Work Healthier Hours, Make Better Games

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I was reading an article yesterday by the developers of Slime Rancher. It talks about crunch in the industry, but gives a unique perspective of their own experience. According to the article, they have maintained 40 hour work weeks, and furthermore, do not believe they have made a successful game despite those hours – they believe they made a successful game because of healthy hours.

I have certainly experienced this. There have been days I’ve achieved what felt like a days work in one hour by being more focused on being productive, rather than just busy. I regularly find working smarter, rather than more hours, produces a higher standard of work from me, even when doing less hours than those around me. And I’ve believed for a long time it’s because I’ve maintained healthier hours that I’ve been able to do this.

Take my recent game Puzzledorf for instance. In the original prototype, I designed 40 levels in about 2 weeks. I had just come off of several months making various other small, experimental games, I was on a high, had a bit of a break where I did no work for a week, came back and just smashed it out. Afterwards I couldn’t believe how much work I had done, but taking that week off I think really helped. Your brain can only work at such a high level of creativity before needing a break.

Below is one of the levels designed. Granted I didn’t keep all of those levels in the end, some I got rid of, but I ended up keeping most of them, even if some of them were later refined.

I once met the famous author Mattew Reilley, who told me he only writes when he feels inspired – otherwise he would write crap. Choosing to write while inspired, he claims, creates inspired books. If he doesn’t feel inspired, he’ll just not work and do something else, like go see a movie. I remember saying to him, “That’s not what other authors have told me. They just keep writing even when they don’t feel like it, to get it done.”

He looked straight at me and said, “And how many books have they sold? Did they sell millions too?”

Good point, I thought.

I see a lot of people working just for the sake of working, and heard studio bosses admit to me that they are unproductive before 10, and after 4 / 4:30, yet they keep working because they feel they should. Why? I think it’s partly because we feel guilty otherwise, it’s just a culture we’re used to.

And we’re actually seeing businesses in Sweden acknowledge this fact and trial shorter working days – with quite a few success stories of increased profitability, and also increased happiness for the workers. I’m sure the two are related. In fact with COVID, a lot more people are working from home and choosing their hours more and everyone I’ve asked said they found they were more productive.

In my opinion, so long as the work gets done, and is of a high standard, does it really matter precisely how many hours were spent in front of a desk? Shouldn’t productivity, not “being busy”, be the goal?

I have learned to be more flexible with my hours, and by not forcing myself to work when I get unproductive and taking a guilt free break, I get more done. And in my breaks I quite happily go for a walk or play a game – none of this shaming to work business.

Just to give another perspective on this, there’s a lot of talk in neuroscience about the different roles of the subconscious, one of them being that we will solve problems while we’re not focusing on them. I’ve found this to be true. How many times have you walked away from a problem, only to find the answer when you come back? When you weren’t thinking about it?

In fact I’ve seen it with my puzzle games. People try out a puzzle, get stuck, go away, and when they come back they solve it, even if they hadn’t been thinking about it consciously.

A book that touches on this subject is here, as well as other area’s on how to think properly.

I’ve learned to trust this and if I really get stuck, I don’t just keep working for the sake of it. I take a break. Then I come back and I often have the answer, probably way faster than if I had wasted time exhausting myself over it.

But also, I think better when I’m walking instead of sitting at a computer screen. Some people work differently. People should be able to get up and have a walk to think through problems, without worrying that everyone thinks they’re lazy.

Now I haven’t experimented with these things in a studio sense yet, I’m still working on my own. But I find it interesting that the same thoughts I’ve been having are getting echoed around the world, of working with healthier hours and a better life balance, and seeing better results.

I recommend reading the Slime Rancher dev article for a bit more on their personal experience with healthier work hours.

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