Restart Loop, looking for ‘the one’

If you’re a developer, I’m sure that you will have felt new game motivation. You are working on a project, not really feeling it anymore, starting to see the holes and problems, and you feel that new project calling to you. Maybe that is ‘the one’. I’m super guilty of this, and the endless restarts don’t do good things for your morale overall, in my experience. Each restart is more time lost, that makes you feel more guilty about the next one, and adds more pressure on you to find ‘the one’, which in turn makes new ideas more and more tempting, and restarts more common. Its a bad cycle that is hard to break out of.

That isn’t to say that you have to complete every project, some just don’t work, I don’t think you know if a game will be good before you can play it, and I’ve definitely made a bunch of bad prototypes. But this got me thinking. How to I keep ‘new game’ motivation for ongoing projects, and break out of this loop?

When I made The Botanist, I managed to break this loop, for a while at least.

 

Breaking the loop

I made the original version in a couple of evenings just because I was curious about procedural generation. I felt like it was more interesting than whatever other projects I was working on at the time, so I took a break (my regular excuse for starting new projects) and built that. But this time, something was different, and I saw this little plant toy through to completion over many months, and released it on Steam. I think the difference was that it had players, all the way through development.

As soon as I gave the plant toy to other people, and saw people enjoying it, it refuelled me to expand the game and make more. I did this quite often, admittedly on a very small scale, just a few close friends, as I was still nervous of showing buggy, unpolished games. I think this is something that most developers just don’t do enough of. Generally, we are all nervous of showing something that isn’t quite right, or not polished enough, and with the bar set so high for indie games now it’s hard not to compare your game to everything else out there. I know I do that all the time, and impostor syndrome is a real problem in our industry (something to talk about another time).

Obviously, there is more to it than this, but it is a start, at least. For my new project (that I haven’t talked about because I don’t listen to my own advice and it isn’t ready to show…), I will try to share early builds as widely as I can. I can see what people like, which people it resonates with and make more of what those people want. I don’t believe that everyone will hate it, there is an audience for whatever you want to make so long as you believe in it, and it opens up avenues like Patreon, where people can support the games ongoing development.

 

Making a better loop

In this new mental model, a game isn’t one project, but a feature is. This works especially well if you also work full time like me, so projects take such a long time. Each new feature is an event, a new release, and your ‘new game’ motivation starts to become new feature motivation. The game should always be playable at each release, if you feel like you are reaching an end point, you can stop and move on, with this project ‘complete’. Pass this new build out to players for another nice motivation boost, and think about what ‘the one’ feature is next. This way you game can change over time, maybe you like player created content this week, so you research that as a new feature for this game, and you don’t abandon your current project. It is possible that you make a strange Frankenstein of a game, but I think the feedback you get will help to control and refine this over time.

Another model is to make tiny games, and release often. You get the same positive feedback loop, and you don’t feel like you are stuck in one project for too long. This doesn’t suit the type of games that I want to make, and I don’t have experience of this, but I’m sure someone else has written about it.

 

I will write more about this, and how the development of The Botanist and my other games has influenced my new game soon. I’m super excited to get it to MVP so I can show you what I have been working on.

If you have any thoughts on this, I would love to hear from you! Please drop a comment or talk to me on Twitter.

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