The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

Finding Motivation When Working on Your Board Game

I won’t sugarcoat it. Designing a board game can be hard. It’s easy to lose your motivation and put it aside for a while. The problem is that setting a game aside for a few days can turn into a week, weeks can turn into months, and months can turn into years or you may simply never return to your board game again.

Designing a board game can and should be fun, but it is also a lot of hard work. You have to continuously playtest your game, gather feedback (much of which can and should be critical), problem solve, make changes, and repeat. There are often times where you just don’t know where to take your game next. You get stuck and you don’t know how to fix that nagging problem that playtesters keep identifying.

It’s so much easier to just veg out with some video games or put on Netflix. There’s a lot less effort involved here and humans often naturally take the path of least resistance.

But people are also driven by the need to learn and grow. That’s where game design fits in. Designing a board game makes you think both creatively and logically. You’re also constantly problem solving.

When you finally figure out an elegant solution to that problem you’ve been struggling with, it’s a moment of exhilaration. When you take that game from an idea all the way to a finished product, you’ll feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

So, today I’m going to write about motivation: how to keep going when you’re designing your game even when it feels like a struggle.

What is motivation?

First we need to start with the question of what is motivation.

According to

“Motivation is the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. It is what causes you to act, whether it is getting a glass of water to reduce thirst or reading a book to gain knowledge.

Motivation involves the biological, emotional, social, and cognitive forces that activate behavior. In everyday usage, the term ‘motivation’ is frequently used to describe why a person does something. It is the driving force behind human actions.”

The blog post linked to above does a great job of explaining motivation, so I’m going to refer to some thoughts from there throughout this article.

There’s also another excellent article by Mambo on the theories of motivation that is a great read that I highly recommend.

Should motivation be internal or external?

There are two types of motivation, intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external).

Extrinsic motivations are mostly driven by rewards and praise, whereas intrinsic motivations come from within, most related to personal gratification.

Think about when you’re playing your favorite board game and you figure out a strategy or solve a puzzle that nobody else at the table was able to figure out. You’ll be feeling clever, smart, and have a sense of personal gratification as a result.

Extrinsic motivation is often referred to as the “carrot and stick” model, where you get a carrot for carrying out good behavior or face the stick when you don’t accomplish something.

When it comes to game design, you’re probably doing this for your own reasons. There’s usually not somebody waiting with a carrot for when your game is done, nor is there somebody holding a stick over you, forcing you to make it.

While there is a possibility that your game will go on to get signed by a publisher or maybe you’ll successfully crowdfund it one day, that’s probably a long way off and may never actually happen. So, it’s much better to focus on intrinsic motivation – feeling good about solving a problem or taking your game the next step closer to being finished.

Notice that motivation is all about the reasons that somebody does something.

So, you need to find a way to stay self-motivated.

Finding your motivation

Getting stuck on some aspect of your game is perfectly normal. It happens to all game designers.

If you find yourself feeling stuck when you’re working on your game and don’t know how to continue or even if you want to, think back to why you started working on your game in the first place.

Did you want to create the game that you wanted to play but didn’t exist?

Did you see a problem with another game and want to make a better version of it?

Do you just love games so much that you wanted to get more involved by making one of your own?

Did you want to challenge yourself and your creativity to see if you could take an idea and make it into something real that people would enjoy?

Maybe you couldn’t find a kids game that was appealing to both you and your child and wanted to create something that you could enjoy together.

Whatever the reason you decided to make your first board game, come back to this and ask yourself if anything has changed. Do you still want to make a game, and if so, is it for the same reasons? Have those reasons changed?

What was your initial motivation and can you go back to this to feel motivated once again?

Final thoughts

You can’t rely on other people to make you feel motivated to do something, whether it is designing a board game or any other endeavor. You have to really want it yourself.

Identify the reasons you began this project in the first place and see if those motivations still hold.

Keep working on your game and remember back to that feeling when you were able to fix a problem you thought couldn’t be solved. That feeling of accomplishment can be felt throughout the course of designing a board game and will help to give you the motivation you need to keep going, even when times are tough.

What was your motivation for designing your board game?

I encourage you to share your story.

Tags: , ,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Joe- thanks SO MUCH for your most helpful and timely article! It will help me keep my game design efforts going – which are exactly as challenging and rewarding as you describe.

    Thank you for this post! I was struggling with motivation for about a year when I realized that I had some distractions and obstacles in my life that were eating up my motivation. So I started to filter out the distractions by removing myself (physically) from the bummers in my life. I set up a little desk in my garage for designing and began to eliminate all the “static’ for a few hours each day. This really got me deep in a groove that freed my motivation and allowed it to rebuild.

    That’s a great observation, DD. I’m glad you were able to find a way and time to focus on your game.

    I heard this said recently and it had a profound impact on me. It may help others to: action comes BEFORE motivation. Action comes BEFORE motivation.
    It’s worth saying a second time. Thinking we need to get motivated before we do something is a myth. The truth is, it doesn’t work that way. We need to DO something FIRST. For me, it could be something really simple like opening my note book and jotting down ideas, sketching out an idea that’s been in my head, cutting paper pieces for my prototype. When I spend just a few minutes doing that, the motivation follows and suddenly I’m working on my project for hours.
    I’ve been following this guidance and also trying to avoid the trap of “I’m thinking therefore I’m doing”.

    Hey, Stacie. That’s a great point! Once you start working on something and see it come together, you are motivated to continue working on it and see what it becomes. Getting started is often the hardest part. Once you begin though, you are often excited to keep working on that idea. Thank you so much for sharing this perspective!