When to Wrap Up a Project

Sep 27, 2014

Great question from a member of the community:

From my older Give Yourself a Deadline: “Anything creative can be worked on indefinitely.”

However just because you can you add to a game forever does not mean that the game is going to get better and better from that added work. Knowing when to move on to the next project is a personal decision, with no universal answer, but I can offer a few clues to look out for.

When you…

1. feel you’ve learned about as much you’re going to from this one

2. are eager to apply what you’ve been learning from this project to a fresh start on a new direction


3. feel as though continued efforts on the project are beginning to have diminishing returns on the game’s experience

Then that’s it. When more hours and days of effort stop improving the play or you as a developer, it’s time to begin moving on.

I say begin to move on because this isn’t a momentary decision to just drop the current project to work on another. Moving on is not a single passing event. To be done properly it requires a series of actions to wrap up the current one before taking on the next. It’s critical to get as much practice as possible with the final stages of a project.

There’s an exception to this: when someone has taken on something far larger than they can possibly finish in any form, then the best option by virtue of being the only option is to just walk away from it and push reset. In that case though I strongly recommend people take Derek Yu’s message to heart, “If you do quit, scale down, not up.”

It’s sad when people move from a project that they were unprepared to handle to taking on another that they’re even less ready for. How can you tell for sure whether that’s your situation? Here’s another purpose for finishing the current project before moving on. There’s only one test that can determine whether a project that you’re moving on from was one which you were prepared to handle: did you finish it?

If you finished it, you can move on to making and finishing something incrementally a little more advanced. If you didn’t finish it, then you were already taking on too much, and your next project needs to be less complicated than the one that you dropped.

People that move on from project to project without ever finishing any sometimes think of or talk about this cycle as “getting practice.” What they’re really getting practice at from that habit – and by extension unfortunately becoming more and more of an expert at – is the undesirable anti-skill of not finishing projects. It’s never too late to turnaround a habit of this kind, should you or a friend wind up in that pattern at some point, but even better is to never begin down that road if you can avoid it.

Sometimes the way that your game ends up is much different than the initial vision that you started with. The experience during the final stretch is still every bit as valuable. Finishing and delivering a project requires a different set of skills and decisions than the beginning or middle of a project. The only way to get experience with those tradeoffs and challenges is to work through them.

If you’re wondering whether it’s time to move on, it probably is. But I urge everyone to proceed correctly by wrapping up the current game if at all possible, to ensure continual improvement as a game developer rather than flailing about and getting nowhere.

Determine what’s the minimum left to be done before you can release the current game in a presentable state. Drive it to completion. Then enjoy your next project.

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