A problem I’ve been concerned a lot with over the past year is avoiding a Sophomore Slump. New Bedford was my first game and a big success, and I was worried about being able to produce a second game that was just as successful and popular. There’s danger from both sides with that attitude. If I make a second game and it’s not as good, I’ve hit the slump. If I keep rejecting games waiting for that next great one, I also hit the slump. But now that I’ve officially got my second game announced, I have figured out what designers can do to avoid a sophomore slump.
It’s actually that simple. You can’t avoid a sophomore slump. But it’s really a matter of perspective. Once you have that first big success, that becomes what you compare all of your other half-complete projects to. That’s unfair to begin with. On top of that, you don’t have the experience dealing with it, and it feels like a much bigger issue than it actually is.
In the same way that New Bedford wasn’t really my first game—I had other ideas floating around before that—my second game is just the second game that I brought to completion, and I had a bunch of other half ideas in the meantime that didn’t work. Even as I was showing off New Bedford at Unpub 3, I had another game with me that didn’t really work. And plenty of other things besides. Those other game ideas were my slump.
As I design more games, I don’t stop having slumps. And I’m sure the same is true for other designers, as well. But your perspective changes as you start to view design as an entire process that starts with a pile of ideas and slowly distills the ones that don’t work from the ones that do work. The more I work on games, the easier it is to see things from that point of view and the easier it is to identify the ideas to bring to fruition.
So my advice for avoiding the sophomore slump is to have it and move on. If you’re going to continue to design games, you’re going to continue to have games that don’t work. The key is to accept that and keep moving on to the next game or two or ten.