Stagnation and progress- two sides of the same coin

Hey and welcome back!

Here in Finland, the weather is getting chillier by the day. The last persevering leaves are finally falling down, and we have even experienced this winter’s first snow. As we leave autumn behind and embrace the approaching winter, we come to you with a new post in the Game Dev Coffee Chat series.

Go grab your beverage of choice and get ready for our little mumblings about stagnation and progress.

Stagnation is a bad word

Anybody who works in this industry knows how challenging moving forward can sometimes truly be. Yet, this industry also knows the constant pressure for progress. Especially for indie developers, progress is necessary. It’s our way of living, our passion, the air we breathe and it’s the blood that pumps in our veins. So, what happens when we hit a rut?

Because let’s face it, every project (if they’re alive long enough) faces moments of stagnation.

In the previous post we alluded that we had to trash the game originally meant to be our comeback. That moment felt like a stagnation for us.  When we made the difficult decision not to pursue that project further, we also had to face our fears of failing and falling behind our own goals. Overcoming that fear wasn’t easy and it resulted in some changes within the team, but we made the conscious effort push past the difficult times.

Cycle of stagnation

When we started Swift: Galaxy Trails, we were able to turn our stagnation into a progress. Once more we were overjoyed. We had a fresh new idea for a game and talented people working for it. For many months we made steady progress, but behind every high hill, there’s a descent. And that descent hit us hard.

A little known fact is that we originally aimed to launch Swift: Galaxy Trails by mid-July. Obviously that didn’t happen, but at least it provided an inspiration for this topic.

Once more, we were at a crossroad. Slowly, our team started to fall apart and our motivation started to decrease a little. We could have blamed the warming weather and the fun summer activities for our stagnation, but that would be a lie. This was also the year of global pandemic and fun summer activities were few and far between.

We needed to take a proper look at ourselves. We needed to understand why we had failed to meet our initial deadline.

And the truth wasn’t pretty, but we needed to move forward.

Facing the truth behind stagnation

Moving forward is something that should come as a secondary nature to anybody working in a creative field. Sometimes we realize that our personal goals no longer align with the project’s overall goals. Perhaps our personal lives have changed significantly or perhaps the passion that once fueled us has now run dry.  Sometimes the original ideas for the game are no longer viable. Perhaps the project has grown and bloated past its own limits. Occasionally, a constant downpour of new ideas may even threaten the completion of the entire project.

For us, it was all of the above. We had prided ourselves with our low inner hierarchy, but this also meant that decision making was slow. Sometimes, weeks could pass by before crucial decisions were made. Because of our organizational structure, we also lacked clear leadership. We had many talented people working independently without much knowledge how the other side was doing.

Leadership, project management and true communication are crucial for any project. Unfortunately for us, they were also the very things we were lacking. We had to make some decisive actions that would lead us back on track. This meant appointing leaders for the larger teams and giving more deciding powers to the independent workers regarding their own fields of expertise. Additionally, as part of these changes we improved our cross-function communication and focused on motivating not only ourselves but also others.

It hasn’t been easy and we won’t say that everything is working as smoothly as it could be working, but it’s a start. A good start. For now, it enables us to look towards the future brightly.

During this project, we have learned that stagnation is not necessarily a bad word. When handled right, it can lead in improvements and improvements often lead into a progression. Hence, like winter follows autumn and spring follows winter, the balance between stagnation and progression is the essence of the game development cycle. 

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