On occasion you will end up on projects that are nothing but trouble. What I mean by that is. That you’ll get to solve problem after problem after problem, and none of them will be easy to deal with. Some of them could have been avoided, but since it’s a troubled project, you won’t be able to.

So how to cope?

First of all, the project won’t last forever. Even troubled projects end and when they do, take comfort in this: You will have learned to solve for problems no one else will have had to solve for.

Secondly, try to disconnect. In the games industry we’re taught that we’re supposed to be passionate about our work and love what we do. In a troubled project, the likelihood is that it is much healthier to keep the project at arms length’s distance. Don’t get too passionate. It may well cause you injury or lead you to use alcohol or drugs in unhealthy ways. Ultimately it is not worth it. Primarily because the company you work for won’t thank you for working yourself to death. It’ll spit you out and chew on someone else for a while.

Thirdly, look for the fun. Even in totally messed up projects there are aspects of my work that I find very rewarding. I usually say that I love the work but hate the circumstances. I love solving problems, and that doesn’t change just because the circumstances are bad. I still love solving problems and I will continue loving solving problems even if I have to work overtime and crunch for weeks at a time. I won’t love the crunch. But I will love the problem solving.

Healthy companies that value their employees rarely end up with troubled projects. They care about their people too much.

So what did this troubled project teach me?

  1. Never let a gimmick or art style override usability. On pain of death. Leave before agreeing to it.
  2. If people on your team actively work against you, leave.
  3. If the game makes massive pivots but production doesn’t understand the impact on the entire team, leave.
  4. Even UX designers can do back end architecture if there’s no one else around to do it.
  5. Narrative teams are your friends. They will work with you because they too know the pain of localization.
  6. If someone in a lead position is gunning for your job and speak badly of you behind your back, leave. Provided you know, of course.
  7. Document everything. That way you can never be put on the spot. I was accused of “never finishing designs”. All of them were done and documented. In other words, if a director goes after you, leave.
  8. I know my limits now. It wasn’t pleasant to find out what they were. But I know them.

Troubled projects are almost always painful. Remember though, that at some point they will end. If you can’t stand it until then, there’s no shame in quitting.