Shawn Ketcherside

My eyes hurt. My head hurt. I’d been staring at the code for the last hour, and had done nothing more than adding a couple of comments and re-running the game in the debugger. As I sat there, shuffling through breakpoints, I’d had it. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was done with this game. Past done. It wasn’t worth it. My motivation was shot.

I wanted nothing more than to just close my current project files and fire up some Diablo 3 till the pain went away.

I know I’m not the only one who’s gone through this, and I’m well acquainted with the factors that can make a dev lose all interest and motivation in their project. I’ve seen it, been through it, bought a novelty snow globe from the gift shop, and became a member of their rewards program.

The problem is, if you keep giving up when you lose your motivation, get stuck, get frustrated, or a combination of all of the above… You’ll never ship anything.

And, for indie devs looking to make a living from their games, finishing and shipping games isn’t just a matter of personal fulfillment; it’s a crucial step toward success. Whether you’re aiming to release your game on a major platform, grow a loyal fanbase, or build your career & business, finishing & shipping your game is key to achieving these goals.

Let’s get to it.

Some Root Causes of Demotivation

All right, enough preamble – let’s get to this, and explore why devs lose motivation to work on their game and look at some strategies to keep (or reignite) your motivation and power through the challenges to get your game done.

Overwhelming Scope Creep

Scope creep has been discussed to death on countless sites (including this one). There’s a reason it comes up so often – Scope creep is the silent project killer that turns a manageable game into an overwhelming fire-breathing robo-behemoth. It starts sneaky – a few small additions—an extra feature here, a new level there—but soon, your project balloons way beyond its original concept.

So, your cozy little platformer is suddenly weighed down with crafting systems, branching storylines, and complex mechanics. And, instead of shipping in June, you’re now shipping sometime in 20-Never. Granted, when one of these ideas pops up, there’s absolutely a blip of excitement and energy, but this is short-lived, and the impact of scope creep on motivation can be devastating.

As your project grows out of control, it feels like the finish line is perpetually moving further away, leading to frustration and burnout. Projects that experience scope creep, result in missed deadlines and incomplete or half-baked deliverables. In other words, instead of a solid & polished game built on a core set of design pillars, you have a bloated mess of partially implemented ideas and features that dilute the game as a whole…

… And that’s assuming you get the game to the finish line at all.

The typical strategy…

To manage this is to set clear goals and stick to them, prioritize essential features, and establish a process to evaluate the impact of new ideas. This is easier said than done. I know the siren song of an awesome new feature idea all too well. While this strategy is solid, I’d reinforce it with a strong set of development phases. The further along you are, the more difficult it should be to add a new feature.

So, if you’re in the concept or preproduction/prototype phase – you have A LOT more leeway in what you can add. Iteration needs to be the focus. Conversely, when you’ve hit content complete and are neck deep in the alpha build phase, there should be an extraordinarily high bar to add a new feature. Like really high. Like, need an oxygen mask and make base camp before you summit, high.

Time Management Challenges

I see this one come up a lot for indie devs. Balancing a full-time job, family responsibilities, and game development can feel like an impossible juggling act. Time management is crucial, yet often overlooked, leading to stalled progress and frustration.

Here’s the thing – without proper time management, you can get overwhelmed, focus on the wrong tasks, and procrastinate.

A key strategy here…

Is allocating specific time slots for game development (even small ones) and using simple time management tools & techniques can help you organize your time and balance your responsibilities. Finding small, regular slots of time allows you to make consistent demonstrable progress. Consistent demonstrable progress provides momentum…

… And momentum can help carry you when your motivation fails.


Perfectionism haunts me daily. I’m struggling with it even as I write this article. My particular flavor of this (and it’s the same with many of the other folks I’ve talked with & managed), is balancing between having a solid and high quality-bar (which is critical) and chasing perfection (which is not critical, and a lot more like punching yourself in the face).

The pursuit of perfection can be a major roadblock, halting your progress or slowing it to a brutal, motivation-sucking crawl. Striving for every detail to be flawless (like I am now as I craft this sentence… again) often leads to endless tweaking and delays, making it hard to move forward.

This perfectionist mindset can paralyze your progress, as you may constantly rework elements of your game, refactor code, or tweak your art – never feeling satisfied with the result.

Perfectionism is an express ticket to frustration and burnout. It’s important to remember that no game will ever be perfect and that players often appreciate creativity and unique ideas more than technical perfection. Research shows that perfectionism can hinder creativity and productivity.

So how do you combat this?

Start by setting realistic standards for yourself, focus on completing your game, and be willing to accept imperfections. Embracing the idea of “good enough,” (which can – and should – still be high quality) you can maintain momentum and finish your project.

To get a little more tactical, I’ve had success starting with the features and elements of the game that weren’t “core design pillars”. It’s, admittedly, easier to “let go of perfection” looking at an options screen in the UI than it is character movement set. Starting there, though, helps me get into the right mindset, which often carries over into those other parts of the game.

Gap Between Vision and Execution

One of the most disheartening challenges for indie developers is the gap between their vision and the reality of execution. This gap isn’t always due to a lack of technical, artistic, or design skills – sometimes it comes from a lack of resources… or time. That last one – lack of time – is the one that most often hits us in the professional and AAA space.

Regardless of the cause, you’re left with this gap where the game you imagine in your head is more grand and polished than you can currently create. This discrepancy can be demotivating, making it hard to push forward when your project doesn’t live up to your expectations. When this crops up, remember that you’re not alone. All developers, even the most successful ones, have faced this struggle.

To manage this…

Embrace your limitations. Use them as constraints to help you further focus and hone the overall vision. Yes, this will cause some shifts from you’re initial idea to what’s actually playable, but that was going to happen regardless. Embracing it helps you find ways to make an amazing experience with the skills, time, and resources you have.

Wrapping Up

While it’s very frustrating when your motivation to work on your game fades and falters, it’s important to remember that this happens to everyone in the industry.

Making games is hard. It can be fun. It can be engaging. It can even be consuming.

But it’s still hard.

The challenges can (and will) seem impossible at different points in your game’s development.

It may feel like the end of the world (or at least the end of your project) but it doesn’t have to be. That’s when you have to dig deep, and do what you can to keep going. A shipped game is an achievement, a huge learning opportunity, and the primary means by which you can make a living with this.

Taking some steps to avoid scope creep, manage your time, shove your perfectionism in a hole somewhere, and accept the inevitable delta between the game in your head and the game in the engine can keep you motivated over the long term and reignite motivation when it falters.

Lastly, remember your game deserves to be out in the world. With persistence and the right approach, you can overcome these motivational pitfalls and turn your passion into an amazing career.

You got this.

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