Choose Goals While New That Are Mainly Up to You

Feb 19, 2015

When you’re new to game development – and this applies to many other things as well – initially focus on setting goals that you alone can determine the outcome of.

It sounds so simple, but getting this wrong is among the more common causes of early burnout.

As examples of what I mean, here are some things to focus on that, emergencies aside, are entirely in your control:

+ Are you regularly putting some time into making progress on your game?

+ Are you consistently doing things to improve your capabilities as a game developer?

+ Are you finishing and releasing your games?

+ Are you working on games that you want to work on, or at least games that you’re sure will move you in that direction?

Those are internal goals.

As long as you’re a free person, and can spare even half an hour a day every now and then (ideally more), those are up to you. If you do them, that’s on you. If you don’t do them, that’s on you. The outside world doesn’t get much of a say in those.

In contrast, here are some things that you are not directly in control of:

– How many players the game reaches

– How many downloads or sales a game gets

– Whether the game wins awards

– Whether the game makes you famous

– Whether the game gets Let’s Played

– Whether the game gets reviewed positively

– Whether the game gets reviewed at all

I used a – to mark those, and a + to list internal goals earlier, since when they both were marked with •’s this one looked like a continuation of the same list.

Those depend on all sorts of factors outside of yourself and your decisions. There are things that can be done to improve your odds of those working out. If they don’t happen, there are a ton of outside forces at play. Those forces range from subjective tastes, to market timing, to any number of issues not only in the game but also in how you presented it (getting that right is really an art all in itself).

Focusing too soon on goals based on sales or recognition is unfair, tends to discourage, and does more harm than good.

When newcomers set goals that are largely up to them a few other benefits happen as well:

1. It removes excuses. When a goal is mostly in your hands, there’s not a myriad of outside factors to pass the blame on to.

2. It gets you momentum. Begin by doing what you’re sure you can do. By doing so you’ll gain confidence even as you advance toward new challenges that are increasingly uncertain, uncomfortable, or more outside your control.

3. It reduces puffery and unproductive talk. When there’s no internal (or external!) expectation that it has to lead to fame or recognition, there’s no need to talk big about the game as being something groundbreaking. The people I know who talk the most about their games generally aren’t doing much making. On the other hand, the people I know who are really making games have surprisingly little to say about them. Let your games do the talking, especially early on. If it’s not saying what you want it to, you’ll have to address it by rethinking your design or development process, instead of changing your messaging around how it’s presented.

4. It avoids planning around unrealistic expectations. Expect any money spent on first projects will never be made back, certainly not from those same projects. By focusing first on your internal decisions rather than external rewards you’ll be budgeting your interest, your energy, and your time, not your savings account.

5. It increases your odds of sticking with game development. The morale hit from failure, even if it’s a failure due largely to setting (or worse, publicly broadcasting) unrealistic expectations, can be tough to recover from.

6. It increases your freedom to make whatever you want. No investors, no customers, no surveys, no followers, and no other outside forces can tell you what to do or not to do with your limited time. When all that’s at stake is your own time, you’re in control of how you choose to spend it.

When new, set goals that are mostly up to you.

There’ll be plenty of time in the future to take on external challenges. You’ll be infinitely better prepared to do so and weather the unpredictability that comes with it if you’ve gradually built up experience, confidence, and good habits over time before doing so.

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