Design Diary #1: Hopes, dreams, and (not) failing

In December I quit my job in order to focus full-time on board game design. Reading that sentence, you probably think I’m either rich or crazy. The truth is, I’m neither. So why did I take such a risk and give up the security of full-time work? How realistic is it that I can make a go of it as a self-made board game designer and publisher anyway? The decision to leave my old job wasn’t actually that hard. The job I had was a stressful one. I was working in supported housing, helping homeless people get back on their feet and find support and accommodation. It was emotionally and physically taxing and I was feeling burnt out. A change was needed, and in fact leaving was a huge relief. My wife has a good wage and so can afford the rent, and as long as I can pick up the odd shift doing some casual work to supplement our income we’ll get by financially. While I’d love to settle down out in the country at some point and start a family, right now we live somewhere cheap and have no responsibilities. If I’m ever going to make a go of becoming a game designer and publisher then now’s the time to do it.

So where am I now, and how do I get to where I want to be? Different people work creatively in different ways. Many new game designers seem to just have one grand idea. A single, epic project that they’re totally concentrated on. I’ve never worked like that. I always have several designs on the go at any one time. Some might see that approach as being too unfocused, but I actually think it’s a huge benefit. It means I don’t get as much creative fatigue because if one idea feels stuck I can just redirect my attention to something else and work on that for a while. It means I don’t have “all my eggs in one basket” so that if one idea seems to be failing, I can just re-focus my efforts on something more viable. Perhaps most importantly, it means I can give myself creative space to allow all my ideas and concepts to flourish and grow without feeling I have to stifle any of them. This is great for the creative process because those ideas often merge and flow into each other, and apparently unrelated designs suddenly fit together and bring new possibilities.

Ultimately though, there’s going to come a point where I have to become more single-minded about where I direct my efforts. That means I need to set some deadlines. My ideal is to have a game fully developed, playtested, and maybe even ready to crowd fund by summer (depending on external factors like artwork etc.). That’s five to eight months away (let’s call it six). There are of course lots of steps along the way to that point, the most time-consuming of which is playtesting, but I’m already well into that with one of my designs, and ready to start with two more. I’m not naive; I know that building a game to release standard is a drawn out process, but without the shackles of family and full-time work I know that I can achieve more in the next six months than most people could in eighteen. I’m attending two or three gaming groups a week, I’m days away from starting to release print and play versions of my games for online playtesting, I’m liaising and building links with artists, and I’m starting to get more involved with the online board gaming community. Maybe it still won’t be enough, but I’m not going to let that possibility stop me from trying. I’m sure there’s plenty of people who would hurry to try to burst my bubble and assure me it can’t be done, but sometimes it’s more important to just do it anyway. The main question I’ve had to ask myself is: does failure matter?

The conclusion I’ve come to is that there is no failure outcome to this scenario. That’s not to say I’ll definitely meet all my goals and be where I’d like to be in six months, but I’ll be further along the path than I am now, and I’ll have a wealth of experience to take into the next six months. I like to think I have a positive attitude, but that doesn’t mean ignoring the difficulties, it means embracing them and learning from them. Whatever happens, and whether I make it as a game designer or not, I’ll look back at this time in my life and be glad that I tried. I’ve no idea where this journey will take me, but I’m excited to find out.

Design Diary #1: Hopes, dreams, and (not) failing