Had an epic realization yesterday that probably should not have been so epic.
So, one of the main reasons I have been so utterly unsuccessful at game development (well, indie game development anyways) for the past ~3 years is due to my fear of “wasting time.” It wasn’t the fear itself that was the problem, but my response to the fear.
I was constantly planning, researching, and going back to the drawing board in attempts to find the “one idea” that would ensure I didn’t waste any time in moving towards my goals: self-employment, impact, and doing ‘fun’ work. I eventually accepted that my approach of finding the perfect idea was fundamentally flawed, but I was still so scared of wasting time that I could not shake the allure of a guaranteed way forward. I kept trying to act like I would if I wasn’t afraid, but I was and it would always pull me back into my old, flawed ways.
Thus, in recent months, I tried to purge myself of the fear. I began to meditate heavily, get reacquainted with Stoicism, distract myself, and eventually put game development on a hiatus. But the fear remained. As a mortal and an atheist, I wanted my time on Earth to be well spent. The thought of wasting years of my life on something that wouldn’t advance my goals was just unbearable…but that was exactly what I was doing! Three years had already passed without a single game. All I had to show were a few broken prototypes and a ton of google docs. I was wasting time in an attempt not to. It made no sense.
Eventually I just threw up my hands and decided to give it one last hurrah before abandoning the idea of independent game development all together. Now humbled by three years of failure, I decided to not have grand ambition for the game, just three vague pillars of design. I’d build the game one feature at a time and test frequently. If I determined it wasn’t going in the right direction after a few months, I’d give up game development and try something new.
I began to think of what else I’d do, and why that would be different and better. “The cool thing about a physical product, a service, or even an app,” I thought, “is that you can validate that idea with people before you even build it.” There are many ways to do this, some of which I experimented with already in the Monthly1K course, so I knew that methods worked. “The great thing about getting that validation early,” I thought, “is that if no one likes your product, service, or app, you can pivot to a new idea without wasting a lot of money and…time…HOLY SHIT BALLZ!”
That is the way to avoid wasting time, not my previous approach of finding the “perfect idea” that will guarantee success before starting! If you build in small chunks and validate that those small chunks move you toward your goal before you build more chunks, you can avoid wasting valuable resources (in my case, time) on the wrong thing.
For example, let’s say I worked on a game that took 1000 hours to complete. With my former approach, I had to first find the perfect idea (fantasy), then make a huge assumption that the idea will guarantee success (risky), and then spend 1000 hours making it (expensive). If I succeeded, great! If I failed, however, that’s 1000 hours wasted. With the new approach, I’d spend, say, 10 hours building some core gameplay (inexpensive), I’d playtest that gameplay by myself or with the help of others (fun), and that experience would tell me whether I should pivot and change the game or persevere and keep building (safe). If I succeeded to produce a good bit of gameplay, I can safely move on to the next 10 hours of game development. If I failed, I only invested and lost 10 hours. Much better than wasting 1000!
It was such profound realization for me despite having read The Lean Startup twice, taken a $300 course on this approach, and having spent the last several years of my life scouring written and spoken word about this stuff. I have probably even preached this approach to people many times before (see: below) so I clearly knew the how like the back of my hand. I just had not yet internalized the why. You build, test, and learn quickly in order to avoid wasting your most precious resources. That’s how I could deal with the fear! Duh!
Anyways, that was my epic, non-epic realization.