Working on Your Game for Years is Okay

I saw a really good comment about my piece on ambition being the enemy of good last week, from someone who saw my post as disheartening because they’ve been working on their game for years, and that perhaps they should just give up because of what I said.

That’s a very fair criticism of my message, so I’d like to expand the message that post.

If you’ve been working on your game for several years—I did with Mythender, we did with The Dresden Files RPG, and I know plenty of other games worked on for a long time—that’s legit. That comes with understandable risks and anxieties, because the more you invest in something, the more you hope it has some sort of impact.

Which gets me to some advice I have for people in this situation: Understand why you’re working on this project. Reflect on what you want to get out of this experience.

Maybe you want to finish something for the sense of satisfaction. Legit. I respect that.

Maybe you have commitments you’re dealing with, like a fucking Kickstarter about immortals and car wizards and shit. Fair.

Maybe you’re using your project as a way to join a creative community, or to make a splash in a creative world. These sorts of motivations are worth examining, because they’re about doing work to get a handle on things you can’t control. They’re very human motivations, so I can’t say “don’t have them,” but I can advise you to find a way to lower you expectations.

Because if you can lower them and find reasons that are about you rather than the world, the anxiety around doing the work lessens. And, at least for me, that makes doing the work easier and of higher quality.

Maybe you’re trying to make money off this project. Dear fuck, please don’t let this be your motivation. There isn’t enough money in games for most of us to make this come true, certainly not if you look at the cost/benefit ratio of working on a game for years.


Those bits of advice are about self-examination. Let’s talk about strategies I tend to recommend:

Reduce your game to something easier to get out into the world. You have a game that’s of huge scope? Pick a subset of that scope and publish that sooner. Evil Hat did that with Spirit of the Century before The Dresden Files RPG, which allowed the world to play with a game and get some interest in what the larger-scoped game could be.

If your setting is huge in scope, pick a smaller bit and put that out there. I really dug how the D&D 4/e crew put out a book that was a slice of the Forgotten Realms as an adventure, before publishing a full setting book.

You can always publish your larger work later, and in my experience and view those get met with great interest when you have fans of the smaller version. But you’ll have something out in the world, and that could satisfy some of what you want out of your endeavor.

Or you can put your project down. Start a new project. Mythender was a “breather” project when I put down my 2007 ashcan, Know Thyself. I kept beating my head against it, and I figured if I detached but kept living in that creative space, my mind would in the background solve the problems in my first game.

It didn’t. Instead, I made a fab game about the seductive nature of power that looks like an anime battle game. My experience with Know Thyself helped me understand how to make that game, as well as how to develop A Penny for My Thoughts, work on Dresden and Fate Core, work on Pathfinder, and all the other shit I’ve done in my tenure as a game professional.

Sometimes I think about picking Know Thyself back up. It would be a new project inspired by an old one, not just some continuation where I say “I’ve been working on this game since 2007.”

I didn’t lose the benefit of experience in putting my project down.


I don’t know if any of this is helpful to the person who made the comment that sparked this. I’m very happy to keep talking about this in the comments or elsewhere*, because I don’t want to dishearten people. That’s the last thing I want. One of my goals in blogging is to show people who are in hard spots paths forward.

Ever forward.


(*As a reminder: I try to write these in about 20 minutes and publish shortly afterward. So perhaps I have other advice I’m not mentioning that would be more effective for people in different situations.)


One Response to Working on Your Game for Years is Okay

  1. Donatello says:

    I think it wasn’t me, who answered you in the Ambition topic, because I’m pretty sure I deleted my comment, before sending it…

    But whoever did was not a alone.


    So, thank you. I’ll think about your words.