GameDev Thoughts: 3 Small Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Game Development Career

Are you considering starting your own game development studio? You might want to avoid the most common mistakes. There are many mistakes indie developers make when they first open the doors of their indie studio. Below are a few that are not only worth avoiding, but you must avoid if you want to start your brand new venture on the right foot.

Don’t onboard friends who know very little about game development. Somewhere at the moment you are reading this, somebody is planning to develop a video game with his or her friends. Your friends might love gaming, but believe me, there’s a difference between being a fan of gaming and being passionate about developing them. Furthermore, there’s a difference between thinking that you know what makes a game great and actually ‘knowing.’ It may seem fun to hire your friends to make games with you, but do your due diligence.

If they actually have a proven track record of tinkering around with game design, then great! But actually creating a startup around the idea that a group of friends can develop games every day and actually make a living doing it? It’s not realistic. In short, if you are serious about starting an indie studio, you may be tempted to hire your friends. Unless they’re actually the best candidates for the job, avoid the temptation and hire professionals who are actually qualified.

Don’t neglect written agreements. When you work with people, always remember to have everything in writing. What happens if your indie game becomes profitable beyond your team’s wildest dreams? Does everyone get a fair cut? What if a few of you cannot agree on the direction of the indie game? What happens then? Moreover, whose actually in control of a game’s intellectual property? Remember, you’re not just creating a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, you’re creating a legitimate product that could be fruitful. Think about it: what would happen if Notch had created Minecraft with a group of friends without a legitimate agreement? It could have been disastrous.

Don’t skimp on outreach and social media marketing. Regardless of whether you like it or not, marketing is vital to your potential success. We’ve talked with a lot of indie developers that either say to me that they will figure out the marketing details later as the game is being developed. Not a very good plan. They think that the game will be so good, word-of-mouth will spread the good news about the game. That is an even worse plan. Drew Williams, co-author of the book Feeding the Startup Beast suggests spending 10 to 20 percent of your desired gross revenue on marketing when starting out.

“As you become a more established business,” says Williams, “that drops to 5 percent to 10 percent of gross revenue, and for the largest businesses it’s typically 5 percent or a bit less.”

The success of your indie game relies heavily on marketing. Awesome games won’t sell themselves. There’s too many great games that are being marketed properly to allow other indie games to be spread via word-of-mouth, so unless your indie game accomplishes something so revolutionary that it comes out of nowhere and amazes everyone, you’re not going to get the downloads you need to sustain yourself as an indie game developer.

Important Takeaways: If you’re going to recruit people to be on your team, remember to check their credentials. Make sure that they’re knowledgeable and responsible individuals with a passion for game development — not just gamers. Next, remember to always get things in writing (or at least a solid email chain). It’s too easy for misunderstandings to happen when there isn’t anything written down. Finally, don’t forget marketing. Creating a fun game is only half of the battle. The other half is trying to figure out how to break through the noise. Get started with social media marketing as soon as possible, and make sure to do research into how to grow those channels.

GameDev Thoughts: Have Indie Games Become Practically Worthless?

It seems as though people are willing to pay less and less these days for indie games. Studios that slave for years on their beloved games have been setting their initial price point to somewhere between $1 and $10. Is this even remotely fair? Some might argue in the affirmative, as the market gets what the market wants, but let’s dig a bit deeper.

How does a developer price their games? Sometimes it may seem like we are just picking a number and hoping that some people think it is fair enough for the work that we put in. Is that how it works? No, not at all. The most common and most effective way to figure out how much your game is worth is to simply ask your audience. One way to ask is to leave your fate to the consumer entirely by using a pay-what-you-want model. This is not the best model. The value of your product will never be reflected in your revenue stream. Most people will either pay the minimum or nothing at all. You might be lucky to get a few people who overvalue your time and pay you more than the average, but these are rare. Using this type of payment will not reflect the value of your game, and will leave you feeling like your time was wasted.

What should be done is asking your audience what how much value a service like yours would add to their lives. If you are an indie game studio, how is your game adding value to the customer’s life in the form of entertainment value. Is that value $3 or is it $15? If the value is closer to $15 then you should price it out that way. No one will fault you for pricing out your game higher if they value is there for the customer. If you are pricing your game too low, the expectations will be much much lower.

Developers need to eat, too. Back when video games sold for a bit more money, game developers were better able to offer better customer support. These days, with value of games eroding at an alarming rate, developers have had to make up for the lost revenue by trying to get a price point to attract as many customers as possible. However, the increase in number of players mixed with lower total revenues means that game developers have gotten a bit jaded. It’s increasingly difficult to continue treating customers as individuals rather than just another number.

If what you aren’t pricing the game at the true value to the customer then you will attract a different type of people. Let’s use a logo design studio as an example. They could price it out really cheap to get more customers, but the expectation won’t be the same as one that charges a moderate to a high price point. Would you go for the cheaper option? Maybe. But, what type of customers does that lower price point attract? Are they cheap themselves? Are they rude? Do they try and nickel and dime you? Do they demand the world? Do they want it NOW?! And so of course there’s added benefit to pricing you product at its appropriate value — you’re able to provide a valuable product for customers who actually care about the product, instead of individuals who may want everything for nothing.

Important Takeaways: When pricing your indie game, make sure to do it with the audience in mind. Make sure that you’re sending the right message with your price, rather than just trying to undercut the competition. Value your work. Remember, price is only an issue in the absence of value. Focus on delivering as much value as you can with your game, and charge accordingly.

Set your game’s selling price according to how much you would pay for that game if you were in a customer’s shoes, and not a penny less. You can always drive sales by having discounts, but if you set your game’s initial price too low, you’re doing yourself a disservice by making it seem like your work is worthless.

GameDev Protips: How To Be More Productive In Your Daily Workflow

Efficiency is all about routines. For example, in the case of game development, you have to get ready in the morning, work on your particular sections of the game during the day, and get ready for tomorrow at night. One key factor in determining how productive your day will be, however, is understanding what your routines actually are. The less time you spend thinking about where to go from now, the better.

In order to begin truly understanding your routines, you have to start off small. These small actions will include daily habits that you’ve likely already set, such as hygiene, going to work, and stuffing your face every few hours. This also includes any poor, extraneous habits that you’ve set for yourself such as browsing Reddit or checking your email. Once you’ve identified the basics, you can start making small, incremental changes. You can try new variations in what is already a solid routine in order to see if something works out better overall, or is better for your productivity. For example, if you wanted to ensure progress on your indie game, you might want to slot in an hour every day after or before your day job. It’s easier to start this changed routine if you promise yourself that you can fit it in between something you already do, such as waking up. The old, routine activity will act as a cue for you to begin your new activity. By properly identifying these cues and tying them to new activities, the new activities will eventually become routine and as a result will not deplete your willpower.

Understanding your routine and how to change it is only the first step, though; you have to be able to know where to change it to get positive results. Again, you have to start out small if you want to achieve your goals; slowly make things more difficult for yourself, working in the direction of your goals. As a general example, if you’re in the habit of going for a walk every evening, you might challenge yourself to start running every evening instead. If you have already been running, this might turn into marathon training. With this line of thought, you continue to grow and develop even whilst doing routine activities. While it is true that being able to stick to a routine is a comfortable feeling, you can easily lose long term goals if you’re not bettering yourself. In game development, start challenging yourself to do more in the same amount of time. The key of productivity is working smart, versus working hard.

In addition, forcibly challenging yourself will prevent boredom and also let you visualize the fruits of your labor. Seeing a definite display of your progress will give your ego a boost, and with ego comes the motivation to work towards your goals. If you don’t progress, stagnation can set in which is a killer of motivation. You’ll feel as if you’re going nowhere and many people will give up and move on at this stage if there is no progress in site. As a result, it’s important to challenge yourself whenever possible. If you find yourself plateauing, crack open some books or watch some educational YouTube videos and learn how to break that plateau. Change up your routine and make it more difficult over time — even if it’s just a simple adjustment to your routine, as this is the best way to keep you on track towards your goal of becoming more productive and completing your projects.

Important Takeaways: Your routine is extremely important. Appropriately fitting in goal-seeking activities into your routine is critical for productivity, but to do that you must understand exactly what your routine is to begin with. Start off basic, such as with your daily activities like going to work or eating dinner. After you’ve identified these, you can start to vary them slightly in the direction you wish to go. It’s easier to start doing this if it’s a part of something you already do. Eventually these activities will become routine themselves and as a result, very little willpower is required to perform them.

After you have your routine completely understood and know how to change it, it’s time to figure out exactly how to change it. Usually this will be in the form of difficulty; if you slowly increase the difficulty of a certain activity that’s related to your goals, the routine difficulty also increases by an equal amount. If you continue this line of thought, you leave yourself room to grow and develop even whilst performing routine activities. If you do not challenge yourself appropriately, your routine will feel very stagnant and this is the killer for most people’s motivation. The opposite also applies; if you challenge yourself appropriately, your ego will be boosted due to the definite display of progress that you can see. As a result, challenging yourself in your routine is extremely important if you wish to keep getting closer and closer to your goals.