Reducing My Burn Rate

After a week of packing and unpacking with help from friends, I am finally in my new place. There are two reasons I wanted to move:

  1. Cheaper rent
    I have a particular anxiety when it comes to time. Everyday I look at the clock probably a hundred times. I’m constantly pressuring myself to make sure I’m using my time in a productive, useful manner. I don’t want to waste it. This is helpful in keeping me disciplined on my own, but the stress takes a toll on me. Because of this, over the past few years I’ve reduced the appearance of time pieces in my life. I hide the clock on every computer I use. I no longer keep a clock in my room. I stopped wearing my watch for a long time.

    When I think of how I’m using my time, I think of it in terms of my burn rate. My nest egg is only so big; I’m sensitive to costs that influence how long I’ll be able to design board games on my own. The ideal scenario is to ship great games and make enough money from them to sustain myself. Before I start making money, though, I want to make sure I reduce my burn rate as much as possible to give myself a nice long runway. I like to keep reoccurring costs under examination, because they add up significantly in the end. Some people eat cheaply or live without health insurance. I have a number of food intolerances and happen to care a great deal for my (faulty) body, so those options are out for me.

    One cost I am happy to reduce, though, is the cost of my rent. So I moved from a nice apartment in West Seattle to sharing a house with a bunch of great guys in Fremont. I am saving about $1,000 a month by living in the new place. That $12,000 a year is a huge help to making me relax when it comes to time. I’m not going to start slacking, but I’ll feel relaxed enough to concentrate on whatever I need to. So far it’s been a great move, and I’m already back to a disciplined work pattern in the new setup.

  2. Dog friendliness
    This isn’t too relevant to game development… but I want to get a dog. My old landlord wouldn’t let me, but my new roommates / landlord are cool with me getting a pup :] I know how this affects my burn rate, but I’ve wanted a dog for a long, long time and I think now’s the time. I am aiming for a few months from now when the game is further along, after I’ve attend a number of game conferences.

Anyhow, I’m back into a state of being able to work everyday. It feels good to be productive again. At the end of last week I geared up for a new prototype. After the design pendulum swung too heavily in one direction in my last protoype, I started thinking about this question: Should the game focus on the hidden physical characteristics of the spies themselves (i.e. a strategic Guess Who), or should it focus on spies working together to carry out missions? In past posts I’ve touched on the high concept for the game, and that the game should focus on missions. After running the different possible directions through my head yet again, the overarching missions keep coming back as the most important part of the game — the content that can make or break each playtest.

Despite this, I couldn’t ignore the possible direction of giving spies a number of interesting physical characteristics. Players would try to track down a spy by finding clues about his person — clothing, physical build, facial markings — and then eventually sniff him out. As much as I want to make that game, it’s just too much to fit into the game I’ve been working on. So, I’ve decided to reduce the design influence that that concept has on this game. It’s still in my game in a way that fits into the framework, but it’s not the focus of all gameplay. I keep finding other games that I want to make while I make this game, but it’s so important to just stay focused on one thing so that it actually gets done someday. Otherwise I’d just keep moving in different directions and never get anything done. And I absolutely want to ship this game.

On that note of getting things done, I started a new rule for myself: I can only visit Facebook once a day. I found that I was visiting way too often (about twenty times a day), constantly disrupting my workflow. With the rule newly in place, life already feels better.

Last night we had a great playtest that was really encouraging. This game has a way of weaving an interesting web as you play. There’s still a lot of cruft around the edges that I want to separate from the fun parts, but it’s coming. The game is almost ready to be playtested by a larger audience, which should coincide perfectly with seeing some of old pals at GDC next month. I can’t wait.