Burnout in reference to game development is a state in which a developer experiences negative physical and mental health effects from prolonged stress. It is often caused by working constantly on a game (or games) without breaks, and, if not eventually addressed, can result in breakdowns, illness, and, in some cases, even hospitalization.
The common early warning signs of burnout include, but are not limited to:
- Lack of motivation
- Increasing tendency to procrastinate
- Feelings of dread towards work
- Doubt in creative capabilities
Left unaddressed, burnout can advance to more severe symptoms, such as:
- Reduced executive function
- Weakening of the immune system
- Bodily aches
- Existential crisis
A developer may find themselves in a negative feedback loop where they see their reduced ability to function because of the burnout as "proof" of creative incompetence when they're simply just tired.
Common causes of burnout include:
- In some extreme cases, such as when a developer is constantly crunching without stopping and for long hours at a time, what was once only burnout can develop into a full-blown medical emergency or physical injury.
- External stressors
- Financial concerns (may also fold into external stressors)
- Strict, tight deadlines
- Poor work-life balance
Rest is crucial to managing and mitigating burnout. Giving yourself time to decompress and step away from a project is important. Periods of rest should be hard inclusions in your schedule and not an afterthought.
Effective rest can constitute consuming other media to recharge your creative battery, engaging in mindless and satisfying activities, or taking care of other areas of your life, especially your health. In some cases, you may want to avoid anything related to work entirely; if you work in a home office, as is the case with a lot of indie visual novel developers, moving to a different room to do something or taking a walk may be helpful.
Work style adjustment
Not all people are wired the same. If you find that you consistently experience burnout even when taking periods of rest, or you struggle to adhere to certain routines, it may be time to look into changing how you structure your work-rest schedule entirely. For example, some people find they operate better when they're more fast and loose with their whims. Find what works best for you.