State of the Game #238: Fear and Loathing in Game Development

Welcome back for this weeks state of the game! As much as I would LOVE to continue to jumb on the loot box hat-wagon, it seems a lot of the game blogs and personalities I follow have started hammering that practice into the ground. So, instead, I wanted to talk a bit about something that is closer to my heart.

Overcoming your fears.

This might seem a bit out of context, so I will provide a bit of history. I feel like ‘Fear’ can be a massive force for both game developers and content creators and if left unchecked, can cause significant bouts of depression.

I think the topic of depression in game development and content creation is fairly well covered. Jonathon Blow has a great video on this. However, I am a firm believer that a lot of this depression can be caused by fear. I know that was the case for me.

I do want to add a disclaimer here that I am NOT a psychologist and I am only presenting this as a story of my journey, yours maybe different and if things are looking bad you should always seek professional help.

So, my journey into what is affectionately called ‘The Dark Times” began with a failed release. Prior to the release, I was making incredibly fast development progress, balanced between adding features and addressing bugs. Each build was not perfect, but they were packed with content and they were exciting, both for me to create and for the players to get. Momentum for the game was also building, new players were joining everyday, content creators were picking up the game and approaching me daily for permission to create content and news outlets were reaching out to me to create stories and coverage. You could say things were going really well!

This all came to a head when I was approached by a media outlet that wanted to do some additional coverage of the game, including a few gameplay videos. I was excited about this as I was just getting ready to release the first iteration of campaign mode and having these events align would make for a big impact. Unfortunately, the first iteration of campaign mode had some big issues that really prevented it from being played in an enjoyable way. There were even some game breaking bugs that prevented the mode from even being loaded up in some situations.

Now, at that stage in development, this was really not that unusual. I was prioritizing speed and I feel that the community knew this and expected it. They were ok with builds that were not the best, as it allowed them to see what was coming and immediately start to provide feedback. What was different about this release though, is a media outlet got the same build and they had a VERY different reaction. The email I received from them describing the game was very discouraging, they were disgusted that they almost covered it and heavily advised me to fix everything about the build. That was the last piece of communication I received from that media outlet.

This was depressing, to say the least. But, I had and still have an amazing community, so I was not depressed for very long. I was shown incredible support as the community came together and was massively understanding as I pulled the changes out and focused on bug fixing. The true damage of this interaction was still festering though.

I was scared to take risks.

I became fearful of reliving that release. I became scared to be vocal within the community. I was scared to reach out to anyone and tell them about MAV. I, most importantly, because scared to trust myself. With that fear, I lost the biggest edge I had, the ability to task risks and adapt to a changing environment.

That fear has stayed with me ever since. I am still, working to this day, to overcome that fear and learning how to trust myself again. That fear can fester up in every choice, every balance change, every update, every forum interaction, and can become crippling.

Now, I admit, I am incredibly lucky, I have a support system that is amazing, between my wife, my kids, the ‘hardcore’ MAV players, and even the random thank you comments I receive. Not everyone can have a system like this, and without it, that fear can become crippling. When we talk about ‘burn out’ I feel it’s just a nice way of saying ‘they got too scared to try anymore’.

How have I been overcoming this?

Rachael, my wife, is the strongest person I know, mentally, and she had some incredible advice for me. She told me, “Chad, focus on what you are scared of. Look deep into it, find out what feature, update, or choice is causing your fear. That is the thing you need to do. Fight it face to face. I will be there to help you.”

And it has been working. Simple things, like heat vision, I was scared to implement because I was not very good at writing shaders and wasn’t sure if I could do it. Rachael made me face down that fear. Having monthly updates acts as a cadence to ensure I am not able to back down from my commitments. All planning sessions start with the question “What are you afraid of doing and why?” and go from there.

This advice and methodology have been incredible in allowing me to trust myself, but more importantly pushing me back outside of my comfort zone and into new things. Each of these accomplishments carry a sense of pride and excitement that allows me to continue to find motivation to face my fears. It is a system that creates a positive feedback loop!

This doesn’t mean I am ‘Fearless’ (I still haven’t put out another version of Campaign mode!), but it does mean I am no longer paralyzed by fear. I don’t know if I will ever be fearless, but I do know that I will never allow fear to hold me back.


P.S. Tell your significant other they are awesome! Rachael, you are awesome!

Comments 13

  1. Rachael is awesome, also fear my wishlist so I can get it! More stats in profiles (arenaWins and siegeWins as an example) / those stats that are still missing in parts.dat (hades, splash range, heat on impact, etc) / server api (hype hype hype hype hype).

  2. cyber, you can count on me to tear you down while everyone supports you. ill remind you of your flaws, your fears, and your failures.

    i will make you humble

    i will put you in the camel clutch, and break your back, i wont even mention the last part.

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      I am kidding, obviously. It was actually really interesting reading that thread, as you can tell I wasn’t that massively phased at first.

      Also note, that media outlet has LONG since had to close it’s doors 😉

      1. The good old days when Rachael absolutely hated me. Maybe I should do a collab with everyone and work out a master bug list to bring back some good old memories. <3

  3. Cyber you have created a game and gaming environment of inclusion and with heart open transparency, so much so that I find myself often saying things like “our game” or like “we should do that” as if we the community were there with you in the late night hours pushing the game forward….But the reality is, at least for me I get all the benefits and you carry all of the burden.
    Which is why I say:
    Thank you for all you do Cyber!

    Aragorn “I would have gone with you to the end, into the very fires of Mordor.”

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      It is our game though. Maybe I didn’t make it clear enough in the post, but it 100% is the community that provided the support and comments like yours are a shining example of that.

  4. My suggestion? Screw ’em. Screw the Media, screw the expectations. Make what you want to make. Use your fear, if that helps, but know that a product delivered from love and care will outshine a product made for a bottomline every time. 4K textures and depth-of-field and particle effects that take two months to render are all well and good, but they’re not what makes a game GREAT. That comes from tight mechanics, player franchise, and an engaging story.

    Also, in relation to that, as someone who is super-duper looking forwards to Campaign mode? Please don’t release it yet. Don’t release it until you’ve got gameplay mechanics NAILED. DOWN. Simply because I (selfishly) want to be able to focus on the storytelling and thematic elements while playing it. Which would also sort of be a boon for ‘bugfinding’ in the story- hard to focus on whether or not a dramatic speech is hitting the right cords when your legs are doing the mambo in the background.

  5. Since I came to this community after the “Dark Ages”, I can’t relate on that level, but as a Software Developer, I completely get where your coming from. I’m excited to continue to see this game grow and especially excited to see it grow to new platforms!!!

    Keep on being awesome and keep telling Rachael she’s the best thing since sliced bread!!!

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      Thank you! I make sure to tell Rachael she is awesome every chance I get 🙂

      I think the ‘fear’ can be with any person that creates something. As a software developer, it manifests it’s self a LOT as impostor syndrome, which is a big issue in the software world.

  6. Cyber,

    I think Its save to say that fear is the only thing that keeps a challenge alive. Rachel her advice I believe is good advice as it drags you back to reality to solve challenge the issue.

    I speak of experience. I live this motto as well and after a while you really do become fearless as there is no challenge you will evade as you just know you’ll beat it, eventually that is 😊.

    Keep your head up and your chest forward. That same media outlet will crawl back to you asking to review it one more time as it’s just so fucking awesome!

    Regards to Rachel, she’s a star 👍

    Best Shogun

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      Thank you! I have been trucking forward. That media outlet will never approach me again, as they have long since gone out of business, haha. Sometimes just the shear act of moving forward is all you need.

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