I have recently been through the process of burnout, or development fatigue. I thought it might be helpful (or instructive) to share my own experiences with this, so that you can avoid the pitfalls I’ve clumsily stepped into myself.
This is something of a well-trodden topic when it comes to Games Development, and I think the process of building something as enormous as a game lends itself to these problems.
Why does it happen?
It happens with surprising ease. In my case, I had a very distinct milestone; Steam Greenlight was announced to be closing, and I had long ago planned to get my game through it. For all of Greenlight’s flaws, I was keen to prove (really just to myself) that the game was interesting enough that people would vote it through.
It was now a race against time to make the game presentable, and hopefully get some people interested.
I began to work at a feverish pace, spending every waking moment that I could doing art and code, building UI’s, and adding effects. I smashed my way through task after task, and the game was completely transformed in a matter of days and weeks. It was amazing to look at all the changes, and I was loving the work – it was all consuming.
I don’t think I spent any time with my wife for at least a month, in spite of working entirely from home. In hindsight, it was pretty horrific. As a solo developer, isolation is a common issue and it’s an easy trap to fall into.
At the time, I felt unbreakable. But I am certainly not.
When development began at the start of 2016, I formed a company in order to deal with contracts, ownership and any division of profits. In hindsight, this was a really good idea – as it forced me to keep accurate records of the time I spend working.
Every hour that I have invested into working on the game is recorded. At the end of the project I’ll be able to tell how much time was spent coding, designing, animating, polishing and testing. I’m also a big believer in only recording the hours I’m actually working, as opposed to Hours I intend to work, where I might go get a coffee or procrastinate on the internet (read: browsing reddit).
Due to time keeping, I was able to create this graph which tells a pretty clear story toward the end:
A large spike (aka. preparing for, then going on Greenlight), followed by a decreasing amount of work hours, and in turn, more time spent procrastinating. At that point in time I was still trying to work every hour possible, which is bloody stupid in hindsight.
Another factor is efficiency. Sure, you may throw every hour you can at a project, but are you actually working effectively? Tasks I began working on started taking much longer than predicted.
I easily get absorbed into my work, so seeing a graph highlighting my growing inefficiency really drove the point home.
How am I Dealing With It?
Holidays. I decided to go outside for a while, on the other side of the planet. Going forward, I’ll also ensure that my life is not just consumed by development as a boom/bust cycle is unhealthy and inefficient. I’m sure that development will progress more slowly, but my quality of life (and hopefully the quality of the work) will be a lot higher.
Track your hours and ensure you maintain a solid work/life balance. Focus on efficiency instead of hours slammed away, and ensure you’re actually enjoying the work you’re putting in. Sure, it’s sometimes tedious, but if you’re hating it – it’s time for a break!