So, you want to start making video games, but you can’t afford to quit your day-job. The problem is, a demanding job takes time away from your game without a structured schedule. Some work days leave you so drained that you would rather do anything else than game development. Additionally, it is complicated to set a concrete deadline for your game when managing multiple responsibilities.
For those who don’t know, I work in a small team developing a game for the PC, and each member also attends to outside responsibilities. Whether it be from full-time jobs, part-time jobs, or school, our team is kept pretty busy. For me, I have a part-time job, as well as managing this blog and occasional freelance work. One of the most important things I’ve learned from this experience is how to allocate my time effectively. With this article, I want to share my tips for creating a reasonable schedule and deadline system for yourself so that you don’t become overwhelmed by work.
When You Should Work
The first thing you should determine is the times and days of the week that you are most productive with game development. For one-two weeks (I recommend doing it for two weeks for more accurate results), work on your game whenever you get the chance. While doing this, create a production log to document several factors:
- The time you started working
- The time you stopped working
- Any breaks that you took or factors that distracted you, and their time-length (Ex. “Got up to make coffee- 5 minutes”, or “Got a phone call- 20 minutes”)
- The total amount of time spent working (deducting breaks and distractions)
- How much work you accomplished during the overall time span
- How you felt during this work period (Ex. Were you tired? How focused were you? What emotions did you feel? Did you experience any mood changes as time progressed?)
Ideally, you would recreate this log entry for each of your work sessions. Below, is an example of an entry I did:
[Log #1– Friday, January 13, 2017.
- Time Start: 9:10pm
- Time End: 10:37pm
- Breaks and Distractions: Replying to IMs -1 minute, Washroom break -2 minutes
- Overall Time Spent Working: 1 hour, 24 minutes
- Work Accomplished: An outfit sprite-sheet in 2 different colours (2 graphics), a bobbing animation in 2 different colours (2 graphics), and a bordered floor tile. I also updated our Trello board for completed tasks, as well as crossed off these items on our art asset document.
- How I Felt During This Period: Despite the time of day, I felt pretty energized and focused. I was rarely distracted, but during this time I did feel the need to rush the graphics because I had work in the morning.]
After you have completed your production log in one-two weeks, you should review your results. From your log entries, try to determine the best days and times to attempt productive work sessions. Typically, the ones you choose should prioritize times where you felt better and had the least amount of distractions over longer periods of time. You may feel quite exhausted after your test-run, but it is only temporary. After its completion, you will have a better sense of your body’s most productive working schedule.
How Much You Should Work
If you find you had many productive work sessions in your log, it may be tempting to create a schedule that involves each of those instances. This would not be wise for your first game project. When I first started developing our PC game, I was so excited about the potential prospects that all of my spare time was dedicated to working on the game. This lasted for around a month until I started to feel dreary and missed my leisure time. If I wasn’t at my other job, I was either working on the game or thinking about the game. It was very overwhelming and time-consuming, because I had no sense of managing my time effectively at the beginning; I was way too excited about starting something new. When I began to slow down, I felt like I wasn’t doing my best because I didn’t devote the same amount of hours to the game; this is why it is important to make time for yourself right from the start.
A 2013 study by Direct Line insurance found that most people require 6 hours and 59 minutes of leisure time every day to feel content. (Source: http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/405678/We-don-t-have-as-much-time-to-relax-as-we-need-every-day). If you currently have a full-time job, it can be difficult to come home, work on your game and still have a healthy amount of time to yourself. If that is your situation, then I would recommend leaving game development to your days off. If you have a part-time job or attend school, then depending on their demands you can probably get away with more time in game development. Remembering not to overwork yourself and giving yourself a reasonable amount of spare time are the keys to success.
Start Small–You Don’t Reach Your Dream on Day One
If you are creating your first game while managing another job, it is really important to consider a small-scale game as your first project. You may have huge ideas that you want to see come to life, but the reality is that most games run into complications and take much longer than you’d expect. Start by learning the ins-and-outs of game development by investing your time into a smaller project up to completion–you will thank yourself later. You will most likely find that your other job will interfere with the game’s development in some capacity, so starting small will make your life easier and help you see an end-goal in sight.
Setting Reasonable Deadlines Based on your Workflow
You should always make deadlines and milestones for your game’s development, even if you are working solo. Tracking your game’s progress and setting deadlines will give you the motivation to eventually release it. Looking back at your production log, you can get an initial idea of what you can accomplish within a certain time-frame. From there, you can start creating deadlines for yourself.
First, think of a milestone that you want to reach during development (example: finishing level 1, having all the core game mechanics, finishing the opening/tutorial section of your game, etc.). Then, break-down the milestone into smaller steps that you need to achieve it. Type out an in-depth list of everything you will need up to that point for the milestone to be reached. After that, consider how much work you can complete in a week based on your new development schedule. Calculate how long each step might take you to complete (for example, maybe each step will take you 1-2 weeks to accomplish). Lastly, add up the approximate time-length of these steps to create a bigger deadline for your milestone. I suggest you add extra time to this deadline to allow for flexibility in case something goes wrong (and something usually does). For example, if you broke your first milestone down into 8 steps, and each of these steps takes you a week, then your deadline for your first milestone should be around 8-10 weeks (depending on how confident you are).
After repeating this process a few times, you will get a better sense of setting deadlines, and you may even find that you work faster as time goes on.
Tools for Managing an Organized Game Schedule
There are a few tools out there to help you keep your deadlines and schedule organized. For example, my team uses the website Trello to track everyone’s deadlines. In our set-up, we organize our cards into three main categories: “To Do”, “In Progress” and “Done”. We also have “On Hold” for items that we had to put aside for later. Our cards also have coloured labels that indicate that size of the task to be completed. I find Trello to be extremely useful and customizable as a first-time indie dev because it helps visualize our entire team’s progress.
Other tools I have come across that are similar to Trello are: Asana, Orgzit, and Taskworld. Any sort of calendar or task management tool will be extremely beneficial for managing your game–try out different ones to see what works best for you!
Being a part-time game developer is hard–but not impossible. Keeping a reasonable schedule and deadline system will take you a long way. Start small, don’t overwork, and keep your game’s development organized–you will be an accomplished game developer in no time.
Was this article helpful? In what ways do you manage being a part-time dev? Let me know in the comments below!