The new year is a harbinger of new ideas, renewed motivation, and big dreams. Perhaps you’ve decided that this will finally be the year you release your game, or maybe you just want to master a new programming language.
No matter what your aspirations are, the new year is an amazing time of personal rebirth. But, remember that motivation is expendable, and inspiration will run dry. If you want to achieve your goals, don’t run on passion and inspiration alone...
What you need are S.M.A.R.T goals!
The S.M.A.R.T system is a method of setting, planning, and executing goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Let's dive in and see how it can help us in a game dev context!
What exactly is it you want to accomplish? This may seem like a no-brainer, but I want you to get as granular as possible - what is your precise objective, and why is it important that you achieve it? Here are some examples of goals that are general (bad) and specific (good):
❌ “I want to improve my programming skills.”
✅ “I want to improve in C# enough to be able to develop a real-time RPG battle system in Unity.”
❌ “I want to make more progress on my indie game.”
✅ “I want to release my indie game in Early Access.”
❌ “I want to be the best composer that I can be.”
✅ “I want to improve the quality of my compositions and learn more business skills so that I can get more consistent work.”
Pro Tip: The more specific a goal is, the easier it is to develop an actionable plan to accomplish it.
In the context of your specific goal, what does “progress” look like, and how do you measure it? At what point will you know you’ve succeeded in achieving your goal?
If your goal is to release a game, you could measure progress by setting project milestones (e.g. working prototype, alpha build, beta build, etc). If your goal is to learn something new or master your craft, your milestones could be to pass self-imposed challenges to test how much you've improved (e.g. writing a symphony, coding a complex system, etc.)
This is crucial because it will prevent you from spiraling into the self-defeating feeling that you’re not making any progress no matter how hard you work.
Pro Tip: Write up a quick project map and pinpoint all the places that would make good (easily recognizable) milestones.
Your goal should be something that you can realistically achieve using the skills, tools, time, and resources available to you. Don't set out to make an epic open world masterpiece of a game that will take you 10 years to develop - this kind of goal is, in most cases, not realistically achievable. Scale back and focus on making the best thing you can using what is available to you right now.
Pro Tip: Compile a list of all skills, tools, and resources available to you at this moment. Then, write a list of all the skills, tools, and resources needed to accomplish your goal. How many items match up? How much more do you need to invest to make your goal a reality?
This one is more of a mindset thing. I want you to take a good look at your goal, and ask yourself: does this goal line up with your bigger long-term goals? Is right now the right time to achieve this particular goal? How does this goal fit into your lifestyle?
For example, let’s say your goal is to release a game. How many additional resources or skills would you need to make this happen - and how much would they cost, in both time and money? How would pursuing this goal affect other aspects in your life such as relationships, mental health, social life, or any other goals you may currently have?
Then, ask yourself the big question: Is this goal relevant to my overall life plans?
There is no “correct” answer to any of these questions; you know yourself best, and you are the only one who can define which goals are “right” for you.
Pro Tip: Your goal should be something that would bring you personal fulfillment/happiness, advance your career, or be a part of a larger goal.
When do you want to accomplish your goal by? Give yourself a realistic timeframe. If you're unsure of how fast you're able to work, I encourage you to take data - record how long it takes you to accomplish certain tasks across multiple days. This will give you a clearer picture of how long it's going to take to achieve your goal.
Pro Tip: Expand upon the project map you made in the "Measurable" step. Break down each milestone into smaller tasks as granularly as possible. Estimate how long it would take to complete each task, then total it all up. Add another 25% to account for unforeseeable setbacks (e.g. if it would take 100 hours to complete all the tasks, make it 125 hours). Then, divide this by the number of hours you can realistically work on your goal per day - let's say you have a dayjob and can only work on your goal two hours a day. This comes out to 62.5 days - adjust your number based on days off, vacations, and other commitments, and that's how long it will take to achieve your goal!
Pro Tip: Gamify Your Goal
Reached a major milestone in your goal plan? Reward yourself! Treat yourself to some extra recreational time, maybe pick up that video game you've been eyeing, or grab a celebratory drink with a friend - do something that makes you feel rewarded for your hard work. It is scientifically proven that reinforcing a behavior (in this case, performing an action that moves you closer to achieving your goal) with something valuable (a reward) will cause the behavior to increase. And besides, isn't rewarding the player for working hard basically what us game developers do? :)
Closing Thoughts: Be Consistent
If you run out of inspiration or motivation, don't give up - take a breather and realign yourself if you need to. Remember, you've already laid out every task you need to do in order to accomplish your goal, so now it's just a matter of doing them. When passion burns out, be consistent - you'll thank yourself for it.
I hope you all have a wonderful New Year; here's to success, fulfillment, and prosperity! What S.M.A.R.T goals do you plan to set for yourself in the coming year? Let me know in the comments!
About The Author
Darrell “Dibur” Reconose is a professional composer and sound designer with a fascination for storytelling. He has composed music for award-winning indie games, and is passionate about sharing his love and knowledge of both audio and storytelling with the game development community. Feel free to get in touch for work inquiries or general game audio questions!