Game Design

Finding balance as a game designer

When game designers talk about balance, they’re usually referring to getting the gameplay just right. Making sure that no player abilities or cards are overpowered (or underpowered) and that the multiple paths that can lead to victory each provide players with a reasonable chance of winning.

But today I’m going to talk about balance from a different perspective.

I had a question from a fellow game designer, Chris, about how I balance things in my life. Everything, including playing around with new ideas; continuing to work on and develop games in progress; reaching out, meeting with, and following up with publishers; other game-related work; and real-world stuff.

Now, I should preface this by saying that I am doing game design full-time. I left my job and career about a year and a half ago and have been focused on everything game design (creating games, teaching game design, and writing about game design in this blog and my books) ever since.

So, I have more time to dedicate to game design than the average person who’s doing this on the side. However, what I have to share today is still very relevant to you if you are designing games in any capacity, especially if you intend on trying to get them published.

That new shiny thing

In his email, Chris mentioned that he sometimes struggles with new ideas taking over and pulling him away from existing projects.

I can completely relate. Whenever you get a new idea, it feels like the greatest thing ever. You want to drop everything and put all your energy into this new shiny idea.

I’ve definitely found myself falling into this trap in the past. What I try to do now (I’m not always successful, but I still try) is to write out the idea in a file I keep dedicated to my ongoing list of game ideas. This list has grown to well over 100 ideas. The thought is that I won’t lose this idea when I write it down, and if it really is that great I will come back to it and be just as excited about it as I was when I first came up with the idea. Then, I can work on it at another time when I have more capacity to start a new project.

If I didn’t do this, I would have 100 different games started, and none of them very far along.

It’s easy to start something, but much harder to take it through to completion.

Making progress

This takes us into games that are already in development.

What I like to do is to keep a spreadsheet with all my games in progress, including what stage each game is at, and the next step I need to take to keep it moving forward. It might be a note that this game is currently with publisher X and I need to follow up with them on a specified date, I need to shoot an overview video and pitch it to some specific publishers, or that I need to create and test some new player powers or objectives.

By having this all in one file that I can easily access, this allows me to know where each game is at and what is needed next. I can just pull up the file on Monday and determine which games need my attention most this week. This is super helpful when you’ve got a dozen or more games on the go at different stages (which is often the case for me!).

What gets planned gets done

At the start of each week, I determine what my main priorities are (which may include working on games, following up with publishers, writing, course development, etc.) and if there are any crucial deadlines. Then I plan out my week.

I keep a spreadsheet (you can probably tell by now that I really like spreadsheets!) that documents my big goals for the current 12-week period, along with my tasks for the current week to help me reach those goals. I then plan out which tasks I need to complete each day in order to stay on track.

Not having a boss or a lot of strict deadlines, it’s easy to continuously say “I’ll get to that later” but never actually get there. By planning my week and scheduling my time, I always know what needs to get done, and I can hold myself accountable. I don’t always finish everything, but I try to get the top priorities done and carry anything less important over to next week.

Other work

In addition to working on my games, I also continue to write my weekly blog, work on new books, and develop my courses for game designers.

It may seem like a lot of things on the go, and some people ask me how I can be such a prolific writer.

Well, I’ll let you in a little secret. The key is CONSISTENCY.

Every morning from Monday to Friday I spend 45 minutes to an hour writing or editing. This allows me to create a backlog of blogs and articles that I can schedule every week. It’s a tremendous relief not to feel rushed to put out new content all the time. I always have the next article ready to go.

Once I have a good backlog of articles, I can then dedicate that writing time to my next book idea. Once that’s written, I have that dedicated time that I can use to edit my work.

By scheduling that writing/editing time every day, things just get done. When you do the math, writing for one hour a day, five days a week, gives you over 250 hours a year. There’s a lot of articles and books you can write in that amount of time!

And whenever I have an idea for a course or think that the material I’ve already written in one of my books would lend itself to a course, I create an outline and validate that idea. I find out how much interest there would be in such a course and only proceed if I feel it is viable.

If there is enough interest, I expand on that outline and use some of my writing time to develop the content for the course. Once edited, I can dedicate time to record the lessons and put together any additional resources necessary.

Closing thoughts

So, there you have it. In a nutshell:

  1. Have a plan
  2. Schedule and prioritize your most important tasks
  3. Do the work

It’s as simple as that.

Well, I’m making it sounds simple. Actually doing it is the tough part. But once you get into a rhythm and make it part of your routine, it comes a lot easier.

Next week I’m going to show you what a day in the life of a full-time game designer looks like, at least from my own perspective.

Comments? Questions? Drop me a line by commenting below.

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