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You're going to underestimate your work -- no matter what
You're going to underestimate your work -- no matter what Exclusive
June 27, 2012 | By Staff

June 27, 2012 | By Staff
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Programming, Exclusive

In a new feature, indie developer Matej Jan writes that even for a simple, single-screen iOS game, he vastly underestimated the amount of programming required, and you will too.

Despite working with his own technology and with a good understanding of how the game would come together -- after the designers briefed him, "it was pure execution", he writes -- it still took him too long to create Monkey Labour.

This, despite the fact that the game's clear influence is Nintendo's black and white Game & Watch handheld.

"As always, it all depends on a multitude of factors, the major ones being the size of the game and your previous experience with doing exactly the things needed to realize it."

Even with a solid grounding, "for a simple, one-screen arcade game with a basic menu, my programming time clocked in at 109 hours... Game Center integration (leaderboards and achievements) were done by an additional programmer and took two extra man-weeks," he writes.

"It would take less today, but every project has a thing or two where you end up chasing strange errors for a week more than you've anticipated. We later published an update to the game, which took another 71 hours to make. All in all, just the coding part took eight man-weeks of full-time work (assuming you squeeze six hours of quality productive time into each workday)."

The full feature, in which Jan details his misadventures in development, porting, promotion, and release on iOS, Mac, and PC, is live now on Gamasutra.

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Andrew Grapsas
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You know, this is, like, a well studied field within software engineering involving countless books and white papers discussing why estimation is difficult and proffering techniques to manage the imprecision with which we generate estimates.

David Amador
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I have that problem all the time. "But... it's just that, how hard can it be?"
Well the problem is that although you can do all the algorithms by head very quickly it takes you a lot more time to actually write it

Wylie Garvin
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Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.

William Ravaine
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Someone once gave me a bunch of good tips about time estimates:
1) never give a time estimate right away when asked "so, roughly, how long would it take to do X?" during a meeting
2) once you've taken your time to break the tasks down as best as possible and time estimated them to the best of your knowledge, multiply the total by 3 and you get closer to the real time estimate :)

Tiago Costa
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1) Sure you can, say "Two weeks minus or more one year", always works

2) Take in account the person that will receive that said task, if it is yourself multiply it by 5x, you (as in ourselves) always overestimate what we can do.

k s
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I've personally found it to be true that I way underestimate how long it's going to take me to code something most of the time, on occasion it's the other way round but only occasionally.

Jonathan Jennings
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Too true , i think a lot of time when we come up with games we have a pretty good base idea of how the systems within it work but seeing the big picture a lot of times we overlook the small details . but i know i am definitely in the boat of underestimating the mountain of code i end up having to write

Matej Jan
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To be completely fair, I actually thought this project was the most realistically evaluated in terms of time we needed to take. From all the past failures I actually knew this time that it will take two months to finish. So in this case I didn't actually underestimate my time, but what I wanted to stress was the point that even for a simple game like this, that time is against our unexperienced expectations quite long.

However, I did make the gross underestimations too many times in the past so I don't mind that this puts a clear warning for new developers: chances are you will underestimate your work. Big time.