The Board Game Design Course

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Game Design

Can’t find the time to work on your game? Here’s what you can do.

When I talk to new and aspiring game designers about the challenges they face when it comes to making their game, the #1 problem I always hear is finding time to work on their game.

We’ll often talk about ways to squeeze in a bit of time for game design here and there, and then weigh the pros and cons of different techniques and technologies that can assist.

Sure, there are things you can do to be more productive, such as blocking out your time, working on your game during your lunch break (I personally had a lot of fun playtesting games with co-workers), shutting off notifications, etc.

Yet all these techniques are useless if one key component is missing.

A change of thought

More recently, I’ve been thinking about my response to this challenge plaguing new game designers, along with how helpful my suggestions will be to others.

My reply is now becoming more along the lines of “well, do you really want to create a board game?”

I’m not trying to be flippant.

I know people are busy. Work. School. Family. Other responsibilities.

I get it.

But here’s the thing. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. It’s what we do with those 24 hours that counts.

People say they would go to the gym, take a class, or do one of many other things to better themselves if only they had the time.

Yet surveys have shown we have plenty of time and I recall reading studies showing that even by freeing up someone’s time further so they can do one of these other activities, it just doesn’t happen. Other things fill in that time that they choose to prioritize.

Have you ever noticed that some people just get more done in a day? They have so many responsibilities and commitments, and you wonder how they do it.

Here’s how they do it: They have systems in place. They block out time for what is important.

They also cut out things in their life that are less important.

So, if you say you don’t have the time to work on your game, even just a little here and there, I’ll ask again: “Do you really want to create a board game?”

Do you make the time to do the other things in your life that you enjoy?

If this is something that’s really important to, you’ll make the time.

How do you spend your time?

Yes, you’re busy. But there must be something in your life that’s taking up some significant amount of time that you could instead devote to making your game. But you’ll only do so if this is more important to you than that other thing.

How much time do you spend every week watching TV or binge-watching shows on Netflix?

How many hours do you spend on social media?

How much time do you spend commuting?

Are there opportunities to work on your game ideas while on the bus, subway, or train? Even just jotting down notes and ideas can get the creative juices flowing and make you really eager to try out that next iteration.

If you have difficulty finding time to work on your game, I want you to try something: For one week, write down how many hours you spend on every activity you participate in.

This includes social media, watching TV and movies, shopping, commuting, playing video games, playing board games, and any other activity.

Now tally up all the hours. You might be surprised at how much time you could free up to devote to designing your game by cutting back on one other activity.

But only if you really want to make your game a reality more than you want to watch reality TV (or whatever activity is taking up your time). This may even mean giving up another hobby. But that’s up to you.

That’s just one week. It may not even be a typical week. Some weeks you may find even more time available.

On a personal note…

A number of years ago, my boss encouraged me to return to school to get my Master degree. It wasn’t an easy choice, and I knew it would be a lot of hard work, but I felt it was worth the sacrifices I would have to make.

And I’m not talking about putting my career on hold to go back to school or take some night classes part-time. This was a full-time program that I was joining while I continued to work full-time. The classes were arranged so that they fell on weekdays, weeknights, and weekends, but with the support of my boss, I was able to rearrange hours to make this work.

We’re talking a 40-hour work-week plus 25 to 30 hours a week committed to school.

Yes, I had to cut back on going out with friends on the weekend.

Yes, I had a little less time to spend with my wife and family.

Yes, I had to do much of my readings on the bus and subway and spent most nights working on projects, papers, and assignments.

But I made it work.

It didn’t have time for TV. Or surfing the net for hours.

I had to put down my bass and take a break from playing in my band.

I had to quit the comedy troupe I had been writing for.

In short, I had to reprioritize. Getting my Masters degree took precedence.

I could have easily said, “I don’t have time to go back to school.” And I could have easily justified the decision.

I had plenty of other things going on in my life, many of which I enjoyed immensely.

We even held off starting a family until I was done.

But you know what, I somehow found the time. Because it was important to me.

We can all get a lot done in a day. What we choose to do are our priorities.

What other activities have you given up to make more time to develop your games or spend more time doing something else you love? Has it been worth it?

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    I was like that, trying to squeeze out the maximum of every second. Then I burned out spectacularly. The idleness, just doing nothing, is necessary for our mental health. There’s nothing wrong with getting more organized but don’t overdo it, leave some unstructured time during which you won’t anything even remotely productive.

    I completely agree.

    We can’t work all the time. We all need time to relax, do nothing, or spend time with friends and family. I wouldn’t recommend working every waking second.

    We all need time to just do whatever we feel like. If you’re looking to focus more time on something, whether it be game design or anything else, you may have to curtail or cut out another hobby or interest that you feel is less important. Just have fun with it! If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you can definitely overdo it and run the risk of burning out.

    Boy howdy, Joe, you hit me right where I live with this one.
    I’ve been working on a game for what I feel is only a few months until I realize that my sister did the artwork for the tiles and some characters 2 years ago!
    Since then I’ve reorganized the rules and wrote and rewrote nearly everything any number of times. I bring my notebook and pencils with me where ever I go that might include some wait time. Yet your question, “Do you really want to make this game?” has never come up. Still I have to answer – I don’t know.
    I do know that I’ll be reading your thoughts on this again.

    Thanks for sharing this, Chris.

    It’s a good question to ask when it comes to just about anything. “Do I really want to do this?”

    It’s also ok to question whether game design (or any other hobby, for that matter) is right for you. As long as you keep this in mind and follow through with what you decide upon.

    I’m glad that my article provoked some new thoughts.