GameDev Thoughts: 4 Reasons Why Game Developers Shouldn’t Worry About Competition

A common tip for most aspiring entrepreneurs is to know your competition and stay one step ahead of them. It’s a rough market out there. However, in the world of independent game development, this kind of cutthroat mentality will lead you to lose out on many opportunities for success. In the gaming scene, people will gladly buy games from different developers, so you needn’t worry much about “losing customers” to other games. Here are a few reasons why you should encourage other developers’ work and embrace competition from other developers.

Cross promotion. The game development world runs on the principle of getting your game noticed. And what better way to get noticed than to piggyback on someone else coming into the spotlight? Don’t hesitate to contact other developers doing similar things and offer cross promotion opportunities. A simple message is all you need. “Hey, I see your game X is similar to my game Y! I’d love to share X with my fan base in exchange for you sharing Y across yours! I think our fans would love being able to enjoy other games like the ones they’ve been playing.” These kind of messages can work wonders, especially when it comes to Kickstarter or Greenlight. Plus, you get to meet some cool developers!

Feedback from peers. Nobody knows more about making games than someone who’s making games. It’s always a good idea to reach out to developers and ask for feedback on your project, no matter how big or small the project or the developer is! Most developers wouldn’t mind taking a little while out of their day to give you a hand. The good part about giving feedback and checking out new projects is that it could inspire you to create or improve something for your own work! Game development should always be a collaborative process. If I hadn’t asked other developers for feedback along the way, I would never have been able to publish games on Steam and maintain fantastic friendships and professional connections with many talented developers.

Competition breeds creativity. While you may have the best of intentions, if you keep trying to get “better” than other games in the market, eventually one of four things will happen. One, they notice and get mad, possibly leading to a lawsuit regarding copyright infringement. Two, the press notice and give you flak for being a “copycat.” Three, the public notices, and your fans view you as a sellout trying to steal ideas. Or four, your game starts to look so different from what you had in mind initially that you’re no longer making your own game, but rather a clone of someone else’s. Stay creative and have a calm mind, and don’t see game development as a race to create the “best game.” Make the game you want to make.

Networking opportunities. The word “networking” is thrown around as a buzzword in the professional world, so I’ll keep this brief. Developers work closely with people that you might need to get in touch with — composers, marketers, trailer guys, web designers, and more. If you need contacts, asking another developer where they got X, Y, or Z done is an easy way to find reputable people with experience. Sharing contacts also generates goodwill amongst developers, and keeps talented contractors in business! All it takes is 5 minutes on reddit’s /r/gamedev forum to discern that developers are friendly people willing to help others. If you start painting this picture of your “competition” in your mind, you lose the ability to make wonderful, thriving connections with skilled masterminds in your field. It’s not even about making games — it’s about making friends! Relationships mean a lot in a world as dynamic as game development, so make and cherish them.

Important Takeways: Cross promotion is huge when it comes to selling games. Leverage existing fanbases to grow your own. Don’t be afraid to ask fellow game developers for help — they’re usually super friendly and willing to assist. Creativity is king. Competition breeds creativity. Make a game that stands out from among the crowd in order to maximize your chances of success.

GameDev Protips: 6 Useful Tips To Help You Ship Your Indie Game

There is a widespread problem with indie developers embarking alone onto projects that have massive scope without having the means to support their efforts. Enthusiasm alone cannot take something to its completion, especially when you’re dealing with something as ambitious as the development of a complex game. Before embarking on anything of scope or difficulty, it’s important to know the following:

Have a clear outcome. Developing games is a long and arduous process. It is important to know what you want to achieve from the game you are working on. Many times we see young developers wanting to develop the next game that everyone talks about. That is all well and good. However, how do you accomplish this? Well it’s quite simple. You need to know where you want to end up. If you do not do this you could be a year into developing some game that doesn’t even make sense.

Make a realistic assessment. Once you have a clear and specific outcome, you will need to take an inward look. Do you have the skills and resources to accomplish this outcome? Do you need to learn how to use a certain game engine? Are you able to put in the work day in and day out? Do you need to recruit other people to help with the execution of the game development?

Have reliable support resources. You are going to be in front of a monitor for many hours. Everyone gets overworked at some point. You will need a way to replenish your energy and maintain a balance in your life. Some ways that you can do this is by eating healthy, exercising regularly, and maintaining consistent sleeping hours. We know that this is not new information but it really does have an effect on your performance. You will be happy you maintained a balance when the hours get grueling.

Talk with other game developers. Networking with other game developers has two key benefits. First you get to talk about the problems you are dealing with. Many times there is someone who has come to that hurdle before and found a solution. You can also bounce off concepts and ideas to see how effective they are at accomplishing what you would like. Second, knowing that there are others just like you doing what you love and overcoming challenges is very motivating.

Be extremely patient. Now, be more patient than that. Developing a game takes a lot of time and energy. There are days you simply don’t feel like doing it. You will have setbacks. The key is to understand you need to get back up and figure it out. Some people think they will do it when they are motivated. This is flawed thinking. You do it and the motivation will come.

Produce quality work. When embarking on this quest to build your own game you must produce quality. It is far better to execute a game that has a specific goal that provides value to the player than it does to create a large game with lots of features that provides no real value to the player. Take it from us. Do small things in a great way and the gamer community will reward you for your efforts. Focusing on the quality will give you motivation to finish the game and make it a success.

GameDev Thoughts: Your Game Idea Is Worthless

Ideas represent one tiny percentage of your game. It’s not the core. It’s only a spark — a source of motivation to make you sit down and work in front of your computer.” -Lach, Co-Founder of Berzerk Studio

Your game idea is terrible. However, everyone’s game ideas are terrible, so that’s perfectly okay. Stop wasting your time needlessly hoarding your game ideas, or waste hours of your life writing 100 pages of design documents and just sit down and just make your game and learn from the process.

A game is simply just not playable until it is put into action, and thus is inherently worthless in it’s design document form. No matter how carefully crafted your documentation may be, there are a myriad of reasons why your brilliant idea can fail when it comes to execution. Some of these possible reasons could be lack of technical skill, not enough budget, time constraints, lack of personal motivation, poorly thought out or balanced game mechanics, or a host of other issues that you will undoubtedly run into when you start the process of getting to work on a game.

A game developer’s goal is to design a satisfying game experience, and even assuming the most basic mechanics possible, the execution of this design can be derailed at many points in the development cycle. The design must translate his idea through the minds of everyone else who has touched the project, and who will have many different ideas regarding what’s feasible within the given scope of the project. A design document does not hold a candle to the months and years of hard work required to complete a game, no matter how intricately designed the document.

If a game is successfully shipped, it’s thanks to the effort of the entire development team as a whole.

This involves navigating through the ungodly amount of programming and debugging work, insane hours of refining art, writing, quality assurance, music production, voice acting, trailer production, dealing with countless man-hours of marketing, figuring out the logistics of running a synchronized skeleton crew. The game idea? Sure it can be used as a catalyst to get the work done, but the actual development process will more often than not shred apart the initial idea, as the logistics behind creating and releasing a game that is fun and polished will interfere with the design documentation that was written before the actual development process.

The notion that a game idea is valuable and must be cherished before the prototype stage is amazingly out of touch with the oftentimes grueling development process. Many fledgling game designers have a similar notion of: “I have this amazing idea. It’s absolutely brilliant and will sell hundreds of thousands of copies and make me rich. I want to onboard a team to make this game for me with a revenue share model. I’m scared that people may steal my game idea and get rich off of it.”

Important Takeaways: No one will ever steal your game idea. You don’t need to worry about your precious game idea ever being stolen because even if someone did take it, they’d still have to spend countless hours building it, fine tuning it’s gameplay, figure out a path to market it, then spend countless more hours polishing it to the point where it’s suitable for release. By the time this happens, it would most likely be dramatically different than the initial idea, as it is inherently impossible to design a complete and perfect game on paper without putting in the hours and getting into the meat and potatoes of development.

Don’t get me wrong, without game ideas there wouldn’t be any games. However, the game idea itself is a microscopic part of the entire game development process, and should be treated as such. Still not convinced that ideas are a dime a dozen? Here’s 300 of ’em, free of charge:

GameDev Thoughts: 4 Reasons Why I Love The Indie Games Industry

1. Experimenting with graphics. While it may get a bit wearisome to see yet another indie showing its retro-chic by using 8-bit graphics, it’s also true that producing those graphics is a great savings. Those savings can be put into other areas of the game, like design, programming, marketing and more. Games such as Minecraft teach us that it’s that graphics are not the only thing that sells a game–and not even the most important thing.

Some AAA studios have given their games a distinctive, non-photorealistic look. Think Sunset Overdrive or something akin to Borderlands, games that aren’t striving for scenes that look real. These games are creating a fantastic graphic style with a distinctive look, and it helps the games appeal to a wide audience. And, not coincidentally, aids in marketing as well.

2. Not being afraid to innovate. The lesson for big game publishers and studios is this: The biggest risk of all is to take no risks. Eventually, that strategy leads to boredom on the part of the audience, who will wander off to find more interesting and innovative games. The most successful games are the ones that really pioneer a new playing style or genre, Could Minecraft have been the product of a big studio? That hardly seems likely. Certainly it’s safer to create new versions of bestselling franchises than to create something new, yet eventually creating new versions of old games begins to lose steam (witness the gradual sales decline of Call of Duty from year to year).

Granted, spending tens or even hundreds of millions on a brand new game is a huge risk. But indies can try out interesting new concepts for a fraction of the cost. Large game studios and publishers are filled with creative people who must have plenty of ideas–why not let them build a few in-house, inexpensively, and try them out on digital platforms? Try out a new concept inexpensively, and if it proves popular then pour more money into it.

It’s not to be expected that major publishers or studios will risk huge amounts of money on brand new gameplay ideas, not without some indication that it’ll appeal to a mass audience. Many gamers are eagerly waiting for the next innovation in gameplay from indie game developers. It does seem like big publishers or studios could make their own low-cost gameplay experiments, and then be poised to take swift advantage if the idea proves to be popular enough.

3. Finding creative ways to do more with less. This is something indie developers are always forced to do. If you can’t afford to build a huge 3D world, maybe the game will work in 2D. Not enough time and money to animate everything? Design the game so fewer objects need to be on screen at once. Can’t work for months to create 40+ hours of gameplay? See if you can boil down the essence of the experience in a couple of hours, and then charge far less for it.

Designing under constraints of time, budget, or technology can lead to interesting choices that may be popular. Shortcuts can lead to new and interesting places, and the journey may turn out to be lots of fun. But if you never constrain your development team, they may never be looking for unusual solutions to game design problems.

4. Having a ton of community engagement. The relative openness of many indie games is perhaps the greatest difference, aside from budget, that separates them from big-budget products. Crowd-funded games are, by necessity, open projects that involve the community from the beginning. The fans who support a game become part of the design process, and this can lead in very different directions than originally anticipated. Chris Roberts will tell you that he thought Star Citizen was mostly going to be about ship combat, but after surveying the backers he found the exploration was the part of the game they were most interested in by far–and this led to a significant shift in development resources.

Opening up development becomes a terrific marketing tool, as well as validation of the audience size and interest. It also helps in finding the key parts of the design that resonate with the audience. The danger has always been perceived that your competitors will be able to copy what you’re doing and profit from that… but everybody is already doing that with every moderately successful game out there anyway, so don’t be afraid to show the world your game!

GameDev Protips: 5 Relatively Useful Tips For New Game Developers

1. Know your numbers. To make a living from indie games, you will have to start running your own business. There is no way around it. If this idea scares you, or you find it largely uninteresting, then get yourself a commercially-minded but creatively-sympathetic business partner immediately. In addition, you should try and get hold of a good business accountant (hard to find!) and read up on the laws of running a starting a company. Get your paperwork done, and file as a company. After you get your business up and running, you’ll need to know your numbers. You must have a good web analytics package on your website: this is the single most useful piece of marketing advice anyone has ever given me. Without this, you won’t know why your game is selling or not selling. Google Analytics is immensely powerful and free: I highly recommend it.

2. Know your potential. Up next are sales projections. How much money can your indie game make? Well, we’ve now seen that a statistically insignificant percentage of indie games can sell over a million copies! More sanely, Amnesia, an indie game from a developer with an existing fanbase, which features graphics approaching AAA quality has managed to sell nearly 200,000 units. Other indies are delighted when their games break 10,000 or 20,000 units. Industry veteran Simon Carless has some rather interesting sales stats on every platform here, breaking it down very elegantly. You’ll want to use this data in conjunction with your market research to figure out how many sales your game is capable of.

3. Know your opportunities. Persistence is the most important trait you’ll need as an indie developer. You’ll need to make mistakes, learn from them and carry on anyway. You have to love doing this in order to do it at all: that’s why the indie games scene is one of the best places to be in this cruel world! Also, indie developers are banding together and collaborating at an ever increasing rate. Look at some of the cross-marketing in games like Super Meat Boy, or projects like Cliffski’s Getting actively involved with the indie games community can really benefit your work.

4. Know your revenue model. Think of this as part of your game design. If you’re looking to target the mobile market, here’s some food for thought: free-to-play games incorporating virtual goods offer the highest possible ceiling in terms of revenue right now. They allow customers who love the game to pay more than average, and they also capture small amounts of revenue from players at the other end of the scale, who otherwise might not buy a “full version” of the game. However, just because something has the highest ceiling does not mean that’s where you should aim: it may simply not be suitable for the type of game you want to make. Remember, we’re in the “Anyone Who Wants to Make a Game” category here; you’re doing this because you have something you want to create, not because you want to make the most money possible. So, it’s important to know that traditional “pay-once” titles are still very viable for individuals and small companies, especially in the PC sector.

5. Know your value. If you do go down the pay-once route, we would urge you to look into DLC and ways of offering more value to customers who truly love your game. Pay-once arguably offers more opportunity for immersion and scope than free-to-play, so you may well gain some very passionate fans who would love to get hold of more content. It’s also more customer-friendly: you don’t have to keep badgering people to give you money every five seconds. That could lead to a more meaningful relationship with your customers. For a good example of how to make the most of long-term customer commitments in gaming, look at Penny Arcade. They make products and hold events that their fans love, and they have a truly mutually beneficial relationship with their community. There’s no reason that an indie game development company couldn’t adopt a similar approach.

GameDev Protips: The Secret Behind Turning Game Development Into A Full Time Career

Create an amazing game that people love. Sell a few hundred thousand copies. Everybody wins. Or at least that’s how we all imagine it’s going to be before we go out and create our first video game. The reality of game development is much messier and the road to success is filled with disillusionment and disappointment. The much more common path to game development looks a bit like this: You realize that you have many game ideas in your head that you can translate onto the screen using code or any number of game development tools. You then get down to work, investing your blood, sweat, tears, time, energy, and money into creating this oh-so-amazing game for the world, to be played by eager gamers all across the globe.

Of course, this takes much longer than you initially expect, and you’ll most likely give up and move onto something else. For the ones who tough it out though, by the time it’s done, you’ve probably invested months or even years to make it into what you know it needs to be. You then polish it as best as you know how, prepare a short video and some screenshots, and then flick the switch and make it live! It’s finally released… and nothing happens. It’s all crickets and tumbleweeds. A few of your friends play it, and your parents coddle you with pleasantries, but that’s the end of that.

Not knowing what could have gone wrong, you frantically search for the marketing strategy that you missed, the secret to get your game known to the masses. you’re utterly confused. You’ve heard unbelievable stories of game developers making hundreds of thousands of dollars in their basement, and maybe you’ve even bought into this idea that the world will embrace your game with open arms… but again and again you find that you’ve been left out of the party.

When all is said and done, you feel defeated, disappointed, and deeply frustrated that the game you’ve worked so hard to build has been played by less people than you can count on your hands. No impact was made, no money was earned, and a great deal of time and energy has gone down the drain. It turns out that just creating a game and listing it for sale online isn’t enough; you actually have to do the work of spreading the word about it. Your start panicking and google “how to market an indie game” and try out different strategies with little to no success. The unfortunate truth is that the vast majority of new game developers sell less than 50 copies of their games.

If this sounds like a nightmare scenario to you, you’re not alone. However, the good news is that this can be completely avoided. There’s a better and easier way, and that way is to put that audience first, and focus on growing your audience as soon as possible.

Put your audience first. With an audience, the entire creation and marketing process looks completely different. For starters, you’ll get real-time feedback. They’ll happily play test levels, give feedback on ideas, and even serve as sounding boards for entire drafts of the game. They know you and love what you do, and their feedback will help you guarantee that you’re creating a future hit.

Your audience will mentally purchase the game before you create it. Without an audience, you have very little choice but to blindly create a game and hope for the best. This is not only extremely risky, but very much time consuming and expensive. The real beauty of having an audience of followers is that they’ll help you get your game out there much more effectively than if you were to just purchase a few paid ads and call it a day.

Important Takeaways: Focus on your audience first — I can’t stress this point enough. Growing an audience is a tremendous amount of work, and every success story has a person behind it working long and hard to cultivate the respect and trust of a loyal and engaged audience. To be clear, this isn’t a story of building an audience overnight.

Dustin Moskovitz, the co-founder of Facebook was asked in an interview about what it felt like to be to be part of Facebook’s overnight success. He replied with something similar to this: “If by ‘overnight success’ you mean staying up and coding all night, every night for six years straight then it felt really tiring and stressful.” The journey will be tough, but with an audience behind you to offer you the feedback that you desperately need, you just might make it after all. Focus on your audience, and the rest will take care of itself.