Motivation for Non-Monetary Game Development

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation during non-monetary or revenue-based game development

By Jaqueline Martin
October 25, 2019

Why is it important?

Even the smallest and humblest projects can be a great deal of work. The key to successfully finishing a game lies in its simplicity, but even the simplest games can take a fair amount of time - especially if you are just starting out! This article is looking at the factor of motivation for revenue-shared game development, especially at the aspect of keeping yourself as a single developer or your team motivated during the difficult periods of development.

Motivation is the reason why we undertake actions and our willingness to achieve our goals. It is our direction to want to repeat a behavior. Our motivation may be an extrinsic motivation, for example being inspired by others or events. Or our motivation may come from within ourselves, so called intrinsic motivation.

It is not too uncommon for a game to end up half-finished or tossed to the side to make room for a shinier, newer project. Or maybe you find yourself caught up in thinking: “I will -just- release this small game, it will be quick!”

Completing one project from the very beginning to the very end is mostly a test of patience and dedication, but also requires a solid strategy and planning ahead. Motivation can help you to go far, but it will not help you achieve a goal if you are lacking a proper planning phase. With this I want to highlight the need for a strategic approach in game development and not to solely rely on the desire to create. But also highlight the need of proper teamwork and how we can achieve success as a group or an individual.

If you find yourself constantly struggling between few games or come up with a new idea every day, that is okay, but it may mean there is a need for more time or experience.

While some projects might indeed take only a few days to finish, others may not. It may be easy to get tricked by the feeling of being able to finish a game quickly, but each project comes with its own pitfalls, prototyping can be easy, but polishing the game to a state in which it will sell is not. If you or your team are working for no money or only the prospect of revenue-share at the end of release, then motivation becomes an even greater factor in successfully finishing your project.

Intrinsic Motivation

More than ever, people are overwhelmed. 24/7 news and social media keep us busy, We are facing obstacles and egos and competition. The ability to step back and to be able to view the world in its nuances increases in value. To be steady while the world spins around you. To act without frenzy and to only hear what needs to be heard. To trust in your own judgment and to value your own voice. In “Stillness is the key” by Ryan Holiday, he argues that in order to be better at anything you want to have a moment of quiet to do meaningful work, to detach and relax.

When working for revenue-shared projects, you may be in the position of working for free and obtaining the reward of your hard work at the end of your released project. This in itself already focuses your group or yourself on the aspect of the reward at the end. But what if the reward is not big enough for the hours spent? What if there is no reward? The possibility of making a game and no one showing interest is real. It may even become more of an anxiety during the game development itself.
According to Ryan Holiday, the more we insist on a certain outcome, the more difficult it can be to achieve. He relates it to the archery master Awa Kenzo’s school in which Awa famously never taught students how to aim and shoot to hit a target, but that mastery of the bow meant mastery of the mind. Hitting the target meant to be only the outward proof and confirmation of purposelessness as its highest.

Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by internal rewards. By reshaping our mindset to move away from the monetary reward at the end of the project we will be more likely to see the project with a clearer focus. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn and actualize our potentials. If you consider your motivation for reading this article then you may have an interest in the psychology beneath game development or you might want to know more about the topic of motivation, but you are acting based upon intrinsic motivation. By pursuing an activity for the pure enjoyment you are acting on intrinsic motivation, which is not out of a desire to gain a type of external reward such as a prize or money. Activities can generate such feelings when they give us a sense of meaning or purpose or give us a sense of progress. This can happen through us accomplishing something positive or mastering a subject by learning something new and becoming more skilled at a certain task.

Extrinsic Motivation

Disregarding if you are a solo developer or a team: The principle of achieving mastery and giving a purpose can be a huge motivation. Everyone wants to get better at what they do. Provide yourself and others with opportunities to show off the progress of the game. Giving constructive feedback or finding someone who can, providing performance metrics and creating individual development plans may as well boost the productivity.

If you are a team leader make sure you give your team autonomy. Make room for opinions and invite feedback in a non-threatening environment. Give your colleagues the chance to make decisions and actively ask for input. People want to be part of something that is bigger than themselves. Showing how their work benefits the progress of the game or how it aligns with their values.

Offer specific and sincere praise. You can do this even if you are a solo developer. Have you ever leaned back and said “Thank you” to yourself? Game Development is difficult, make sure that you are acknowledging tangible accomplishments. There is no such thing as giving too much recognition and praise.

Building a professional community is very important to create any type of business. With this I do not mean a community in the sense of a fanbase, which is important too, but making your team feel connected to each other. The best way you can do this is to either use platforms like discord, if you are further apart or anything that has very close and old-fashioned in-person interaction. If you live close by to your team, encourage them to eat lunch together or play games during your break times. Everything that helps you and them to re-align with the common purpose of what you are looking to accomplish - finishing a game. By developing more of a community mindset you may also influence after-hour bonding. You want your individual team members to also talk with each other and not with one person only.

If you do not know what is motivating your team or yourself, don’t be afraid to ask. Ask what types of rewards would be preferred. If the only reward you are working for is going to be revenue-share at the end of the project, it will probably not be enough for long-term motivation. Once you have gotten the feedback of what is motivating to yourself or team, you can create clear goals to strive for.

Get to know your team as people. What are their hobbies? Do they have children or pets? Is there a way to incorporate them as tightly into the project as you are? What makes them tick? Consider the problems your team is facing and look for solutions to genuinely help them. You may want to offer flexible work schedules or home-office, if you are in the position to do so, as long as you stay connected as a group. Not everyone likes to spend their entire day at an office. Some people work better from home. If you are interested in how you can build a successful group, I can recommend you to read “The Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle.

After working with a variety of teams I came to the conclusion that the most successful teams were the ones in which leaders were not afraid to lead and actively invite input. Striving to make each team member feel part of a group, of a save environment, where it was absolutely fine to be vulnerable. The team worked better as a whole the safer each individual in the team felt.


  • Coyle, Daniel. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Bantam Books; 2018.
  • Holiday, Ryan. Stillness is the key. Penguin; 2019