I just beat designer’s block

I ran my first Kickstarter campaign in July to publish Subsurface’s first release, With a Smile & a Gun. It’s been an extremely rewarding experience, but it’s also been draining, especially during a worldwide pandemic. Since then, between said pandemic, the lack of a regular game night, and the remaining amount of work related to producing and shipping a game, I have not worked on any of my designs. Actually, I’ve only run two non-WaS&aG playtests in the last 12 months.

Truth is, inertia is a pretty major hurdle to jump. After focusing on the business side of games, I’ve lost my design momentum, and in these circumstances, it’s been really hard to get back.

I’m sure I’m not alone.

Before I dig into how I got back into it, let me say that it’s okay if you can’t get yourself to work on your projects. If it’s doing more harm than good, don’t. Don’t beat yourself up: these are difficult times. It’s okay if you’re not being productive. You’re not less than because you’re struggling.

However, if you feel like a creative endeavour would improve your quality of life, but you’re not sure how to get back on the horse, then here’s what’s worked for me:

Play some games

When I was younger, I’d read a lot of YA books, and I’d keep on wanting to write my own books. Then I read webcomics, and tried to learn to draw. Then it was movies, and standup comedy, and short stories.

For me, consuming any form of art makes me want to produce my own. I’ve been told it was hubris, thinking that I could make better versions of these things —and to a certain extent, it is–, but to me, it’s less a question of “better” than “more to *my* tastes”.

It stands to reason that this dry spell of design coincides with an equivalent dry spell of playing. No game night means that, slowly but surely, gaming is less common. Sure, we used to play over BoardGameArena and Tabletopia, but it sort of fizzled out over time.

Then I got back into it. I started my weekly online game of Arkham Horror LCG again; then a friend bought roll-and-writes and offered to play them over Zoom; then I started playing games with my daughter after she comes back from school.

Inertia is a thing, but so is momentum. A little push puts stuff in motion. After a game of AHLCG, all I can think about is levelling my deck, which makes me think about how cool this card combo could be, and oh, I haven’t played Underwater Cities in forever…

Be it games over Zoom or BGA, with friends or strangers, or even in person with your partner or roommate or kid, or even solo or on an app: starting to enjoy the hobby again might give you the spark.

Get excited!

That friend who bought all of those roll-and-write games? He said “you know, if you were working on a roll-and-write, we could have a weekly playtest night!”

After every new game we’d play, we’d talk about the design, and eventually, we played both Aeon’s End and Troyes Dice back-to-back. “Wouldn’t the Troyes system be a great skeleton for a coop roll-and-write?”, he asked, and, well, we talked about it for an hour and a half.

I find that while playing games brings those sparks, talking about those sparks with others is the kindling that starts the fire. It’s what turns idle ruminating into forward progress, and gets that rolling stone moss-free.

Procrastinate about something else

Even with a good idea that excited me, making that first prototype is such a big hill: without super-momentum, you roll back down all Sisyphus-like.

LPT: If you just cannot seem to get Sisyphus to offer his quest to buy his  freedom -- make sure you actually talked to Bouldy. : HadesTheGame

Then, November arrived, and for the first time in forever, I thought about NaNoWriMo in late October: finally, I could try this writing challenge, use social media for added accountability, and…

Well, having this other, much more daunting task made making the prototype look like the easy way out: isn’t that interesting?

I’m not sure you can reproduce this feeling, but when I had to write 1700 words of a novel, for which I only had a two-line description to go from, I managed to trick my brain into making that prototype and thinking it was procrastination.

Again, this is what worked for me! Please don’t use this blog post as an excuse to not finish a work assignment or a school project!

Schedule a playtest

Here’s a veteran tip:
The best time to prepare a prototype is an hour before the playtest starts.

If you wait for your prototype to be ready before you set a date, it will never happen. If you schedule other people, magically, your prototype will be ready.

livememe.com - 60% Of The Time, It Works Every Time

Momentum might be a thing, but a deadline is another.