Lots of people want to know the answer to that question. Most indie games fail. Most indie projects never get completed. I don’t have any way to prove that, but any indie game veterans will know it’s true. Here are my top tips. Some of them may seem like they de-motivate, rather than motivate, but I get motivated by knowing how important and serious it is for me to work hard. Most indies don’t realise how hard they are going to have to work, and how good their game has to be.
1) Code something you like.
Just because you did your research and can prove that a poodle simulator is the best choice for the current games market, doesn’t mean you want to program one. You might kid yourself that you can see it as a ‘mere engineering challenge’, but you won’t. Getting out of bed when nobody forces you to, with no deadline and no boss, to go code poodles probably won’t motivate you for a solid year. Pick something you are passionate about. I love sci fi and space battles, so making gratuitous space battles was a no-brainer. On a related note, save up some ‘fun’ coding for when motivation is low. Feeling keen? code the save game system and the options menu. Get them out of the way.
2) Surround yourself with inspiration
I listen to music from star wars or star trek when coding easy stuff or doing art. Coding scrollbars can seem dull, but the music reminds me these are spacefleet scrollbars and that makes it ok. The people who play your game won’t see the code, only the art and the game, so keep a picture of the final ‘atmosphere’ of your game in your head all the time. Does your pc desktop wallpaper not reflect the mood of your game? why not?
3) Keep a log of what you did each day.
Sometimes its easy to think the day was wasted, that nothing got done. I have lists of things to do for my games like this:
- Fix bug with plasma torpedoes
- Resize scrollbars
- Add tooltips to buttons
- Add transition to options screen
At the end of the day my log looks like this:
- **DONE**Fix bug with plasma torpedoes
- **DONE**Resize scrollbars
- **DONE**Add tooltips to buttons
- **DONE**Add transition to options screen
And that makes me realise how much I got done. You get a tiny adrenaline rush by crossing things off a todo list. Make one each day. Make the entries small, simple items, rather than huge projects. It should always be possible to cross something off each day.
4) Do some shiny
Mr Spock would code the entire game engine, get the gameplay balanced using just coder art, then add the graphical fluff last, to minimize re-doing work. I used to assume that made sense too. I used to rail against Lionhead for having so much artwork, code and music done before we were even sure how the game played. So much work got thrown away. Now I realise it’s important for your motivation to have something that looks and plays nice ASAP. The GSB campaign add-on hasn’t got all its gameplay coded yet, but theres a gratuitous map-zoom effect in already, plus background music. Having those things there keeps me positive about how cool the final game will look. There really is a good reason to code some shiny stuff in the first 25% of your project. Just don’t go mad.
5) Hard lessons in money
I gave a talk at a conference recently about the reality of indie games as a business. To be short and sweet, you need to sell a full-price game direct to a customer every 45 minutes, or you probably won’t make a career as a full-time indie. That means at the very least someone grabbing your demo every 240 seconds. When you keep this in mind, you realise you need to make your game really good. Better than it is. You need to do better, just to survive in this market.
6) Stay aware how high the bar is (know your competition)
Don’t forget that for most gamers, the competition isn’t other indie games, but AAA games, or even other activities, TV, movies, etc. When I worked on the battles for GSB, I spent very little time looking at rival games, and virtually no time looking at indie space games. I compared it to the best sci-fi battle scenes I knew of, by ILM. Yes, you have to pick your battles, and graphics might not be one of them. Spiderweb compete on game length, Dwarf fortress on gameplay depth. Whatever it is that you are competing on, you need to ensure you aim as high as you can. Also remember that your game isn’t measured against the best game there is right now. It’s measured against the best game when your’s gets released…
8) Take short breaks.
Get away from the PC for a short while, so when you come back, you are fresh, keen and energised. Physical activity is a good idea. I do archery now and then. It’s ideal because it involves standing upright, concentrating on a distant object, and 100% focus on what you are doing. It’s the perfect sport for desk-bound geeks
Staying motivated is hard. Everyone has the same problem. Often, its the deciding factor between getting your project done or not. High motivation trumps everything. There are indies making games who are homeless (yes really) and who had to make them ‘undercover’ in Cuba. They still got stuff done. Lack of experience, lack of money, lack of time, can all be overcome by sheer bloody determination, if you can summon it. Now stop reading this, and type out tomorrows todo list.