By Tim Youngblood
Whether you’re on a team or designing a game by yourself, staying organized and managing your time is essential. I’m a very unorganized person, I misplace things all the time in my hard drive and even my house. Since I’ve been working online the past few years, I learned how to essentially “idiot proof” everything I work on so I can’t lose it. Since you probably don’t have much of a budget, free tools are essential as software licenses for game development tools you might need can get very expensive. Here are some free tools that I used to make what used to be a weakness of mine into a strength.
Most people are familiar with Google Docs these days so I won’t talk too much about the basics. I prefer Google Docs over Microsoft Office for several reasons. Obviously, Google Docs is free, unlike Microsoft Office, but I would still prefer Google Docs even if Microsoft Office was free. Google Docs allows you to share documents with your team so you can all collaborate on them since it’s cloud-based. It also works on just about any device with an internet connection, this is really nice because I read a lot of documents on my phone.
Google Flowcharts are also great for laying out things like skill trees, item progression, and story arcs before you add them to your game. I’ve also noticed that Google Docs tend to have less formatting issues when you copy and paste them into a CMS (Content management system). My favorite feature, though, is that you can use voice to text on your smartphone to dictate writing. That’s how I wrote this article. Obviously, voice to text doesn’t transcribe your words perfectly, so you’ll need to come back and edit it when you get to a computer. But it’s great for capturing your word vomit so you can come back and edit it later. Like they say in writing classes, great papers aren’t written, they’re rewritten.
A very early screenshot of Origin Story‘s spell tree
Trello is another nice organizational tool that’s cloud-based. It allows multiple users to share and access it on any device with an internet connection. Of any task management tool I’ve ever used, Trello has the easiest interface to use and probably the only interface that works really well on a smartphone. The system itself is pretty simple, users can make boards and put as many columns on these boards to slide cards across. You can put hyperlinks inside of cards for easy access and you can send alerts to other users to let them know when you’re done with your task.
The free version will allow you to do anything you need and pretty much all the Trello Gold version will add is the ability to upload bigger files. The free version allows users to upload files up to two megabytes, which probably isn’t enough if you’re dealing with Graphics assets or video files. Tools like Asana and Jira allow users to upload large files, but you can get around that in Trello if you just add a link to Dropbox on a Trello card. You can make as many Trello boards and cards as you want.
Here’s a screenshot of the Trello board we used to develop the Game Borough website
Editors Note: You can schedule posts inside of Facebook for free now!
Even if you hate social media, if you’re trying to promote your game, you will eventually have to join the fray. Ever wonder how larger social media profiles post so damn much at all times during the day? It’s actually much easier than it looks. You don’t have to be glued to a device 24/7, constantly posting things in order to get the number of posts you want out on social media. Pretty much every professional social media manager uses delayed posting tools like HootSuite. While HootSuite doesn’t work very well on mobile devices, I can’t really complain because it’s the best free program that I’ve used for social media.
HootSuite allows you to schedule posts up to months and even years in advance. This way, you can schedule a month’s worth of social media posts in one sitting. It also makes posting the same piece of content on multiple Networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin much easier. Whether you’re promoting your game or just reposting evergreen content, this will save you a lot of time.
You can add just about any social network to Hootsuite.
Grammarly is basically spellcheck on crack. It’s great for making sure that you use proper grammar when you’re writing emails in a hurry. It can also help you keep typos out of your game dialogue. It works inside of most content Management systems and social media platforms. It might not sound like a very significant boost to your productivity, but you’d be amazed how much time you save when you don’t have to read things three or four times before sending them. I’m a professional copy editor with two writing degrees and Grammarly still saves my ass all the time.
Scott Allen, a novelist, loves Grammarly as much as I do. Image courtesy of ScottAllen.com
Stopwatch Extension (Online or Offline)
Even if you don’t have employee hours to monitor, being aware of how much time on average it takes you to complete a task will help you manage your time better and set more realistic deadlines. I don’t really have a favorite stopwatch tool because most of them work just fine because it’s a relatively simple program. I usually use a browser-based web extension because most of the work I do is online. Some stopwatch extensions allow you to categorize and log your time which can be helpful if you do a lot of different tasks. I’m not an expert on stopwatch apps by any means so if you have a favorite program, let us know in the comments.
*What are your favorite free productivity tools? If you think there’s one we left out that you’re not getting kickbacks for as a sales representative, let us know in the comments!