026 – The Compound Effect – How to be Consistent as a Game Designer
In Episode 26 of the Nerdlab podcast, I talk about consistency, why it is important for game designers and how to achieve it.
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Music by Mathew Pablo
Hello fellow adventurers and welcome to the Nerdlab – Where we transform our gaming passion into incredible game designs and learn how to nerd like a boss.
My name is Marvin and I am an ambitious game designer on my quest to develop a co-operative fantasy card game.
For this podcast, my vision is to take you with me on this exciting journey. Together we will explore the secrets of different game mechanics and reach the next level as a game designer.
When I started this podcast last year one of my goals was to use it as a platform to talk about the design process of my game and my personal journey as a game designer. My hope was that you as my listeners would keep me accountable on my way of designing my first board game and producing this podcast.
Since then I have produced 25 episodes of this podcast and interviewed really really smart and successful people of the industry. I analyzed many game design topics in great detail and always tried to create content that is not only helpful for my own journey but for yours as well.
I really enjoyed the production of the first 25 episodes of this podcast and especially the guests and listeners I was able to get in touch with.
But as some of you have probably noticed, I have taken a longer break since the last episode. I lost my consistency. For me losing consistency is hard. It’s probably the worst kind of failure. Producing a bad episode is way better than producing nothing at all. If you don’t produce anything there is nothing to learn from, nothing to build upon. That is very disappointing for the listeners and for me as well.
I believe doing something consistently is the number one way of improving and being successful. This is true for game design as well as podcasting.
That’s why I want to use this episode today to talk about the question: How to be consistent as a game designer? Because I want to find my consistency again. For the podcast and for my game design journey.
Let’s start by talking about consistency. What exactly is it and why is it important?
This is not an official definition, but for me, consistency is the ability to perform a task in the same way on a regular basis. For the podcast, this concept could mean producing one episode per week. But it could also mean producing one episode per month. Depending on your goals.
This effect, that we prefer a short-term satisfaction to a long-term one, comes from prehistoric times, when we humans had to fight for survival. When it was even more important to find food to survive than to think about what education we need to make it as far as possible in life. Nowadays most of us would benefit from one or two meals less and some education more, but at that time this ability was a basic building block for survival.
Your biggest challenge isn’t that you’ve intentionally been making bad choices. That would be way too easy to fix. Your biggest challenge is that you’ve been sleepwalking through your choices all the time.
But if we can break out of it somehow, it can really help us to achieve our ambitious goals. If we are able to make these kinds of decisions more consciously and therefore make the right decisions more often, then we can achieve a true compound effect.
The Compound Effect is the principle of reaping huge rewards from a series of small, smart choices.
How to achieve a compound effect?
The goal is to make the right decisions even in difficult situations. The only way to achieve this is by being consistent in our methods, habits and ways of thinking. Finding consistency can help us to push through hard times and periods of personal doubt. It starts with building a more stable, consistent way of living, and extends outwards into other areas of your life.
How do we get there?
1. Commit to change
First of all we need to define our why. Why do we want to change? It is very important that you make a conscious, willful declaration to yourself about your desired outcome. I do this by writing down 5 reasons why and for what I want to achieve consistency.
- I want to produce one podcast episode per week
- I want to make game design more than a hobby
- I want to get a game published
- I want to build relationships with other game designers
- I want to have that feeling of accomplishment instead of feeling like I wasted time after I procrastinated.
- Whatever your reasons are for seeking consistency, use them to help keep you motivated. Any time you start to doubt yourself or question your efforts, think about how much better your life will be once you achieve your goals.
- Getting clarity about your why will help yourself to believe that the results will be worth your efforts.
- In past episodes I briefly explained my goal setting methods. When you somehow lost your flow and your consistency in the way I did, go back read your goals and maybe redefine them if necessary. This will be the best way of bringing you back on track. If you don’t have goals yet I strongly recommend to take the time to do so.
I am always surprised how much energy and willpower I get from consciously committing to my goals. It really helps me to pursue my desired outcome and push harder to achieve my goals.
2. Create habits
As soon as you know what you want to achieve and why, it is important to create the right environment. The truth is: You simply won’t be able to find consistency as a game designer without commitment and without habit formation. These things can take time, so don’t be frustrated if you have to force yourself to do these things in the beginning. Be patient, and don’t give up. The good thing is: We do not need to consciously make the right decision for long. It will start to feel natural once we get used to our new habit.
- I somewhere read it takes more than 20 days until a new habit is formed and transformed into a consistent routine.
- It probably depends on what kind of habit you want to create, but for me it typically takes 10 repetitions before it gets easier. Until then it is very important to maintain a constant drive to pursue consistency.
When I started to think about my new game design and podcasting habits it become clear that I need two things:
- First I need to make sure I regularly get time for these tasks
- And secondly I need to make sure I use this time efficiently. That means I need to focus.
If you struggle to identify what is currently holding you back from achieving those things it can be very helpful to spend a day or two to record everything you do.
Write down the start and end times for every activity, no matter how small. At the end of the day you’ll have a list telling you exactly how you spent the day. I did this by using a time tracking app called toggle. As most people I spend way too much time with unnecessary things such as checking my phone for news, mails and or instagram feeds. Procrastination is my number one enemy and it is probably high on your list as well. Also high on the list is gaming (in my case dota underlords) and media consumption (watching netflix). During the most productive times in my life I have reduced those activities to a minimum.
The idea behind this time tracking task is to identify bad habits to get rid off. Try to identify unproductive timeslots you could transform into productive time.
In my case, the result is very clear. In the evenings I am usually so KO from my job and the time I spent with the kids that I cannot find the necessary willpower to work on my goals. Instead I play Underlords or sit on the couch. Willpower is a tricky thing anyway. There is research that proofs that willpower is a limited resource. Consider it just like a resource in game design.
This means that every decision you make during the day that is influenced by your willpower costs you a bit of that limited pool. It’s a bit like a small muscle in your head that you’re using and that’s exhausted at some point. For me that point is typically in the evening when I have to decide between my couch and the nerdlab (which is actually a room in my basement).
Now that I am aware of my wrong choices and the reasons behind those choices, I can make adjustments. For my situation, I see two options which I want to implement:
- I want to exchange the unproductive hours in the evening for productive hours in the morning. By getting up early, I can add a timeslot to my day in which I am more or less undistracted because the kids are still sleeping and I have the willpower to work on the podcast and the game instead of watching netflix. In the past I have achieved incredible results by getting up at 5 am and performing a morning routine with some sport and then at least one hour of focus time. In return, of course, you have to go to bed earlier. For me that is about 10 pm. This is usually harder for me than getting up. But after a few days it will adjust itself because I will be tired.
- The second change I want to implement is to add some triggers in the evening to make sure that I don’t subconsciously make the wrong decisions because I can’t bring up the required willpower.
When I talk about triggers I mean everything in my environment that can help me to make the right decision. The key is to eliminate willpower entirely by setting up systems that avoid as much willpower as possible. Let me give you some examples. If you want to get up early set your alarm and put the phone across the room so you have to get up to turn it off. If you want to use a specific timeslot more efficiently set an appointment in your calendar. For me this means that I will schedule more interviews in the evenings. This meeting will keep me accountable and I don’t need to make the decision between procrastination and working in the evening because I made that decision already earlier when I planned the telco. Other triggers could be to put your game design equipment at a location you typically go to in the evening. Let’s say on your couch or your table. You want to make progress with your playtesting. Schedule the next 3 events and tell other people about it.
In addition triggers for your good habits you can also add some barriers to your bad habits. De-install that computer game that you spent way too much time with. Cancel your netflix subscription or block some websites that do not add real value to your overall goal.
Be aware of the times you can lose your consistency:
The last thing I want to mention is that you should be aware of the times in which it will be diffiicult to stay consistent. And I will use my personal situation as an example here:
I typically lose consistency once I lose my habit of doing something. From my experience this can happen when either the circumstances change or when we come to roadblock that is difficult to overcome.
Both of these things happened to me, frankly:
I went back into my demanding day job after parental leave. This meant that from one day to the next I had a lot less time for the podcast and my game design. I totally neglected to adapt my habits and routines to the new life situation. And that’s how I lost my flow.
In addition to that I encountered some design challenges which I wasn’t able to find answers for easily. This is the moment in which self-doubt and anxiety kicks in and you start to question everything you have done so far instead of pushing forward into the right direction.
When I break out of my routines It is very likely for me to go completely off the rails. Typically I replace my positive habits with worse ones and fill up the time and space in my life with extreme procrastination. Usually in the form of some kind of computer game. In this case Dota Underlords.
So be aware of times in which your life situations or your regular schedule changes. If this happens you need to adopt your positive routines as well or otherwise you will lose your flow.
Habits for Game Designers
1. Read and Listen about Game Design
2. Play games
3. Track your ideas and keep an ideas log
4. Change the environment, take a walk and rest
5. Exchange with other game designers
I am one of the biggest believers that consistency is the ultimate key to success. However, many people struggle to achieve consistency. And so do I. I know how valuable it is but it is always difficult to sustain it on a day to day basis.
The routines I talked about today are the difference that separates the most successful amongst us from everyone else. They are very easy to start, but they are very difficult to maintain on a regular basis. That’s why I think it’s inevitable to have someone with whom you can tackle these challenges together. And that’s exactly one of the reasons why I started building the Nerdlab community at all. To support each other in these kinds of challenges.
In order to do so, I have created a nerdlab discord server which we can use to talk to each other and keep us accountable to our habits. I would love to see some people there who want to join me in implementing some new habits. Do you want to get up at 5 am as well? Join me on the discord server and tell me how it works for you. Maybe we can even post a brief message every morning to show that we are all in this together. Believe me. A challenge like this is way easier in a group. But what I really really want to see on the discord is that we form some sort of Mastermind Group. Or even multiple groups of 4 to 5 people that meet once per week for an hour or so to talk about their game design process and help each other to not get as stuck and off the rails as a did this time.
If anyone here would be interested in being involved in something like this join the discord server by clicking that link in the show notes or send me a short email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will reply with the instructions how to join. I will definitely be part of one mastermind group and help you out to organize everything you need to meet on a regular basis.
So that’s it for this week. Sorry that you had to wait so long for the new episode. Thank you so much for your patience and that you are still here. If this was your first episode you should probably know that the other episodes are typically a bit different an more board game related. This episode was very focussed on personal development, but I am sure that these are important skills for game designers in order to be successful.
So don’t forget to get up at 5 am tomorrow, don’t make excuses, leverage that compound effect and nerd like a boss! ……. And join the discord…