GameDev Protips: How To Get Your Feet Wet With Game Development

It’s a frequent occurrence that new developers have no idea where to start with their game ideas. To me, this is likely a hurdle because of a disconnection to the gaming industry; even the largest games in the market started very small and slowly became something much larger. Even if your dream game is fresh in your mind and you know exactly what you want from it, it can be very intimidating to sit down and start trying to actually program it. Even the simplest of tasks can create impasses that increase the chance of giving up. Instead of trying to tackle everything at once, it’s extremely important to start small. Almost every game will start with extremely basic features and placeholder graphics in order to test that the game actually functions. From that point on, you just can build onto it like a Lego tower. It’s extremely important to take things one step at a time so that you can avoid the inevitable frustration that comes with overwhelming yourself.

Creating your game’s features on a step-by-step basis will also help you find out what you truly want from your game. As you break your game down into small pieces, you’ll be forced to analyze your ideas on a deeper level. This is a good thing as setting your development path in stone is a good way to make something generic. If you allow yourself to deviate, you’ll be more likely to produce interesting mechanics. This is because when you actively brainstorm ideas to add onto other, already implemented ideas, you end up with something that you would have never aimed for when you are trying to take a straight-line development path.

Most importantly, it’s important to remember that your “development chunks” are appropriate for your skills. Break your tasks into blocks that you can tackle with your current skills so that you can easily see your progress; working without an indication of progress is a good way to lose motivation. Also, don’t forget that you can simply stop working and come back later if things get out of hand. After all, you shouldn’t be trying to make a game on a deadline for your very first gamedev experience; that’s just a recipe for failure that includes mixing deadline-induced stress with inexperience. The most important part of making a game is to simply keep making the game. Any progress, no matter how little, is a step toward a release that you wouldn’t have taken with gigantic, sweeping tasks.

Important Takeaways: Many new developers don’t have a clue as to how to start working on their first game. The key is to simply start with extremely small, basic tasks and build a base that can easily be expanded upon. This method of development will not only end up giving you more unique and refined mechanics but will also save you lots of stress and ensure that you actually make progress. Trying to tackle everything at once will just leave you frustrated with nothing to show, and can incite giving up. Break the work up into blocks of tasks where you can easily track the progress you’re making; working without any indication of progress will result in lost motivation. In the end, making your first game is all about actually working on it. Simply keep making progress, no matter how little, and eventually, that dream game will be finished and released for others to enjoy.

GameDev Protips: How To Level Up Your Game Industry Freelancing Skills

Trying to be a freelancer in the gaming space takes grit and a little bit of creativity. Being able to be successful is much like playing a video game. You have to have a certain level of intelligence, skill, a manner in which to figure out all the game’s secrets and nuances, and most importantly, the patience to take time in learning to figure all of these things out. Do you remember the first video game or super cool gadget you got? How long did you spend with this game or gadget when you first got it? Probably all day and night, right? Well, being successful in the indie game space and separating yourself from the crowd takes the same level of dedication. Only this time, the stakes are much higher, and there are a lot more distractions. These distractions include, but are not limited to having a spouse, kids, various full and part time jobs, hobbies, paying bills and just trying to survive. As a result, the whole “doing something out your comfort zone and taking a gamble on something you don’t even know will work” tactic sounds a little cliché and overrated. However, it will all be worth it once the ball gets rolling.

In order to get a shot at success, you’ll have to get into the mindset of success. The hustle game is fun and all, but you will never level up. You can be content with “getting money,” but unless you are creating individual wealth and changing your mindset, you are in reality setting yourself up for failure. Creating a wealthy state of mind from freelancing is a paradigm shift, and one of the first steps to take is to already have or make new like-minded friends. Of course, your friends are your friends and there’s no other people like them on this earth. You’ve probably known each other since high-school, college, through marriage, births, you name it. But there’s just one problem: if your friends are just like you, then they’re stuck doing the same thing you’re doing, and not really motivating you to do something extraordinary. You need to be around these extraordinary people who force you to level up if you want to be successful. For example, if you’re trying to find work as a freelance programmer, try to connect with others who are doing the thing that you want to do.

It would behoove you to connect in-person and virtually with like-minded individuals. This can be through LinkedIn, Facebook groups, educational seminars or other similar mediums. Connecting virtually means that you have to be more proactive than you normally would be. It means being assertive and already having a game plan in motion regarding who you would like to connect with, how you are going to connect with those individuals, and what you expect to gain from those new-found friendships. This could include meeting up with those individuals for a drink or a coffee if they live in your area, or if they don’t perhaps they could recommend different marketing practices in order to jumpstart your business through instant messenger. You never know who could be your next great resource. Sometimes you just need advice, and sometimes you need some kind of mutually beneficial partnership. Whatever the case may be, already having outlined a gameplan will most certainly put you ahead of the pack that’s not sure what they’re doing, but realize they need help.

Don’t go into this thinking that people don’t want to help you; they certainly do. Also, don’t assume that people immediately desire something in return. A friendship is based on reciprocity. If you already know what you can offer in return don’t be afraid to give up the goods and be consistent when you do. People don’t like feeling used, but they do love being viewed as an expert on any given subject. In the beginning, virtual networking will be akin to throwing a pebble in the pond and watching the ripples grow. It will take being assertive and nurturing those relationships for the ripples to expand as wide as they can go. Interacting with many types of people from a business perspective may feel icky at first. It’s not always the most comfortable thing for some people, but it will get you to where you need to go. However, if you’re a people person then this interaction will feel natural and it will get you to where to need to go much quicker. Remember that no man is an island.

We’ve talked about interfacing virtually, but not every professional is online, or they’re not exactly consistent with their social media profiles. Only a small number of profiles are active — you may need to schedule regular face to face meetups sometimes. People tend to remember people that they meet face to face better and more accurately than people they meet online. Try to research local events in your area and to fully canvass the room for new faces and people to chat with. This may take some getting use to at first, but it will be well worth the effort.

Important Takeaways: Starting up a freelancing venture is a risky endeavor and also requires a mindset change, but is very worthwhile once everything is up and going. Call upon or make new like-minded friends. If your old friends are ingrained in your former lifestyle, then they won’t be helpful for pushing you through the opening steps of starting and growing your freelance business. Place yourself in a situation where you are around extraordinary people and do your best to connect with them and draw upon their wisdom. People aren’t afraid to help a stranger asking for assistance and if you’re persistent you might just make a new friend! Even if you’re not really a person described as a “people person,” the help a second brain and new perspective can provide is undoubtedly essential in moving forward in your freelancing career.

GameDev Protips: Mobile Game Marketing 101

No matter what type of mobile game you make, you will always need to effectively market it if you want to see returns for your effort. Mobile gaming requires an even more careful eye on marketing because your results tend to be much more explosive; unpopular games will be nearly abandoned whereas the most popular games (most oftentimes with large paid acquisition budgets) will be making millions. Knowing this, there are several tips that can be mentioned that will minimize the risk of your mobile game flopping, even though with a mobile game, the chances pretty darn high.

Mobile game marketing is a combination of paid and organic traffic. Paid marketing involves calculating your lifetime value (LTV) for each player and spending less than that. Once this is calculated, you’ll likely realize that it is much lower than you would’ve liked it to be. Since the cost of acquiring new users runs extremely high in English speaking markets, you’ll either have to add things in your game to increase your LTV for every player or you won’t be able to use paid ads at all.

Organic traffic is those who find your game naturally through any unpaid channels. This will include app store optimization (ASO) so that your game is seen through a search with general game terms. This is why so many games have incredibly lengthy or needlessly descriptive titles like RPG: Quest for the Sword of Heroes; you have many more words in the title so it’s more likely to be found in a search. Good keywords include ones that will be searched for regardless (such as “puzzle” or “shooter”) and ones that are in already-popular titles (such as “Clash” or “War”). You could always market the game yourself through social media, forums, or reviewers, but these will not have a significant impact. The best source of organic traffic is through official recognition by Apple/Google or already being on a top app leaderboard.

General rule-of-thumb says that about 20%, if not more, of a company’s budget should be used for marketing, even in the case of having a small budget. Larger companies can afford to spend money on marketing to multiple channels (including TV, social media, or media outlets), but smaller companies won’t be able to afford this and thus will need to choose their channels carefully. Investing in the wrong marketing channel has a high chance of being an expensive mistake, but there’s a bit of a catch-22 involved in that you really have to experiment with different channels in order to figure out which one gives you the best return on investment. Obviously, you need to do your market research before you begin marketing. If you don’t know where to start, find someone who is making a game in your genre that you can talk to about and see what’s working or not working for them. Regardless of how you communicate with them, the information you receive will be invaluable in the future. You can never ask enough questions either!

Even with a ton of research, it is hard to hit the perfect balance of luck and unknown factors that will cause your game to explode in popularity, and it can’t be planned for as a result. Since you want to ensure that your game development outfit can survive, you have to either make games where people can spend massive amounts of money and play for a huge amount of time (which will increase your LTV and your marketing budget), or you have to make a game cheaply so that very little will go wrong in the case of a few downloads. One of the best strategies is to make a few games that are well-received with a small but steady player base, then using that to get your games featured and catapult your popularity as a result. Don’t be afraid to target a super small niche.

Now, once your marketing plan is in action, you need to ensure that you’re watching the results constantly. You can use the data you receive from one plan to help your efforts in the future, such as noticing that most people are coming from Facebook or most paying customers are from YouTube and thus directing your marketing to those locations. Ultimately, your first mobile marketing plan is a stepping stone for the rest. As you constantly improve your technique through analysis of your plans, you’ll keep reaching new users and growing your revenue for your mobile games for years to come.

Important Takeaways: Mobile game marketing is very hit-and-miss, so it requires lots of planning. First, you should check to see if you can support paid ads for your game, and if you can’t you’ll either have to redesign the game in a way that can or accept that you won’t be using them. Next, you should work on making your game as easily findable through organic means as possible, such as having popular words or generic words in your title. After that, you have to carefully perform market research in one way or another so that you know which channels to market to; failure to do so can result in very expensive mistakes. When in doubt, find another developer or publisher and ask what has worked or not worked for them.

Even if you have a detailed and comprehensive action plan, luck and other unknown factors will likely be the deciders of your game’s end popularity. Because of this, you’ll have to design your game in a way so that it can accommodate potentially not being popular, whether this is through having whales keeping your game afloat or just having a cheap development cost in the first place. Using your successes as advertisements can help increase your popularity as a whole. Once you’ve put your plan into action, you should look at the results and find out where to market in the future from them. Just like your indie game itself, it’s all about the iterative process. Never stop measuring and learning from your efforts. Each marketing plan is a stepping stone for the next, and as long as you’re learning from your mistakes, you’ll constantly find new users and grow your mobile game revenue in the future.

GameDev Protips: How To Kick Scope Creep In The Ass And Ship Your Indie Game

It’s a well-known fact that many game developers struggle to ever actually finish one of their projects. The project starts off simple, but as it is nurtured by its developers it starts getting more and more complex. Before you know it, the project is something that won’t be completed for another two billion years. In order to avoid digging your game’s own grave, I’ll mention what has personally worked for me to help stop endlessly extending my games’ development cycles.

First off, you should always set a deadline. In addition to just having a deadline, you really need to enforce that deadline; make cuts to the game in order to meet that deadline instead of pushing the deadline back for more content. There’s going to be a lot of cutting, especially if you are inexperienced, as it’s frequent to underestimate how long something takes. This might mean you have to cut some of your favorite things you had planned for your game, but at least you’ll actually finish the game. Remember that you don’t actually have to ship a completely finished product. A common strategy that I’ve seen my friends and colleagues do is release a free alpha version on GameJolt or to test the waters and gauge player reception.

Next, always work on project management-style tasks on a weekly basis, or even better, at the beginning or end of every work session. This means that you should be listing your tasks in some way and then cleaning up the tasks to ensure that they all stay relevant and helpful. You should always be asking yourself, “How did I get here, where am I going, and how do I get there?” to ensure that you are not working on a seemingly endless task. I personally have a local todo list on my computer and start tackling items one by one. Trello is also a pretty good tool as well if you’re collaborating with others on your team, but I find it much more efficient to use a simple program such as Sublime Text or Notepad++ if I’m working solo on a project.

Also remember that if you’re not moving closer to your goal, maybe you should just be moving the goal closer to you. Instead of making your dream game right off the bat, try making something rather simplistic and unfinished and adding onto it as you go. This relates a bit to my first point, as you’ll want to test the waters as much as possible. This lets you start building an audience as early as possible while iterating on and adding more features to your game. Just make sure that every addition truly enhances the game instead of just something nifty that may not be appreciated by your actual player base. If your game is something more experimental, giving it time to breathe with the modular iterative approach can help keep the project on track in the right way.

Now, there’s one last critical aspect to finishing your games that’s oftentimes overlooked by most game developers, and that’s… commitment. If you aren’t committed to your project, you won’t get anywhere. Do you abandon your significant other because someone seemingly more attractive passes by? Do you sell your car because there’s a brand new model out that looks slightly better? Of course not, because you lose everything that you put into them beforehand. If you’re struggling with having tons of cool ideas for other projects, don’t just abandon your main project. Take those ideas and put them somewhere else, such as in a text document or a journal. Personally, I think that this is one of the biggest limiting factors of a developer. It is often the case that developers are afraid to commit to their ideas or discover down the line that they didn’t actually like their ideas in the first place, so they deal with this by just switching around what they’re doing constantly. Staying focused on one project and one idea at a time will actually help you finish your project. Commitment is critical.

Important Takeaways: One large problem with indie development is actually finishing games. This is a mixture of commitment problems and overzealous idea implementation, but it’s a problem nonetheless. First, set a deadline and cut your project to meet the deadline instead of pushing the deadline back to meet the project. If you do this the other way around, you risk never actually finishing your game due to the perceived disappoint of what you have versus what could be. Next, you should always be keeping your task-list clean and relevant, as wasting development time on something that has no significant in the long run will just make finishing your game that much harder. Finally, if meeting your goal is too tough, try moving the goal back instead. Make something simple, release it in alpha, and progressively iterate on it. This will make sure that you get something out to grab your audience’s attention and will allow you to slowly mold your game into your dream game while still being able to pay the bills.

Unfortunately, no matter how many of these tips you follow, nothing will be done if you can’t commit to your project. If you keep going all over the place with your development, everything will be half-baked in the end, and that end may never come in the first place. If you have cool ideas for some other game, just stick them somewhere else and reference them after you’ve finished what you’re currently working on. If you can’t focus on one task at a time, you’re resetting your progress with every switch and indefinitely extending your game’s development time. Obviously this is quite horrible if you’re trying to make a living as a game developer, as your success as an indie developer depends on the quality and marketing of games that you ship, not the countless unfinished prototypes that you’re working on.

GameDev Thoughts: Why Freelance Contractors Are Crucial For Indie Development Teams

In the game development industry, outsourcing work to freelance contractors is a vital resource that most studios need in order to survive. First off, it saves you a ton of cash, and increases your startup runway. As you start your own studio you want to save as much money as you can in order to produce the best game possible. Unlike having to pay people a regular salary when you are in-between projects, outsourcing lets you called upon said contractors only when you need to and on a case by case basis. It does not only help you save money; it also helps you spend it only when you need to, while also having the appropriate contacts in your back pocket. Outsourcing is just as much about building relationships with contractors as it is about building a profitable business. It’s simple: if you want your company to make money, you are going to need to spend less than you make, and outsourcing affordable help is one way to get you closer to that success.

Of course, if you are unsure of the fate of your company, as most studios are, your whole team can be composed of contractors. That’s much better than numerous layoffs and burnt bridges. Hiring people when you need them keeps people interested in ongoing projects while they are also focused on other things and not depending on you for their welfare. Having these sorts of transient relationships relieves you of an enormous amount of pressure in a multitude of ways. Next, it eases the onboarding process. When building your own studio, time is your most valuable resource. With contracting, you can hire large teams relatively quickly and relatively easily.

Additionally, outsourcing also helps your team concentrate on what’s most important. If there are assignments or tasks that are especially boring or redundant, perhaps you can contract this work out so that your internal team can work on more pressing assignments. After all, if the task is that repetitive, it is usually easy to learn and execute. Your team will also be able to focus on more vital parts of the project that can take your studio to new heights. While you may already have a Project Manager on your team, it would be a good idea to hire one if you will be doing a lot of contract work so that these people can manage and keep in touch with all of your contractors. Perhaps you should even think about only outsourcing a manager when you have an especially high number of contractors. That way they have their work cut out for them and when work is slow you do not have additional members on your team that you do not need.

Keeping your in-house team small will mean less operational costs — a smaller team means that you can work out of your bedroom until the time is ready to potentially scale up. High turnover associated with bigger teams only instills fear and distrust in your team. These things are the bane of great communication and morale. Your in-house team should be able to know their role and how to execute it properly. Having your team size be smaller will create a high sense of morale and make everyone feel responsible for the success of the company. Bigger teams tend to mean more politics. Also, smaller teams tend to have higher productivity levels due to high morale.

You’ll more than likely want to outsource some work to experts in their field. Sometimes the most highly respected freelancers, such as writers or composers, may be located halfway across the country. You’re not going to fly every time you need to contact them just to arrange a meeting. When you outsource, you are not controlled by location or time. The best freelancers may not be interested in moving, or even finding another job. Working as a contractor gives them flexibility to work on side projects while maintain their primary employment and it gives you flexibility in not only being to afford their services, but being able to call upon them when you need them.

In the world of game production things are always changing. For example, you may not need that PR manager, because, unfortunately, you may not be able to afford them. If they were an in-house employee, that would mean you would have to layoff that employee, which can be quite difficult. By being able to outsource, it gives you and the contractors a flexible relationship. While it may seem that outsourcing is putting a lot of people out of work, it is also giving as much as it takes. Think of all the people who work additional jobs that they would not be able to work if they were not a contractor. Contractors and employers have a unique relationship that is mutually beneficial. It is this relationship that allows for game studios in a free-market economy to prosper.

Important Takeaways: Outsourcing work to freelance contractors is important. First, it saves you money, and obviously that’s critical for a business that’s right around the profit margin. Next, the onboarding process will be eased, as you don’t have to go through the months of searching and hiring employees and can jump straight into development. Additionally, outsourcing allows your team to focus on the important parts of development since you can delegate less important or repetitive tasks to a contractor. Next, problems associated with bigger teams won’t trouble you, since you can keep your in-house team small. Finally, you can outsource to experts and accommodate them into your schedule without worrying about specific locations or times. Since the world of game production is always changing, you may not always need every team member. If they were an in-house employee, they’d have to be laid off and that isn’t fun for either party. If they were a contractor, the relationship is more flexible and this situation isn’t as stressful.

GameDev Protips: How To Build A Sustainable Game Development Company

There are two primary ways to build a sustainable business making games. The conventional model starts with creating a product and then finding the right audience; you build it and they will come. The second model is a somewhat more unconventional and involves finding the customers first and then determining what products they need. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. With the first model, you can immediately begin to sell your product and generate revenue. Furthermore, it’s one of the best ways to introduce entirely novel ideas. For example, most people back before automobiles were invented wouldn’t have thought to ask for a car and instead would have asked for a faster horse. However, your game might not be a good fit for the market and you may have a difficult time generating interest or sales. Additionally, there might be thousands of other games just like yours on the market, making it difficult for the consumer to distinguish between you and your competitors.

The consumer-centric model is solution-oriented. If you already have a customer base, then you should already know how to create a product that will fit their interests/needs. If you don’t know what their problems are, don’t shy away from asking about what they would like to see. The only drawback of this feature is that building an audience takes time and effort. It can be 3–6 months before you find out what their problems are and how to solve them, and even longer before you can bring a product to market. Neither model is really objectively better than the other. I think that building a consumer-centric model is more in line with the current economic era. Listening and then building the game is safer than building and hoping your consumers like your product, but frequently, your customer base might be excessively short sighted. That being said, it’s always good to understand your market and the customers you plan to sell to, even if you’ve decided to adopt a more traditional approach.

Using a more general and not necessarily game development related example, in order to determine who might be interested in a product or service you might have to offer, narrow down your niche and then begin marketing towards them. For the gaming niche, one way to do this is to create a group on a social media platform such as Facebook or LinkedIn. This allows you to specifically target groups of people. If you’re making a roguelike game, it’s wise for you to create roguelike communities. Also, since passion breeds purpose, make sure that you’re sufficiently passionate about your work — you will communicate more effectively with your chosen audience if you actually care about the work that you’re doing.

Try narrowing things down further by seeing what appeals to people in various geographic locations or various subgroups. There are a wide range of tools, such as analytics packages and targeted advertisements, which can help you with this task. These tools could be used to help build an audience which is interested in your game. The biggest mistake you can make is to build an audience that has little interest in spending money or if you waste time and money targeting an apathetic consumer-base. While every customer has unique needs and desires, they can be broadly categorized by their interests and behaviors. There are certain categories of consumers that entrepreneurs should pay close attention to when designing their games, with several important ones listed below.

The first important category is the tactile audience. This type of audience wants to see and feel their product. These are the types of people who buy the latest technologies or closely follow the latest trends in consumer goods such as cars, fashion, or more recently virtual reality. They also frequently enjoy athletic activities such as hiking or swimming, or participate in hobbies such as model building. In order to target this style of audience, you’ll probably need to let them play a demo of your game.

The next important category is the informational audience. This audience is focused on gaining knowledge and learning new skills. This audience focuses on products such as books, ebooks, online courses, webinars and more. However, these consumers are not just interested in instructional or informational material; some might prefer a higher level of interactivity, such as in the form of a game. When targeting this audience, make sure to include as much information as possible to let them know that they’re in good hands with your game.

The last important category is the software-centric audience: There has never been more software available for more purposes than today but there may not be an app for your particular niche. Think of people who rely heavily on technology, people who rely on software to get through their day to day lives. This audience will usually be core gamers, and a good way to target them is to make sure that your game has sufficient replayability.

Take some time to really research your audience and their demographics. Internet ranking pages like Alexa are a great tool for narrowing down your niche based on demographics. The product you develop and content you will develop for marketing will be determined by the age, economic status and personal needs of your consumer base. For example, It would be pointless to market a game based on a children’s show to young adults without families. One thing you can do to better understand your customer base is to create buyer personas to help you get the big picture. By that, I mean, pretend to be a customer in your field and try to get into their mindset. Talk to other customers as if you were a customer yourself and try to understand their desires and concerns.

Important Takeaways: There are two ways to build a successful product or service: developing your project then letting the consumers themselves sort themselves out for future reference, or doing your market research beforehand and developing your project with a specific demographic in mind. Both methods have their pros and cons, and neither is necessarily “better” than the other. Regardless of which method you use, however, it’s a good idea to figure out who will be interested in your product or service once it’s out in the market. One way to find this out is to selectively market to different and distinctive groups of people.

There are many ways to do this, such as using social media, but the end result will be the same. Once you have a general idea, try narrowing down your search even more until you have a perfect idea of which people are interested in your project and why. As a general rule, there are three broad categories of consumers. The tactile audience which wants to see and feel a product, the informational audience is interested in gaining knowledge and new skills, and the software-centric audience which looks for apps or other types of software to assist them in everyday life. If you’re having trouble narrowing down your search, try getting into the head of a potential customer as much as possible, and keep iterating on the process.