I have worked on 6 games independently, 5 have been launched and have worked in the software industry for 5 years now. Despite this, I am often crippled with self-doubt, in a lot of cases it is exacerbated by the fact I have made a few games. Over making my few games the problem has shifted though, from one of worrying that people would do some vague undefined evil to me for making a bad game, to feeling unconfident as I become aware of how little I know about what makes a great game. If you are here I imagine that you suffer from one of these problems or both, as I have definitely seen plenty of people with them.
Self-doubt 1: People are going to (laugh at, shout at, lose respect for, etc) me.
Description: This is a common fear in all walks of life and something people often feel when doing something new. There is a fear that if you are not perfect straight away then you are a failure and that people will reject you. There is also a fear that is especially acute in Britain that the failure will “follow you forever!”(Image that said in a really scary deep voice).
Consequences: This fear has stopped dead many great ideas not just great games but great achievements in all areas. If you let this fear sink hooks into you, you will quit before you begin and the world will be the poorer for it, or you will put on a front and defend your creation to the death without room to learn from feedback.
Action: Remember that failure is necessary for success even at the cost of someone laughing at you. In my experience, most people are incredibly helpful and supportive, the issue is often getting them to be harsher and provide feedback! It is also important in life that you select your friend based on them being good people, so if you have a friend that is out to put you down or cause drama then you should distance your self from them.
Self-doubt 2: I don’t know how to make a good game.
Description: You really really want to make a great game, maybe you are pouring your heart and soul into a game, but deep down it doesn’t feel “good”. This is a feeling I have all of the time, and I think a lot of people do, I also believe we are probably all right! Any description of a game as good or bad is hugely subjective and as such, how would you ever know if you made a good game?
Consequences: The consequence of letting this doubt get a hold of you is entering into a never-ending cycle of changing elements of your game, or never finishing a game as you are always making it a bit better.
Action: When people say a game is good or bad they are talking about how it makes them feel, so the only thing to do is regularly playtest your game and accept that the players’ opinions are all correct. What you need to do is establish what players you are trying to please and check with them to see if you are doing it. You should also try and learn from what other people have found to work and not, read game design books and watch talks on the subject.
Self-doubt 3: People are going to find out I don’t know what I am doing.
Description: This doubt is often called imposter syndrome, and is the feeling that you are not as good at something as other people that do it and soon you will be caught out. I suffer from this massively as a developer, I often find myself in meetings where I keep quiet and don’t put forward my suggestions as I am scared I will get caught out. Often the apparent solution I saw an hour or two ago is reached after much discussion.
Consequences: If you allow yourself to be kept quiet by this doubt then you will find that less able people will make bad decisions and all you will be able to say is “I knew this wouldn’t work”, and when you end up saying that you are more to blame than anyone for letting it happen.
Action: I feel like a bit of an imposer giving out this advice as I think I need to take it. If you have put in the hours and the practice to become good at something, then you have a right to be there, to say your piece, to make your game. Also, remember that often no one knows what’s going on, and almost everyone is just making it up as they go. The fact that you are aware of your limits and hopefully trying to improve yourself puts you in a different league to most other people.
We are all getting better:
We are all getting better, and we should all be striving to make our next game better than our last, we should not aim to create a perfect game. It is natural that with each game we make there are lessons to be learned, we would be better to measure ourselves on how many of these lessons we have learned and how well we remember and us the going forward.
Just do the work:
Sometimes when you doubt yourself and don’t know what to do the best cure is to get started. I have found that forcing simple actions has the power to overcome significant blockages in work; it is like a bolder that once you have got it moving a little, it becomes easier to gain more momentum
Feedback can be one of the hardest things to hear, but if your games are made for others to love, then you need to understand and take useful feedback onboard. Not all feedback is created equally, but the feedback that clearly states an issue someone has with your game or a suggestion to improve it should always be considered, and you should see what you can learn from it.
You cannot ignore the problem:
I have seen people that systematically fail to face up to there self-doubt and instead put up a front of arrogance and bravado, or hide away from doing the work they should do. I believe that balance should be the aim of confidence as with all things if you can take advice but still make your own decisions you will be close to that sweet spot.