Game Design

Working on your creative project is a full-time job (on top of your full-time job)


Tabletop games don’t grow on trees or fall magically out of the sky. They’re made by people. People design them, others create the artwork, others design the iconography and branding, write the rulebook, manufacture the assets, package everything, ship it to a holding facility, then ship it domestically. It’s a lot of work. It’s a full time job. But what if you already have another full time job?

This article isn’t just for designing tabletop games. It would be wonderful if you could make a living solely off of your passion projects, whatever they may be. So why can’t you? What’s standing in your way? It always comes down to three excuses:

  • There just aren’t enough hours in the day
  • Money is tight
  • There aren’t enough resources at hand
  • Seem familiar, right? Well, I lied. There are three other excuses that are even more commonplace:
    • The project’s too daunting; there’s just too much work
      Not an expert on how to complete a good portion of the necessary tasks
      The final product will be absolute garbage
  • Can’t be as garbage as your blog, get to the point already

  • I’m sure you’re far more intimate with the latter three. Human beings are resourceful creatures. We can accomplish a lot with little. But we have to really want it. I mean, really want it. We have to want to complete what we set out to do so badly that we have to bat away our internal demons constantly to finish what we started. Every thing that you do appears to have a diminishing return, your sense of joy toward creating the next big thing is no exception. Your brain throws a bunch of doubts at you all the time. What do you do to shut up that voice in your head that screams things like, “this won’t be nearly as good as you thought it would be in your head! Just give up!”

    Nothing. You do nothing.


    That’s right. There’s absolutely nothing that you’ll be able to do to shut up the nagging asshole inside your head that constantly tells you that you’re not good enough. That demands that you give up and just watch TV or browse the internet. That tries to distract you as much as it possibly can when you just want to get the next little chunk complete.

    Your blog is worse than garbage, at least you can burn garbage for warmth…I’m out of here!

    Wait, I didn’t say that you should give up on your project. I said that you should give up on trying to tell that voice that tells you to give up to give up…you know what I mean.

    That voice is going to be there. It’s not going to stop, and you shouldn’t waste energy on trying to make it stop. You should dedicate your time to getting another part of your project done. Complete a step in the process while you tell yourself it’s not good enough. Beat yourself up as you finish those next brush strokes of your masterpiece.

    Every time you cast doubt on your work, tell yourself this:

    I know this isn’t my best work but it’ll have to do for now.

    There comes a point in time when you need to stop editing your work. If you consistently raise your personal bar of quality as you work on a project, you’ll never finish it.

    But here’s the thing, I just came up with this other new thing which I’m excited about! I’m going to work on that instead.

    Another issue that crops up is feeling bored with your current project and wanting to start a new one. Fight that urge.

    Write your idea down, take a week away from your current project, then come back to it. If you do work on multiple projects at the same time, that’s fine. If this is you, here’s what you should be asking yourself:

    • Am I making some form of meaningful progress on all of these projects?
    • Why am I bored of this project? I was so excited about it in a past life!
    • Should I pivot to this different project or just take a short break from everything?

    You’re not bored of your idea, you’re tired. Your mind is tired and it needs a break from that idea. An idea is a scab.

    That’s disgusting

    An idea is a scab. There comes a point when you get tired of it and start picking at it. What you’re actually doing is introducing more bacteria into a healing wound. What you think you’re doing is scratching an itch. Scratching that itch will only introduce further pain.

    What I’m trying to say here is that if you grow bored of a project, that doesn’t mean that you should stop. In fact, you should plan even more.

    Plan is such a boring word…

    Planning is the best thing that you can do for yourself and your project. A plan can be a complicated as putting strict deadlines on aspects of projects, but as simple as breaking out your work into smaller chunks and figuring out a rough time frame for when those chunks can be complete, chunk by chunk.

    Sounds like some kind of smart, wild-ass guess

    SWAG or Smart, Wild-Ass Guess is a common project management term which means to break your end game up into smaller pieces, then roughly guess at how long each piece will take to complete. Everything from theme to final asset creation should be SWAG’d so that you can get a feel for how long it will take to scale that mountain of a project.

    When you want to complete a creative project, there isn’t one task. I know that seems obvious (of course there isn’t one task, there are many) but you should really picture your project like a graham cracker.

    Oh it all makes sense, picture my project like a graham cracker…ha ha just kidding what the fuck are you going on about?

    Hypothetically—as in, don’t actually try to do this in real life—if you were to try to shove an entire graham cracker into your mouth you might run into some difficulty, right?

    That’s why graham crackers have perforation, that way you can break them apart into smaller pieces and eat them better. Treat your project the same way, something that seems big but can be broken down into smaller chunks—connected mini projects that have certain dependencies.

    OK, but this is still a lot of work…how am I supposed to do this all by myself?

    You may not have to. Defining the work and planning it out is a big step to take. If you can divide up your work, you can better articulate what needs to be accomplished, and maybe even delegate to friends with talent.

    Delegating to friends can help breathe collaborative life into your work but I get it, you may not have friends who share this interest or have time to contribute. Ultimately, you’re going to have to wear many hats yourself or pay people money to get the work done that you can’t.

    Do whatever it takes to let your project see the light of day. Don’t treat roadblocks as set backs, treat them as learning experiences. Figure out ways to work around the blockers and keep pushing forward.

    Set yourself some deadlines on your tasks and your project overall, even if they seem arbitrary. Setting a date makes a goal more tangible and gives you something more concrete to work toward.

    Split your time up per week:

    ~40 hours a week for your normal job

    ~10 hours a week on your project

    Aim for completing a task or big part of a task every two weeks.

    Most importantly—if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a week off from your project.

    By Neutrino Burrito

    A writer and board game designer currently puttering about the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

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