The zero-sum game of finding and making time for game design
By Derek Turner
After I wrote my recent Design Journal about the process of beginning to recognize the emotional aspects that have affected my game design process, I had a thought that it might be interesting to see if there were any other contributing factors in my current difficulties in managing designing process. The one that came to mind most readily: the zero-sum game of dividing the time I spend on board gaming in total.
Here’s the problem as I see it: if I assume that my total time spent on board games is finite, then my game design time is even more limited as a function of the zero-sum game of managing my time spent on the hobby as a whole: I have to take away from one to accommodate the other.
Let’s say, for example, that I spend ten hours per week on board gaming as a hobby. I know that number seems high, but with one regular game night occurring weekly, it does not take much to get to ten. Here’s what a typical breakdown of a week might look like for me.
- Playing: 5-7 hours
- Input: Checking BGG, browsing social media, reading reviews and news, and researching new games: 2 hours
- Learning new games (reading rules): 0.5-1 hour
- Tracking collection and/or plays: 0.5-1 hour
- Game design: 0-2 hours
Now, of course those numbers (including the total) might fluctuate, usually when I play more games in a week – especially if I play a longer strategic game in addition to my regular gaming times – but I would say that those patterns are fairly standard over the past year or so.
There are also times in which my amount of total game design time may fluctuate, but I find that I am not as likely to pull that extra time from my total playing time; I am far more likely to pull that time from other life functions such as other hobbies (assuming it is still possible to have other hobbies when you’re a game designer), socializing, or even more essential tasks like house cleaning.
Whatever game design time I do have is then itself divided amongst various tasks: researching and reading about the process of game design and others’ designs; development of my designs; playtesting designs of my own and of others; connecting with other designers; helping to administrate our game design group; and, of course, writing about game design!
It’s all a bit daunting to actually find and make time for game design, particularly if I do not have an impending deadline for a playtest coming up. It’s unfortunately easy to let my ongoing (non-pressured) designs slip into the background perpetually, and I find that I have to be very conscious and intentional about making the time and space for working on my designs.
But then there’s that problem of the zero-sum game: the more I spend time learning new games, for example, the harder it is to design my own. And I love playing games even more than I love designing them, so I don’t know that I can let go of that passion, even if it means that my own designing process becomes agonizingly slow as a result.
I am beginning to understand why it seems as though many designers do not spend nearly as much energy or time on playing games: their own designs would never get finished. If there’s only so much time you can devote to games in total, I suppose it makes sense to spend it on creating your own game; after all, there will always be time to play the games that others create, but a designer’s window to create a game may be limited by any number of factors, including the fact that other designers might create a very similar game to the one you’re designing.
I know there are other solutions that different designers employ to resolve this issue. Many groups have a regular (weekly) game design night in which they meet to design and play test one another’s designs. Some designers choose to not pursue other hobbies to make more time, and some even try to make money off of their designs to justify putting more time into it (ha!).
But I’m not sure what I can do right now, short of not playing other games and not having other hobbies. I guess I might just have to get to the point soon at which I am okay with whatever balance I strike in regard to the time I spend on game design versus my total gaming time and other hobbies, but something tells me that no matter what I do, I am going to be slightly unhappy. I guess there’s always the slower time in the summer when I can work on my designs…wait, summer’s over already? Oh well – I guess there’s always next year…