GameDev Protips: How To Actually Finish Your Indie Game Projects

Finishing anything is hard. Finishing the development of video games? Twice as hard. After all, us game developers just have so many ideas and potential gameplay mechanics that could be implemented. If you’ve had a few games under your belt, you’ve probably had several projects that did not work out for whatever reason. Okay, not so bad, that’s normal. However, you should take note of your ratio of finishing projects versus not finishing. Don’t be that developer with fifty unfinished prototypes sitting on your hard drive with no released games to show for it. If your ratio for not finishing tasks is skewed, you’ll need to re-evaluate either your work ethic, your motivation levels during your projects, or the scope of the ideas that you choose to work on.

What about that last game that was just posted onto GameJolt? Was it good or complete garbage? You’ve probably seen too many trash games to count, but you have to give those guys credit — at least they saw a project from beginning to end. This type of tenacity is what you need as a game designer, the ability to see your projects through to completion. Being a designer that actually finishes projects means that you approach projects with the right mindset. It is far too easy to get lost in the potential of an idea and waste time and money on it. You might start making a small game, then get lost while daydreaming about awesome new mechanics that you think must be implemented. What you need to start doing is to be more practical. Choose games that are a combination of things you’ve have done before and things that you want to do. Don’t screw yourself over by trying to climb a mountain too high.

Actionable Takeaways: Start on a project. Then, finish it. Repeat. Participate in game jams. Set hard deadlines for yourself that cannot be pushed back any further. Tell a friend if you don’t release your game on a set date that you’ll pay them some cash. Hold yourself accountable. After a few projects you should know what you can handle and in what time-frame. If not, take on more mini-projects that you can complete regularly and ask yourself how long it took you to complete the project. Is it possible that you could complete this project sooner by changing some things around? Everyone has different priorities, but the most important priority of a game developer is to put your ideas out into the world. Release your game. Nothing else is as important as the learning experience from your release.

GameDev Protips: How To Boost Player Loyalty

Customer loyalty, like player retention, is vital for any industry to prosper and to remain relevant. In this gaming industry, specifically, every game designer is fighting for the most crucial element: time. We want people to spend their “free time” learning, playing and enjoying our games. What this amounts to is people playing games on their commute, lunch break and in-between meals at home. Thus the need to be relevant has never been more real and harder to achieve.

If you think about it, a game’s success can be broken down into three components. Getting people to know about your game, getting people to play your game, and finally, getting people to remember your game.

The satisfaction of a game is not solely about finishing a game from beginning to end. It is about a consistent reward system that allows a player to progress gradually through a game. At any point in time, a player can choose to download or purchase another game and abandon your game entirely. The threat of another game distracting players away from your game is omnipresent. That’s why your introduction is crucial. The first 15 minutes will decide the player’s impression of your game. It needs to be fast, short and immensely clear. All the rules need to be laid out. Your introduction needs to be as engaging. Gameplay should be continually rewarding both intrinsically and extrinsically.

All of this probably sounds like common sense, but it gets complicated. With so many shiny apps on the market, it can be hard to understand how and why players choose and stick with a certain game in the first place. Plus, attention spans are at an all-time low with the emergence of mobile games. What might be hot one minute is old news the next.

Important Takeaways: The lifespan of most games on the market are extremely short. If you’re uncertain on ways to stay relevant or you’re looking to better captivate your audience go back to the data and look at your player’s behaviors. Numbers don’t lie. Use data. Set your game up to send valuable metrics regarding player behavior and playtime before they get bored. This way you can create personalized game experiences that reflect on actual data — boosting player loyalty by figuring out when and how players are dropping out of the game and fixing the issues. If you’re unsure of how to do this the technical way, go old school. Reach out to communities and get them to play your game. Then, ask them key questions about every minute detail of the gameplay experience. The more feedback you get, the more polished your game will ultimately become.

GameDev Protips: The Secret To Dramatically Improving Player Retention

The secret? A game that seemingly never ends. Let me elaborate: Having an endless game or at least an endless game session will mean that your players will always be able to return. In a traditional game with a clear end, players finish the game and move on to another game. In this instance, players usually don’t return to a game they have already completed. Having no clear ending will keep your game continually in the minds of your players — especially when paired with good retention loops.

Enter rewards. Players should always be rewarded for completing a level in less time or with better efficiency. That’s why it’s crucial that levels and missions be repeatable. Repeatable sessions never signal the finality of the game and allow your players to come back at any time for any reason. Repeatable levels and missions are easy to reward because they do not interfere with gameplay. Instead, the player can be rewarded with a new vanity item, unlocked locations or characters, or increased experiences. When it comes to something like this the possibilities are endless.

Consider making your reward system as varied and as evolved as possible. For example, having numerous characters to play as will entice your player to explore every possibility as long as the characters have different abilities or mechanics that fundamentally change the way that the game is played. This type of reward system is easy to captivate both new and returning players on an equal level, as players are usually compelled to experiment with the playstyle or character that they like best.

If you’d like to add yet another layer, social and collaborative features can provide an even more immersive and rewarding experience. By allowing your player to continue to compete with their friends in terms of online leaderboards, it provides a new level of interaction. It also allows the player to experience the game again even after the game has officially ended. Having regular tournaments for competitive games is another great way to remind your player to visit regularly. With regular tournaments that offer significant rewards and leaderboards, your player will feel part of something bigger than just an ordinary game.

Additionally, your players should know well in advance if you plan to make any significant updates to your game, especially if it will enhance the gameplay. Something as simple as a push notification or in-app reminder for mobile can alert your player of any changes you plan to make. On the traditional PC side, consider building a social media fanbase so that you can always notify your players of updates far in advance.

Important Takeaways: Make games that don’t just end with the completion of the main storyline. Implement modes such as New Game+ with varied challenges. Make sure the game allows for a multitude of different playstyles that correspond with different states of flow, and make sure that the player can always aspire to get better at the game by making the levels repeatable with different perks and rewards for doing so. For example, in both mobile and PC platforms, you can’t really go wrong with the 3-star rating system. Find ways to iterate on that basic retention mechanic and combine it with teasing character unlocks to keep player hooked for ages. One example could be: If you 3-star all levels in world one, you can unlock another unique character to play as. The possibilities are endless.