Maintaining motivation as a self-employed game developer

I’m normally not one to dive into topics like this one, but yesterday, someone who likely wishes to remain anonymous told me that they’re struggling to stay motivated as a self-employed game developer. I, like every other game developer out there, have struggled with similar issues at some point, so I offered my advice and they gladly accepted. I decided to post this information to the public in case it will help anyone else out.

I’m not claiming to be an expert on this subject by any means, but I’m now at a comfortable point in my career where my low-motivation days are few and far between, so I feel like I might have a few good tips to offer. Feel free to agree or disagree on any of these points, and if you have any advice of your own to offer, I encourage you to leave a comment at the end of this post.

I could probably write a book about this subject, but I’ll try to keep things clear and concise for this post. Again, this post is aimed at the self-employed game developer who struggles to maintain the discipline to work every day. We’ve all struggled with procrastination at some point, and others get so burned out by this that they stop development altogether. And even if you’re not a game developer, I hope you’ll find some of these tips useful. Let’s get started!

Make a checklist for absolutely everything.

And I mean everything. You should have a Notepad document open on your computer and smartphone at all times that allows you to quickly add and delete lines to keep track of your daily progress. Pick one day per week to plan out every day for the next 7 days. Add one task per line, and break up larger tasks to make them seem less intimidating. The goal is to be able to delete a line after every 15-20 minutes of work, so break your tasks up accordingly.

I add absolutely everything I need to do for the day to my checklists. Yes, that includes showering. It doesn’t matter what the task actually is, as long as it involves you doing something other than wasting your time on social media or watching Netflix.

Here’s an example of my checklist for tomorrow:

  • shower
  • brush teeth, floss
  • workout
  • walk the dog
  • write a chapter of my book
  • take vitamins
  • meditate
  • go to bank and make a deposit
  • read books [note: I read one chapter from each of these books per day. I just give each book a nickname on my checklist to make my life easier]
    • bach
    • money
    • mentors
    • meditations
    • knight
  • dishes
  • laundry
  • unity lesson [I’m a GameMaker user, but I’m learning Unity on the side for future projects]
  • implement runewords for Siralim 3 [This is a huge task, so I’ve broken it down. Runewords belong to 1 of 5 classes in the game, so I’ve decided to break this task down into 5 smaller ones]
    • chaos runes
    • sorcery runes
    • nature runes
    • death runes
    • life runes
  • design new Pandemonium Token effects for Siralim 3
  • implement new Pandemonium Token effects for Siralim 3
  • re-write looting script for Siralim 3

These tasks aren’t in any particular order. Order is irrelevant. I just want to jot down everything that I need to do; even the trivial things that I know I’ll do every day like take a shower. That way, I can pick an easy task, complete it, and delete the line. That gives my brain a tiny blast of endorphins…or dopamine, or really, who cares what it is. The fact is, completing one task drives me to complete another. And another. And yet another. And before I know it, my task list is done for the day and I can do something fun with my free time, guilt-free. And on a much larger scale, this snowball effect carries over to the next day, and I’m much more likely to complete my tasks for the following days and even expand my task list to take on more work over time.

Yes, this tactic is all about your personal psychology, but it works wonders. As an added bonus, you’ll never forget about appointments or deadlines ever again. When utilized habitually, the checklist is a life-changing tool. Give it a try for a few days and you’ll notice immediate results.

Start a morning routine.

Create a short list of things to accomplish each morning, and follow through with it every single day. These things shouldn’t have anything to do with game development – it’s all about getting yourself ready to have an excellent day. You’ll likely have a lot of overlap between this list and the checklist I mentioned above, and that’s even better – it’ll only help you to feel more accomplished early on in the day when it matters the most.

It’s important to repeat these steps every single day to turn them into habits. Here’s what mine looks like:

  • Wake up at 7:00am. [If you’re one of those people who sleeps for 12 hours until noon, stop. The earlier you can wake up without sacrificing your health, the better off you’ll be.]
  • Brush and floss teeth.
  • Drink a liter of water. [By the way, make sure you stay hydrated all day.]
  • Workout for 30-45 minutes.
  • Meditate for 10 minutes.
  • Start a pot of coffee.
  • Shower.
  • Eat breakfast and drink coffee.
  • Take vitamins.
  • Do the dishes.
  • Read for 45-60 minutes.
  • Learn Unity for 30-45 minutes.
  • Now that I’ve accomplished a lot, and my body and mind are primed and ready, it’s time to work!

Obviously, not everyone has time for all of this, and you’re probably not going to want to do the same exact things that I’m doing. Feel free to adjust your morning routine according to your own lifestyle. Just make sure you create a routine and stick with it. You’ll be much more likely to do more work if you follow organize and follow a schedule like this one.

Fight depression and stress.

Whether you’re suffering from severe depression or just a little stressed out, I believe everyone has at least a little bit of depression building up inside of them. It’s important to keep this depression away because it is what will ultimately rob you of your motivation. Here are some ways to relieve depression and get rid of stress. Ideally, combine all these steps to ensure you’re always feeling energized and upbeat.

  1. Stop ruminating. We all have a habit of thinking negative thoughts. What if my game doesn’t succeed? What if no one likes it? What if people leave bad reviews about my game? I didn’t get much done yesterday – I’m so unmotivated. Or, from a more “real world” perspective, you might be thinking about some injustice that a person did to you in the past. Stop it. Rumination is a habit, and a bad one at that. You need to break it. You’re wasting time dwelling on a past that can’t be changed. If you’re a chronic ruminator, this will be one of the leading causes of your depression and stress.
  2. Get some sun. I don’t have the time or space to give you the scientific breakdown about why sunlight is so important for your brain, but I know there’s not a single game developer out there that gets enough sunlight. This is awful for you. Try to get some exposure to the sun, and if you absolutely can’t do this for whatever reason, consider a Vitamin D supplement since I can almost guarantee you’re deficient, and that causes depression.
  3. Exercise. This is not an option; it is essential for both your physical and mental health. You don’t need to go to a gym or anything like that. Just go for a walk if that’s all you want to do. In fact, if you want to kill two birds with one stone, go for a 30-minute walk outside and you can get some good exercise while also drinking in the sunlight.
  4. Sleep. You’re probably not getting enough sleep. Shoot for at least 7 hours per day, and make sure you’re not waking up in the middle of the night. Your room shouldn’t make any sudden noises (so make sure you silence your smartphone) and there shouldn’t be any lights at all (including the LED lights on your alarm clock or cable modem). In terms of temperature, keep your room a little on the cool side – you’ll sleep better that way.
  5. Take Omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Again, there’s not enough room for me to break down the science behind this, but I’ll provide a link to deeper reading about this later on. For now, trust me that you need to find a good, Omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Some people are afraid to take these because they make you burp up strange odors, but if you shell out a couple extra dollars for a good supplement, this won’t ever happen.
  6. Social activity. I don’t care if you don’t have any friends. Go to the grocery store. Walk around the mall. Be around people and you’ll feel more energized. This will show you that there’s a much bigger world out there aside from the confinement of your little office room.

These tips were taken from a book called The Depression Cure. If you’re curious about the science behind these tips, check it out. And no, that’s not a referral link – I’m not writing this post to make 36 cents off of referral hits; I’m writing it to hopefully help others.


No, I don’t mean for you to sit on a cushion in the middle of a candle-lit room with your eyes shut and fingers pinched together. Of course, if that’s what you want to do, that’s fine, but I’m talking about something a little different.

It’s important to take a few minutes out of your day to turn off the phone, the computer, the television, and any other distractions and focus on yourself. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and slow your breathing for 10 minutes. Acknowledge whatever comes to mind. Don’t try to think about anything in particular – let the ideas come to you. I’ve found that this is not only a great way to decompress when I’m stressed, but also to come up with new ideas for my games that I would never have thought about if I hadn’t taken the time to give my brain the opportunity to think freely.

After 10 minutes are up, open your eyes. You’ll probably feel energized as if you just woke up from a nap, except you won’t feel like a zombie. You’ll feel rejuvenated and be brimming with creativity.

Cut back on drinking alcohol or consuming recreational drugs.

I get it: you’re stressed. You want to wind down at the end of the day. But in the end, alcohol and drugs are simply hurting your ability to produce. I used to drink heavily every night once I was done with my work, but then I realized how much it was hurting my business in the long run. It caused me to gain weight which sapped my motivation, health, and quality of sleep. It also gave me brain fog the next day. This caused me to feel very negative, so I’d drink some more to make myself feel better, and the cycle continued. It’s better to spend your time and money on something more worthwhile.

Hopefully you’ll walk away from this post with a few ideas about how to stay motivated while you’re working on large-scale projects such as video game development. There are countless other ways to become and stay motivated, but the ones in this post are the ones that worked best for me.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with any of these points? Do you have any tips of your own to share? I’d love to hear about them, so feel free to leave a comment here.

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7 thoughts on “Maintaining motivation as a self-employed game developer

  1. What kind of morning routine is that? 3 hours before you actually start work? What about the people working 2+ jobs and trying to make games on the side? They dont have 3 hours to “get ready for the day”. In fact they have about 1 hour to themselves in general a day.

    1. Which is why I said you should modify it to your own schedule and lifestyle.

      Although I’m not sure how anyone could develop a commercial game working only an hour each day on it.

  2. Just wanted say that im reading your updates even if im not making any comments and I think alot of other people do the same.

    Maybe that is something that will increase your motivation 😊

    1. Hopefully! I need to contact Nintendo and try to become a Switch developer by pitching our games, so it’s ultimately up to them to decide. I’m going to try, though.

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