How To Stay Sane While Working in games Part Time
I haven’t advertised or updated this blog in a while, so: hi, I'm Sean. I've been working on games part time or in a hobbyist fashion for over 8 years. During close to 7.5 years of that time I've also worked a full time job at the same time, about half of that time I've been a solo dev.
This has been a challenge. Making games is hard, there are a lot of disciplines to follow, it's easy to get wrapped up in too many things and end up working in circles. So, to keep things as consistent as I can without burning myself up, I stick to some core principles. I’ve outlined the things I’ve learned to prioritize to keep myself going.
1. Your body needs things (And, no, not that coffee)
Easily the most consistent thing I do that keeps me energized and motivated is eating and sleeping at regular times and taking the time to wind down with those things. That means stopping to do those things; I'm not thinking about my game while I'm cooking, sitting to eat, or winding down for bed. Its so common to hear people skipping a meal, or only getting a few hours of sleep a night because they wrapped themselves too much into a project. That is a fast road to hard crashes and rough work. So stop, plan dinner, relax, eat, and breathe.
On the subject of time: projects are going to take longer than you expect, that's just normal. Now imagine that when you have only a few hours in a day you can dedicate, to this on the daily. Nothing is going to go as expected, so lower the chance for that to kill motivation for the day, week, month, or the whole project. Take your concept and scope down. Good. Now scope it smaller. Not sure how to do that? Cut the fluff -- the ‘maybes’. If there isn’t any fluff, you probably have too many core features. Cut some of those.
3. Go outside
Talk, be social, go on walks, and use this to help find or create community. Going out can help to bounce ideas off of, learn new techniques, and just de-stress if it's needed. But it's crucial to not lock yourself in your house for a month to work on a thing. Sure, maybe you need a weekend to finish a feature, but to then extend that out is a surefire way to start ignoring your own deadlines, and the more you stay isolated the higher chance you have to get yourself stuck in your own ideas without feedback, or taking into account a line of thinking you just can’t reach on your own.
There's no way you've done this enough, so, do it some more!
The bread and butter of making good things: being efficient. This takes its own time, research, thinking outside the box, and tools, but it's going to save you a ton of slogging. Apply some of the techniques you found going outside, or that one thing that one person suggested you tried once... Or dedicate some hours in a week to just look stuff up and try some different tools. I try to keep around 20% of my dedicated development time dedicated to finding and applying new efficiency techniques.
You may have noticed by now that every single one of these are a self care technique, and that is by design. These are all pieces that I've had to learn to -- going completely out of balance when working in my off time have had bad repercussions before, repercussions that I wouldn't want anyone to go through. So, please, be kind to yourself. Doing any hobby everyday takes dedication and discipline, but I couldn't be propelled to keep going for years at a time by just those cold hard focuses.
Make the games you love to make, and feel good about it too.