As a game developer I was never much into books. I loved playing video games, binging shows and watching movies but I was always alien to the greater value of reading. I had to work through a couple of math books in college, loved Harry Potter and Game of Thrones but rarely picked up anything beyond that – and at some point in my professional life, I stopped reading books altogether. And then 2020 happened. With some time on my hands and the desire for self-improvement I stumbled upon this statement:
If you don’t read, it’s like you can’t read at all. There is no difference.
These words resonated very strongly with me. I started to wonder about all the missed opportunities for self-improvement and all the valuable insights I lacked. Independent video game development is much more than knowing how to create art, code or design – it’s also about understanding goals, noise, and habits. I started to have this massive surge of FOMO about broadening my perspective that pushed me right into compiling and working through my first reading list. These five books are not specific game development but they really helped me to find focus in life and therefore become a better game developer.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey was actually on a recommended reading list for my computer science degree in college. It’s a classic that introduced the concepts of proactivity and synergy to a broader audience. It took me around 10 years to finally read that book and I am quite saddened to have waited that long. The first part of the book focuses on personal growth. The author explains to you how to identify what is important to you and how to get there. The second part teaches you how to engage in meaningful relationships. This book profoundly shifted the way I perceived my work and the interactions I have with others. I realized that making video games should have more priority in my life – waiting for the perfect moment to focus all my energy to advance my life’s agenda doesn’t cut it anymore. I recently reduced the hours of my current day job significantly and started to reach out to publishers and other independent game developers in hopes to someday be a part of something great. ‘Your project looks fantastic! How can I help?’
Atomic Habits by James Clear is a book about the power of habits. It focuses on how to develop and maintain good habits while also explaining how to get rid of the bad ones. I started to compile a weekly habit tracker to make sure that I work out, clean my apartment, study Russian, and wake up and go to bed on time. So far I’m almost half a year into this fixed daily routine. If you can figure out how to manage your life outside of game development, you have a better chance of focusing on it
Make Time by Jake Knapp taught me about the dangers of smart phones. I used to waste a lot of time on my phone scrolling through Reddit or watching YouTube videos. Don’t get me wrong – it’s absolutely fine to watch videos or read articles you are actually interested in. I use the word ‘waste’ here because I remember distinctively how I wasn’t even enjoying much of that time. To stop this, I removed all games and social media apps from my phone. I blocked websites like Reddit and Facebook and put restricting timers on apps like YouTube and my browser. I deactivated all notifications and put my phone permanently on silent mode. I also started charging my phone in the living room over night. This helped me to avoid those ‘30 minutes’ of phone time before going to bed and after waking up. I was able to massively cut down the amount of procrastination and fatigue that I experienced every day. As a result, I ended up having more time and energy for game development.
Getting Things Done by David Allen is a book that focuses purely on productivity. It argues that people who feel sluggish and overwhelmed might have too many things on their mind. The book describes a system where you have to create and maintain a set of lists. These lists enable you to offload all the things you worry about onto paper. The things you have written down do not occupy your brain space anymore and you don’t have to waste your time thinking about doing your taxes over and over again. The book inspired me to write down all the raw ideas I come up with and all the raw feedback I’m getting for my game into a list – this is my ‘Inbox’. I review that list when I plan my next update and assign an action and a priority to it. Writing everything down helped me to finally implement ‘would have been nice’ features that I had in my mind for almost 2 years.
Show Your Work by Austin Kleon is actually the reason I started this blog. The book recommends you to detail your journey as a creator as a way to promote your work. People are interested in the process of making video games or are interested in what you can teach them. Some people might even want to collaborate with you. The book argues that creating your little space on the internet and sharing your work beyond the pure product connects you not only with potential customers but also with likeminded people. Great artistic endeavors do not originate in a vacuum, but are usually the product of a network of artists.
These are some of the books I have read in the last six months. Hope that helps.