How to Avoid Burnout and Finish Your Game

This week on the Podcast

As game developers, shipping your finished game, whether you’re a hobbyist or part of a professional studio team, the goal you should always be heading for is to finish.

But sometimes we run out of steam and we lose enthusiasm and drive. This can also be referred to as “Burn Out.” So here’s our top tips on how to avoid burnout and finish your game.

We all know that at times, life just gets in the way, but there are a certain number of pitfalls you can fall into very easily, and often unknowingly, and this can hinder you releasing your game and can stop your project dead in its tracks.

Shiny Object Syndrome

So you have that great burning idea for a fantastic mobile game and dive in with total enthusiasm. You build out half of your project and suddenly, something inspires you and now you think you have a far better idea.

So you ditch the game you’re working on, maybe you’ll come back to it later but you want to work on the “new” one, and the same thing happens again.

The results is that you end up with a folder littered with half finished, half baked ideas and game builds and actually no finished “game” to speak of at all.

This actually impacts heavily on your time, and also the feeling of never having produced a finished project. This can be totally demotivating at best and, even worse, can make you wonder if you will ever see one of your games on the App Store.

One common solution is trying to crowbar your shiny new idea into your existing project, and this usually results in a very mixed up, confused game that has lost its way totally from your original idea.

New game ideas should never be ditched or crowbarred in, they need to be a whole different project, so keep a note book and scribble down your new ideas to revisit for a future game.

Shiny object syndrome is something I have battled with, but over time I have learnt to push through and finish projects that are current.

As a game developer, the only way to grow and perfect your skills is to ship your products and put that fresh, enticing, shiny new game idea on the back burner. Use this as the motivation to finish your current project and head towards your next title to hit the stores.

The need for Perfectionism

Perfectionism comes in many forms, and in game development and game building especially, I’m a perfectionist.

I think a lot of fellow dev’s are the same here. We’re very picky on getting things just right and accurate. There’s nothing wrong in this, its how it should be for a good looking game.

There is a fine line however between getting things looking just right and over obsessing with tweaking and re tweaking the little things way too many times. Concentrate on the stuff that actually matters. Be smart and adopt my 87% Polish rule.

Learn more about that in last weeks Episode – How to Add Polish to Your Game.

The Fear of Failure

We’ve all been there, will players even like my game? Will they leave terrible reviews? Will my game be a financial flop? Fear of failure is very real.

It’s ‘safe’ to wrap your game in a bubble to the extent that it sits on your hard drive and never hits the App Store at all.

These thoughts can hang like a dark cloud and every game developer on the planet, including myself are dogged with them before that release date. We all want players to love our game, that goes without saying, but you also can’t please everybody.

What if I get terrible reviews?

The answer is simple, don’t read them! Whilst it’s important to listen to your players and get feedback, be sure to audit and assess constructive criticism over trolls and miserable players ( you know, the ones who don’t like ads – AKA – Freeloaders )

It can be one of the most sole destroying things to read that someone thinks your game is a load of rubbish.

It’s one thing I never do. As a game developer I move on to the next game, we’re a sensitive lot and if I read every review and took them to heart, I would have serious doubts about ever making another title.

Be proud you’ve released a game onto the App Store, you’ve come a long way and reached a huge goal by doing just that.

What if my game is a financial flop?

We’ve had game titles that have been extremely successful and on the flip side, we’ve had games that haven’t done so well.

One thing to take away here is that not everything hinges on that big launch day, any revenue, however small, can be coming into your account for the duration of the games life.

The more games you have in your portfolio, the more you are likely to generate a steady revenue. One thing is for sure, if you hold back releasing your game you definitely won’t be earning any money! Period.

Discipline Distraction

So you’ve hit that really hard part of game development, usually the last 10%. Perhaps you really can’t to get your head round particular problem, there’s a bug that you just can’t squash, maybe the mechanics in your game aren’t feeling right and the fix just escapes you.

You can’t move on until that ‘thing’ has been resolved.

It happens to us all. It will happen on every single project you’ll ever work on.

The easy solution many of us default to is that we distract ourselves by taking that short ’5 minute’ surf on social media, pop onto facebook and see whats happening with everyone and take a break from the grind.

Essentially we avoid the difficult problem and reward ourselves temporarily with an easy distraction.

Nothing wrong with that you say, except when you next check the clock, a couple of hours have swung on by! Ooops. Funnily enough, the Game Fairies haven’t magically resolved the problems. All that’s happened is that you’ve wasted time.

So what’s the fix?

Set aside blocks of pure focussed production time, where social media is switched off and dipping into facebook is simply not on the agenda, the “No Internet Phenomenon”.

It’s incredible how reliant we are at being connected to the internet. We take it for granted, we’re “always on”.

Recently, our internet dropped out for some considerable time, it was like someone had suddenly marooned us on a desert island much like Robinson Crusoe!

So what does this have to do with anything? Adopting the mindset that you have no social media, no News Feed, No Espn. No internet.

Eliminating all these quick fix distractions enables you to laser focus in on the tasks in hand. It’s amazing just how much you can achieve and get accomplished without all the noise.

One strategy to overcoming distraction, is to print out the names of the websites that feed your time wasting habit, onto a piece of A4. Stick that up on the wall by your workstation and everytime you feel that urge to wander, glance over and tell yourself “No”! I will not visit these sites.

Another quick tip is to set up timers. Start off with 20 minute blocks where you’re completely in the zone of focussed game dev. Nothing else is allowed to interrupt you until that timer goes off.

One awesome tool to enforce this habit is Rescue Time. With this simple program, you can monitor and track your daily activities and identify where you’re wasting time, it’s very neat.

Check out Rescue Time

Ultimately, experiment with what works best for you, we’re all different and the trick is to find the cure for your triggers.

Avoid the Dreaded Burning out

Be wary of burnout, it’s very real!

This is something I have personally suffered with and is completely and utterly draining on your body and soul. I can only describe it as a form of depression, or that’s what it feels like to me. Sort of.

When I’ve hit burn out in the past, I recognised that I’d been steaming away 24/7 on being a full time game developer and running the business, it crept up and I realised that for way too long, I’d be working a solid run of days / weeks without taking the breaks I should.

It is just unhealthy, you need that balance.

This is not to be confused with discipline distraction, where you just don’t fancy tackling the hard stuff of game dev, burnout is where you have no want to do anything on your game full stop, you have no energy and feel low, hence the comparison to a form of depression.

The solution?


Time and distance away is the remedy for me at least and thankfully I can now feel the signs creeping up. I still work every single day, I still work long hours, but I now also place a high value on recreation, social and down time, so much so in fact, it’s scheduled in on the calendar. Un-moveable.

If you’re heading towards burnout, switch everything off and take “time out” from all things game related.

This is the smart move. You can only do your best work when you’re energised and enthusiastic, essentially the opposite of feeling burned out.

Sometimes you just need some rejuvenating time out to get yourself back on track and finish that great game!

Finishing you games, or any project for that matter is a habit you want to master and I hope those pointers above will help set you on the right path.

Important Factors to Avoid Burnout and Finish Your Game

1. Avoid Shiny Object Syndrome.

2. Curtail your need for Perfectionism.

3. Forget any Fear of Failure.

4. Discipline Distraction – Keep focussed entirely on the task ahead.

5. Know the triggers and signs of becoming “Burned Out”.

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