41: Setbacks

41: Setbacks

How do you deal with setbacks in your game design process, whether it be in designing, playtesting, pitching, or elsewhere? What are your strategies to develop resilience?



I juggle lots of projects. I find the best way to get over a big roadblocks is to let a project rest. By having different things on the go at different stages I can take a stalled design and set it on the backburner. When I come back to it in a week or three I often find myself with a new perspective on it. If I get harsh feedback on a design that takes the wind out of my sails, I pivot to a project I’m feeling more positive about until those hard feelings fade.

Jessey Wright

When I have setbacks, I reach out to friends and talk about my issues. Generally, just talking about what I’m having trouble with leads me to different solutions and things to try. Once I have a possible path to go on, I have something to do and I focus on that, instead of the setback. Focusing on what I’ve learned and what I’m going to do makes it so I don’t get too caught up on the fact that things didn’t go my way. I’m human and reminding myself of that and that I won’t do everything right the first time has definitely helped me move on from setbacks.

Carla Kopp

Being a scientific researcher, I am very used to rejection (of grants, research papers, awards, etc.), and so I have probably developed quite a thick skin! I try to learn from all of the setbacks that I have, and to accept critical feedback as a useful part of the design process. In particular if several people are saying that something isn’t working, then it is probably best to listen to them, rather than ploughing on regardless…

Sam Illingworth

When I have setbacks, I need to talk. I am lucky to have great friends and family I can unpack my experiences with, who support me, who validate my experience, and who can help redirect me, or get me to see a broader context. I’ve also found that I don’t do well by walking away for a while. For me, working consistently, even when it’s not flowing, ensures that setbacks don’t derail me for long. Switching to another project, instead, can help me recharge or break out of loops.

Isaac Shalev

If I get harsh feedback on a design that takes the wind out of my sails, I pivot to a project I’m feeling more positive about until those hard feelings fade. — Jessey Wright

Any setback should be framed as progress. Even if something forces you to roll back to an earlier version of a game or make radical changes, you’re doing that in service of making the game better. That said, don’t be afraid to take some time away from a project after a setback. Sometimes working on something else or just taking some time to gather your thoughts can be helpful.

Alex Cutler

Setbacks don’t bother me. I know that I have many more ideas and will create great games in the future. I view setbacks as opportunities for improvement. For example, I ask publishers who have just said no to one of my games what they are looking for so I know what to pitch to them next time. I tend not to stake too much of my self-worth on any particular project, so I am fairly immune to rejection, bad press, and negative feedback. Having a supportive family, wonderful co-designers, and a great community also helps me face adversity head-on.

Sen-Foong Lim

When I’m stuck, I put the game on the shelf until I have an idea that unsticks me. If that doesn’t happen, and I really think there’s something there, I take it to designer friends and ask them to fix it for me. I’m yet to have that fail – even if they don’t fix it, just describing the problem helps me work out what’s needed to solve it.

Peter C. Hayward

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