Developing Development Guidelines: Maintain Accountability

Read the Introduction, Guideline #1: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel, and Guideline #2: Leave Perfection Out of It.

One thing that Jared and I have always come back to over the course of our nearly 4 years of experience building games with Unreal Engine is the fundamental fact that we both enjoy it. So why is it that we’ve given up in the past?

We’ve discussed in previous posts a few of the pitfalls that have contributed to our inability to follow through on past attempts at releasing a finished game project, but the truth is that it wasn’t over ambition or perfectionism that made us not finish our previous games. We didn’t finish those games for a very simple reason: we eventually stopped working on them.

And that is exactly what we tried to address with our third guideline: Maintain Accountability.

It’s easy to say at the onset of a long creative project that you simply won’t stop working on it until it’s done. But that project will eventually start to feel daunting, and if you don’t take measures to hold yourself accountable, letting it fizzle out will become a natural outcome, despite your best intentions.

Working on Interference is not a full-time commitment for us. Jared and I both have jobs and lives and only so many hours in the day in which we can fully commit to working on the game. We also live in different timezones. We knew going in that if we wanted to make this work, we’d need to be better about communication and task management than we had been on past projects.

For the last year, we’ve been committed to tracking our work with Trello cards and checking in at least once per week via video call, with tons of communication over Slack in between. Life can be unpredictable and there are certainly days where we don’t really accomplish much. But by setting a cadence of weekly check-ins, we’ve been really effective with never letting those periods of unproductivity stretch beyond a few days. We knew from experience that a week of not working on a game very easily becomes two weeks, which becomes two months and eventually three years.

Weekly check-ins disrupt this natural depression in productivity over time by making sure we can always reassess our goals and objectives if we ever find ourselves losing steam. We avoid hard deadlines, but always set reasonable weekly goals so we can keep a pulse on how we’re doing and stay flexible in our approach to avoid burnout. Working on the game for 14 months straight sounds exhausting. Working on it for just a few more days until the next check-in though? How can I give up when I’m just three days away from hitting the goal I set for myself just last week!?

Of course, even with all the accountability in the world, other factors can still sap the fun out of a project start to make it feel like a drag. But the beauty of staying accountable is that we’re always in control over the fate of the project.

Had we decided 3 months in that we just weren’t feeling it and wanted to put the game on hiatus, it would have been a bummer, but it at least would have been a conscious decision and not something we look back on years later and just think “man what ever happened with Interference…?”.

Thankfully, our other guidelines have kept us motivated well beyond that 3 month mark, and their importance cannot be overstated. But it’s been the commitment to accountability that has given us a framework to channel that motivation into an actual game, and seeing our progress unfold week by week has been the biggest motivator of all.

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