goals will allow you the space needed to not get too caught up in the daily grind.


Adopt The Growth Mindset

If you've heard about the "Growth" mindset before, I don't blame you for rolling your eyes, as I have a similar reaction as well. Despite its cheesy approach though, I think some elements are certainly worth adopting.

Essentially, the "Growth" mindset details that you're never done learning, and that everything you do should be for the right reasons (ex: get good grades because you want to do your best, not because the pressure is there to). If anything, this represents the strong desire needed to achieve goals, and the acceptance that not everything will always work out like you intended.

For game dev, this especially comes into play when you're either lost on the direction of your game or development becomes stalled due to complexities. The aim here is to change your mindset from "this failure means the game won't be as good" to "I needed to fail in order to succeed."

If motivation is faltering because you feel your skills are lacking or that the game is too ambitious, try to channel this energy into productivity. Instead of thinking of how to get over the roadblock, think of how you can go around it.

When you change how you view "failure," you'll realize you never truly "fail" - you have just taken a unique path to fully understanding the vision for your game.


Don't Guilt Yourself!

I conclude with this point to help relieve any pressure you may feel from indie game development. It's completely okay if you feel lost or confused on the different aspects of development. There's no single right answer for how to approach game development. If there was, then every game would be exactly the same.

Pushing yourself to constantly develop when you're not in the mood will only lower your motivation further. You may finish your game in incredible time, but I doubt it will match the vision you had for it as closely as you desired.

Take the time you need to step away from your game - We all need space for our creative processes to re-adjust, and there's no reason to deny that from yourself.


TL;DR

Motivation is not something you can easily nail overnight. It is a renewed commitment each day to continue working on your projects to the best of your ability. You have a great game to make and we all look forward to seeing it - push through (without jeopardizing your well-being) and it WILL be worth it!