It’s not stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.

–Hans Selye

Stress looms over us all, and there’s no doubt that any game developer you meet will be well-acquainted with it. Take a look at the perks companies such as Riot Games or Insomniac Games offer, and you might think that being a game employee means kicking back between hackathons, game nights, and drinking events. Blizzard even offers employees access to a hair salon and a car wash! But there’s a reason for all those free snacks, fresh fruits, and massage therapy—when you’re working to meet deadlines, coordinating with several other people working on many different parts, and are, in general, trying to put out a quality product, the stress is bound to pile up.

This is the same for AAA game giants and small developers alike, but the fallout can be much more pronounced when you’re a small dev with a small team. Stress affects health, focus, and how well you communicate with your peers—when a person is wearing more hats, results caused by a stress meltdown can be catastrophic. Knowing where your stress comes from and how to curb it can keep you from enduring a massive breakdown in operations and can even keep those gray hairs at bay.


Don’t Fear the (Deadline) Reaper

Deadlines are one major cause of stress. Having to work toward any deadline can get intense, but if that deadline has been poorly planned out on top of it, then that stress will increase exponentially. Knowing your team’s capabilities is a big part of making sure deadlines are feasible; as I mentioned before, having a clear understanding of how long an asset takes will help keep you on schedule, which will reduce stress from being able to meet a goal. If you are stressed out due to a deadline, it’s best to attack the problem and reconsider your priorities; changing an impossible milestone may be better than burning your entire team—or just yourself—out. When planning, schedule enough time not only to backtrack and change priorities, if needed, but also to give your team a chance for downtime. If it’s possible to reassign or split tasks, or to stagger production over a period of time in order to give all involved a chance to rest, you might find that it helps improve productivity…and your own mood.

Remember to keep an eye on that pressure gauge . . .


Tweet Me? Tweet You!

There’s another source of stress that’s become popular in our modern world, and that’s social media. If you’re a developer, especially an indie developer, you need to get the word out to people about your game. However, engaging in social media is a whole new type of stressor. The success of Phil Fish’s game Fez led to high anticipation for Fez II, the sequel. Unfortunately, Fish canceled development after an altercation over social media. While I won’t comment extensively on the event, it is definitely a cautionary tale for any game developer: make sure that you—or whoever is in charge of your social media outreach—are able to handle the pressure. Engaging in social media when stressed about deadlines, team composition, or even said social media itself is a recipe for disaster. Disconnecting is recommended, though reassessing your approach to social media is also a valid response. Some game companies have taken to only making official statements over their platforms, rather than directly conversing with consumers; it’s up to you to figure out which is the best method.


Putting the Kettle Off

Health, productivity, and communication all breaks down with too much stress. Looking to other companies for solutions can be helpful. Allowing workers to take time off or engaging in non-work-related activities with them will help put a lighter spin on things and can even bring you closer together. Tangible perks such as access to games or free merchandise can give them something to strive for. Nothing beats being able to experience the final form of something you made with your own hands! On a personal level, keeping your work time organized, taking breaks, and giving yourself a chance to decompress can help you make better decisions and will keep you going longer.

Keep a car running too long without fuel or maintenance, and it will break down. People aren’t machines, but we still need care. Being kind to ourselves is one of the most effective ways to promote productivity.