A summary of the past year or so:
At Torpex, we were chasing a project and funding for a pretty cool game of Richard Garfield's that ended up not happening in the end. After being led on by a publisher for months they changed their minds, claimed that they thought our proposed budget was for a different number of skus and no longer wanted to pursue it.
So we put Torpex on mothballs and I started looking for a working-for-the-man type job, but then put the jobhunt on hold for two reasons:
* Chrome Native Client! New technology sometimes brings new opportunities. It did with Schizoid and XNA. I wanted to jump on that in case it became something big.
* My youngest daughter isn't even in preschool yet, so it would be nice for me to spend more time with her during her 'formative years' - not to mention my wife could use all the help around the house she could get.
So I became a "Game Dev Dad" again. In the early days of Torpex I was in a similar situation - working from home, spending a lot of time with my other daughter (who wasn't in preschool at that time).
This time there wre some differences though. Back then I was under the illusion that what I was doing was almost guaranteed to pay for itself in the long run, once we started selling Schizoid on Xbox Live Arcade. So I kept the door to my office closed and my daughter (mostly) understood she wasn't to bother dad while he was working. Schizoid did great by indie game standards, but below average by Xbox Live Arcade standards of the time, and that meant it didn't make enough money to pay the team much.
This time, I didn't have illusions. sixty second shooter was probably going to not pay for the time I put into it. It would be fun to make, but it would be a worse investment than a lottery ticket.
So - going into this knowing that it probably wouldn't help support the family - I knew it wasn't fair to lock myself in my office while Cathy did all the stay-at-home-parenting. This time it had to be more of a fifty-fifty split. Now I'm just as much 'stay-at-home-dad' as 'game developer'.
On the one hand, I realize I'm very lucky to be able to do this. Most guys have to work just to pay the bills and don't get to spend as much time with their kids as they would like. How incredibly fortunate for me that I made enough money with Treyarch and Spider-Man that I can do this (for a little while longer, anyway.)
On the other hand - it does chafe. You've heard adages like "nobody wishes on their death beds that they spent more time at the office" or "nobody wishes on their death beds that they spent less time playing frisbee with the kids". I could very well find myself wishing on my death bed that I made more games. And I realize I'm doing a Good Thing when I play *The Ladybug Game* again with my youngest daughter but it's almost agonizing. It's sacrificing "Type 1" happiness (pleasure in the moment) for "Type 3" happiness (the satisfaction of doing the right thing.) The "Type 2" happiness comes and goes. [For more talk about these types of happiness, check out 'Happines: The Science Behind Your Smile' by Daniel Nettle - a book I really liked.]
On the gripping hand - I have to choose my family over making games. Just have to.
But now that I'm developing less and parenting more, I seem to be finding that I'm even less than half as productive than I used to be. The interruptions come more frequently; the flow states last for less time. The overhead of checking e-mail and generally getting down to business is the same size, so the time spent actually making games is cut away. (That's why, a while ago, I asked: "How do stay-at-home dad's get any coding done?")
And our youngest would still feel ignored and get upset and throw tantrums in the middle of the day. Now - how can that be? She's got two parents at home now, how could she possibly be lacking in attention?
Turns out that both my wife and I were multi-tasking. I was trying to make games and be a dad at the same time; she was trying to run her Etsy shop and be a mom at the same time. We'd leave our two year old daughter to her own devices and try to get stuff done on our computers - and she'd go back and forth between us, trying to grab our attention. Nobody wins.
(And there are plenty of studies that show how bad multitasking is. Studies have shown that it gives you the illusion of being awesome when in actuality it destroys your productivity - and Joel Spolsky has pointed out that when you're task switching, even if you do it perfectly efficiently, it means your deliverables come in late. Others call it being 'randomized'.)
I've said before that being productive is like dieting.
- Counting calories == writing down how many minutes you spend each day doing what.
- Keep tempting foods out of the house == unplug your internet or use blocking programs like 'stay focused' / close the door / turn off your cellphone
- Automation - eat the same thing every day == have specific times of the day where you're officially working
So our solution is to automate. We've been trying it this week - we have shifts - we officially set aside time to work and time to pay attention to our daughter. One does the 'parenting' while the other does the 'working'. And we're still fifty-fifty.
And so far it's been working great! We're No Angels is almost at the point where I won't be embarrassed to show it to people (too bad Comics vs Games and the Indiecade submission date already came and went) and I've gotten some business stuff set up for my upcoming kickstart efforts. Announcement coming real soon!
So - for those of you in the same situation as me - trying to do some involved creative or technical work from home and balancing that with family - I highly recommend: 'eschew multitasking! Have official hours of the day where you do specific kinds of tasks!'
That said, I have to admit I'm a bit leery about posting this - I'm worried that it's TMI or that people won't take me seriously as a game developer when they hear I pay more attention to my wife and kids than to my games.
And I worry if it'll hurt my upcoming kickstarter - will people ask: "Hey, are you going to make this game or are you going to only work on it part-time while mostly you're a dad?" The answer is: depends on how much money we raise, honestly. If we raise the minimum, we'll be working on it part-time. If we raise more, then I'll be able to say to my wife, "Hey, we're really paying the bills with this thing! I think it has to take priority over your Etsy shop - can you spend more time being a dedicated mom so I can work on the game full-time?" (Likewise with our artist whom I'll name later - if we raise the minimum I'll only be able to afford to pay him part-time; if we raise more he can quit his day job.)
So, yeah, worried. But there it is, cards on the table. Probably more about me than you ever wanted to know.
You worry it may be TMI, but honestly I really appreciated the candor -- game development doesn't happen in a vacuum, and I wish more people writing about it would acknowledge that. It's a good list of things to keep in mind, as well, when doing independent work.
Best of luck, and looking forward to hearing more about the kickstarter project!
Posted by: Nabil | May 18, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Well, it only took me about a month to read your post after starring it in my RSS reader :) I also appreciate this article and think you make some really good points. It is very hard to balance family life and work, and if you're not in the industry yet to also feed your inner game dev addict late into many nights and weekends. I think you're very lucky (as you've already acknowledged) to be in your current position and hope to someday be there too. It sounds like you've figured out how to budget your time in a way that works for your whole family, so kudos and good luck in your upcoming projects!
Posted by: Jeromie | June 06, 2012 at 09:52 AM