GameDev Protips: On Maximizing Your Productivity As A Solo Indie Developer

First off, write down every idea you have. Even if they’re bad, they’ll come in handy later in one way or another. Maybe they’re good enough as-is for a different game, or maybe they’ll amalgamate into something more with other “bad” ideas. The point is, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and make better games if you have a large stock of ideas to recruit from — just remember to not overload your current project with too many outlandish ideas that’ll lead to scope creep. In addition, find ways to prototype quickly. Some ideas are better than others, but you usually don’t know for sure until they’ve been playtested. Get something like Game Maker Studio or Unity that you can use to create super quick prototypes (as well as full games) and you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration later. You can also branch out and use an engine that you’re not accustomed to for things like weekend game jams that’ll help break the monotony of working on one project for ages.

Even if you’ve tested those prototypes yourself, let other people test them out too! There is something that I like to call “parent syndrome,” and it isn’t exclusive to game development. Basically, you are much less likely to notice the flaws in something you have dedicated lots of time to, such as a child or a game you developed. You’ll likely miss fundamental problems with your game if you’re the only person who takes a look at it, so get someone else to criticize your prototypes for you. Do this early, as you don’t want to discover gigantic problems late in development. I know I’ve had a ton of small games that I thought were pretty good until I showed it to a playtester or a game design colleague and they rattled a billion things that I needed to fix — if you’re working on a project, sometimes you’re way too close to it. Get external advice.

Once you’ve found something you truly feel has potential, don’t think too deeply into it! Keep things simple, as when you’re working solo it’s very easy to overwork yourself with feature creep. Go for a simple and stylish aesthetic (such as Undertale) and focus on making the game fun to play. Additionally, if you’re new, don’t try to make a masterpiece out of your first game or two! Your lack of experience will become much more obvious if you’re pursuing something you need to work incredibly hard on, so build up experience with some decent games first and focus on that masterpiece later on. Heck, even if you’re a seasoned developer working on your 24th game, focus on the day-to-day before focusing too hard on the final vision. Remember that a shipped game is worth much more than a game that’ll never get done. Focus on getting the work done every day, and the rest will take care of itself.

When you go to work on this game, try to make a plan and stick to it. Even if your estimates are wildly wrong, and they will be, you should have a general idea of how long you want development to take. Now, take that number and multiply it by at least two — this is the more realistic time for development. If this is your first game… multiply it by a factor of five. You’ll find that your game deviates from your original thoughts as you continue development, and this is fine, but be careful if that deviation causes the game to become bigger than it originally was planned to be. Feature creep can be good for a game, but often times it’ll cause the game to never be finished. Set a strict limit on how long you’ll let yourself work on a project, and plan for any port requirements in advance. It’s much more important to get a game out onto the market in a decent state than to focus way too long on a game that’ll never hit the market because it isn’t going to get finished.

My final tip for you is to not overdo it. You don’t have to be a perfectionist when you make your game, and you aren’t expected to be one. Aiming to fix every little problem in your game is a death sentence for your productivity. Obviously, you want to make sure it works well, but accept that your first few games might be below some of your standards for perfection. Also, when you get feedback on the game, don’t overreact to it. People can often tell when something is wrong, but they don’t always get the reason right. Go with your instincts and fix whatever you think is wrong personally, no matter what your testers say.

Important Takeaways: Write down every idea you have, as even the ones that you may think are “bad” may become useful at one point or another. Take your ideas and prototype them to test their quality quickly, and get others to also test them to make sure there aren’t any problems that a developer bias hides. Plan your schedule, but don’t worry too much if you can’t meet a specific self-imposed deadline. You only have to be worried if feature creep is pushing your finish date way past the deadline. Finally, don’t overdo it; don’t be a perfectionist and accept that your first few games might not meet some of your standards.

GameDev Thoughts: Tips On Starting Out When You’re A New Solo Game Developer

Being a solo indie developer is not an easy task. Before you try to even start off as a solo indie developer, I strongly advise you gain experience working for a company first. It doesn’t matter whether this company is even within the gaming industry. Just get out there and work. This company work may give you contacts that you can use whenever necessary, the funds to stay afloat long enough for you to put a game or two out, and/or lots of experience failing at your day job, which will help you know what to avoid doing in the future. Failing is incredibly important as it’ll teach you things that nothing else can; experience trumps any amount of prior learning you got from a book or some other source.

Next, it’s time to build up some connections. Even if the benefits aren’t immediately obvious to you, you need to connect with others for their potential help in the future. Perhaps they can help you solve a problem you wouldn’t solve otherwise, or perhaps they’ll help you promote your games. There are tons of ways those connections can help you, but you won’t receive that help if you don’t have the connections in the first place. You can build these connections by creating a blog, posting around on forums, attending conventions, working with other developers, and other similar activities. The point is, you need to create a presence for yourself. Additionally, while you’re searching for these connections, make sure that you’re being a decent person. People are far more likely to help if you’re genuinely interested towards them and your work. Yes, it’ll take a lot of work to be genuinely interested in other people, but this will pay dividends to your career if you’re socially inclined.

After experience and connections, we can get to tips revolving around actually doing something as a solo indie dev. First off, you should be versatile but also know your weaknesses. If you’re alone, you can’t just specialize in one field and expect to make a complete game. In order to gain this versatility, you just have to create with your own strengths and weaknesses in mind. Just create things whenever you have the time and you’ll quickly find out what you’re good at and what you need to improve in the future. For me personally, I discovered early on that game design (more specifically building strong core engagement and retention loops) was one of my strong suits, so I’ve almost completely given up on pixel art and music production when it comes to making games. However, you don’t have to give up all of your weaknesses — just don’t focus extensively on them. Remember, you can aim to make games that don’t heavily involve utilizing those weaknesses to negate their effect. The point here is to not underestimate what you can accomplish with dedication. Even if you think you’re horrible at some aspect of game design, work with it anyways! People like to see results more than they like to see the potential for results.

Important Takeaways: Beginning as a solo indie dev is a daunting task, but here are a few generally useful tips to help overcome that intimidation factor. First, gain prior experience working for a company before you even consider starting solo, or you won’t have a lot of assistance that you would otherwise have to keep you on your feet at first. Next, build up genuine connections so that you have a reliable help source for tight spots in your career. Finally, focus on figuring out what you’re good at and what you aren’t great at. From there, design games with both your strengths and weaknesses in mind, while also working on mitigating that weakness through practice if you’re so inclined. Even if you’re awful at some crucial aspect of game design, keep on trying to make games. People like seeing that you can do something rather than just having the potential to do something, even if that something is pretty bad in its current state. Just dedicate yourself to the mission of creating, and your skill will naturally evolve over time.

GameDev Thoughts: 4 Things To Consider If You’re Brand New To Indie Game Development

More and more people are considering indie game development as a viable career path, rather than pursuing a career in the AAA game industry. As such, it’s essential that you know some of the basics when getting started, so as to avoid the pitfalls that aspiring developers are so susceptible to. There are four key rules to bear in mind when developing and, more specifically, releasing a game — paying even minimal heed to them should ensure that the game development process is a more successful endeavor.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when developing your first game is to be realistic in terms of scope. You will very rarely be able to compete with the AAA industry in terms of scale, so focus on something small and manageable. You almost certainly have far fewer people actively working on your game; you absolutely have a smaller budget than the large studios. But this is not, in itself, a bad thing. It means you can interact and engage with your players in a direct way, and bringing a personal edge to marketing your game is something only an indie dev can do. Keeping your project small and realistic means that you can use it to put yourself out there, generating interest so that, when your second game is done (yes, you need to be thinking about your second game), you won’t be completely unfamiliar to the world. And, luckily, it’s a virtual given that your second project will be more of a success.

Despite the romantic connotations, being an indie developer is not all creativity and game development. In fact, you’ll have to do as much marketing as development if you want your game to succeed. I know personally with SanctuaryRPG I had to pivot entirely to marketing in order to help the game gain traction after launch. Gaining visibility will be your most pressing concern, as it’s pretty easy to get lost in the sea of indie games. As this differs drastically depending on the game and situation, the most effective method here is simply to look at other successful games. You will likely find a combination of marketing strategies which are applicable to you. On top of all this, you’ll need to leave time for distribution. Six months or more is preferable, as the amount of time it takes to get your game on Steam, a practical necessity, can be unpredictable. Make sure that you have a roadmap to get on Steam, and have enough time to implement Steam features that are in-demand, such as trading cards and achievements.

No less important is your budget. While it may seem as if budgeting is a simple matter of calculating the cost of living for a given period of time, in reality the numerous licenses, legal issues and unexpected accidents you’ll encounter will drive this up by a significant margin. As we have mentioned, your main goal with your first game should simply be to establish yourself; even if your game enjoys moderate recognition, chances are you won’t earn too much in sales the first time around. Significantly, and perhaps alarmingly, many distribution platforms won’t pay the developers until 30–90 days after the launch of a game, so this should be a factor in one’s budget, as should planning for a possible second project.

This last point somewhat relates to the first one and, while it may appear basic, it is a fundamental of indie game development that many studios somehow manage to overlook. In terms of game design, the rule is quality over quantity, no matter what. There is almost no minimum length for a game, so long as the price reflects this, but there is absolutely a point at which players become bored, particularly if your game isn’t a very enthralling experience. It is therefore of paramount importance to make sure that your game is as fun and unique as possible, regardless of how long it lasts.

The common trap, into which it’s too easy to fall, is to develop some mediocre, passable mechanics and get to work building levels, because you’re making a game that way, right? The issue with this is that, when it comes time to improve those mechanics, you’ll be reluctant to do so, as it would mean repeating the effort you’ve already invested. This either leads to extra, unforeseen expenses or the release of a sub-par game, neither of which is a desirable outcome. Constant playtesting can help alleviate some of the questions surrounding the mechanics of a game, as well as ensuring that you don’t ship it with undetected bugs or glitches. While it may seem scary, at first, to expose your baby to potentially harsh criticism, in the long run you’ll be grateful for it, as will your players. Someone has to play it eventually, and you might as well make that a pleasant and memorable experience. Get playtesters early on and continually cycle through fresh batches of playtesters until the game is ready to ship.

Important Takeaways: We’ve learned many things about avoiding the traps and pitfalls of indie development, so let’s go over them one last time so as to ingrain them in our memory. Keep your scope realistic and manageable. Understand the various responsibilities you might have to assume when working on your game. Keep your budget realistic, with a comfortable buffer in the case of emergency or a follow-up game. Pick quality over quantity — no matter the circumstance. Lastly, don’t ever forget the importance of playtesting.

GameDev Thoughts: How To Manage A Remote Game Development Team

Working side by side with your game development team in shared office quarters or in the comfort of your grandmother’s basement has been succeeded by technology that enables people to communicate across continents like never before. Much like flip phones, the prerequisite of physical proximity is a thing of the past. With so many communication devices, it is more convenient and accessible to work with and manage people all over the world. After all, the right designer or the right programmer may be thousands of miles away and you might not even know it. Yet, managing a remote team is easier said than done. Face to face communication is still the best way to gauge someone’s emotions or initial reactions, and while a message over your favorite instant messaging client may seem to foster real interaction between your team, it can still be difficult to know if everyone is really on the same page or not.

With remote teams, you may never really know if your team is fully aware of everything they should know, or if they truly understand why their idea was shot down due to time constraints. That is why it’s good to over-communicate. A lack of communication gives your team the ability to make excuses, miss important details about deadlines, and generally be disinterested in the project if they have no idea what is going on from all angles. However, there is a difference between over-communication and stalking. Simply put, over-communication is giving people many entryways to information so that it can be etched in their minds. It is not texting someone in Brazil at four a.m. in the morning letting them know that their new design was garbage and that they should quit their career. If everyone is aware of the deadlines and how it is impacted by each person, the workflow is much more efficient. Simply put, in order to make things run as smoothly as possible, every person needs to be able to visualize what each other person on the team is doing at any given time. Communicate with as much detail as possible, and do it often among the entire team.

Email has taken over the world in terms of communication. For managing your game dev team you will need to utilize a variety of communications channels to keep your team abreast of what is going on. By no means should you be repeating the same thing over and over in the same channel. But the same points should be briefly discussed in each channel to ensure that people do not miss what was communicated in an email in a Skype meeting. Just know, that people have their preferred method of communication and it is best to know how your team and how often they like to be contacted before you even get started working on the game. Back when I worked on SanctuaryRPG, my primary way of communication with the team was over Steam chat. This worked pretty well, but proved to be very inefficient, as it required myself to be the central hub of all communications between all team members. In retrospect, I should have used a chat client with better group chat and chat archive capabilities.

Communicating with a remote team can be quite daunting since it is so easy to miscommunicate goals and expectations. That is why, when you are managing a remote team you need to state your goals, expectations, and timeline upfront. A team member should have no confusion about what their role is, when and how meetings will be conducted, who they should contact if they have a question and when their tasks are due. By making consistent due dates (i.e. Level Design X is due the fifth of every month) and when meetings will take place (i.e. Skype calls are every Friday at 10 a.m.) and what their responsibilities are outside of their immediate tasks (i.e. each team member is required to post updates on their projects every Wednesday at 2 pm with relevant pictures and videos) will let your team members know what exactly is expected of them and when. The worst thing a team member who is working remotely can feel is complete abandonment. They may have no idea of what is going on and how their contributions impact the success of the game. Remote teams thrive on frequent communication and collaboration. Without it, teams can fall apart quite easily.

Another important note about managing a remote team... don't not be so quick to say no. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed with the timeline and the budget, but it is even more important to exhibit some humility and hear your team out. Just because an idea sounds like it is too much work or that it may take too much time does not mean that it is or that it will. Good ideas are the cornerstone of good games and being a Debbie Downer without really taking into consideration what your team is saying each and every time may harbor resentment amongst your team, and their work ethic may suffer because at the end of the day they just will not feel motivated. If the person with the idea has a strong argument for the idea, has tested the idea, and is willing to put in the legwork to set the idea into motion, the idea should be prototyped in some way in order to figure out if it’ll be a good fit for the project.

Important Takeaways: All in all, managing a remote team is all about consistency and communication. As long as your team members fully understand what they are getting themselves into, there should be less problems down the road. Do not beat yourself up too much if sometimes things do not go as planned or something took way longer than expected. This is normal in game development and should be treated as a learning experience. Make a note to iterate on the schedule as needed, while not pushing the ship date back too much. Managing a remote team may take a little more planning and research, but the flexibility of a remote team can’t be beat.

GameDev Thoughts: More Tips And Tricks For New Game Developers

Game development is not easy by any means. If you are working on your first game, congratulations — keep going, and remember to keep calm. As a new game developer, you probably will not even know what it feels like to be in the gutter until you are really deep in development. However, getting stressed and feeling like you want to quit is inevitable. Lack of sleep, scary realizations about production and finances, and the minimization of social life to focus on reaching the finish line can leave you a little delirious. Yet, there are many developers that came before you and there will be many that come after you. There are several tips that you can use to curve stress in your favor and get yourself out of the trenches and closer towards shipping your game.

The number one mental trick is to think of game development as an endurance test. It is simply meant to see how far you can go and how much you can do over a longer period of time. The more you can accomplish the better, but you can only accomplish more if you pace yourself. Making a game is no different. You are working on a very tight schedule that would seem impossible to achieve to some people so it is best if you one, know what you can handle and two trick your psyche into thinking about long-term goals of your game rather than become bogged down with the bells and whistles of cool features and add-ons. Your main goal as a developer is to create a game and then to ship that game. That is it. Do not overcomplicate the end goals of your game by trying to do too much.

This is where many developers go wrong. They simply try to do too much at the same time and bump up the scope by a large margin. They fall in love with the idea of having a perfect or cool game without thinking about the risk of having no game at all if the game does not get completed in time. Know when to cut your losses and when to cut back on your game. If you start feeling like a feature is making you lose sight of the end goal in mind, go back to the basics and work on the mechanics. After all, most people would prefer a game they can play well with great polish, rather than something with a bunch of half-finished features. Consider adding said feature in another iteration of your game down the line when you have more money and/or more time.

You cannot finish what you do not start. We have all had the buyer’s dilemma when we buy something we later regret because we had too many options in the first place. We think that maybe if we had gotten something different we would have a totally different experience and that we would be blown away rather than disappointed. But the grass is not always greener on the other side. This type of remorse is no different for designers. Sometimes designers can become consumed by the possibilities of a cool idea without really thinking it through. They’ll start coming up with a giant design document, only to realize that they can’t actually follow through with their vision in the first place. Remember, a simple project that you can complete is worth far more than any combination of grandiose ideas, so the most ambitious idea is often not the best.

Choose your battles wisely. Narrow down all your possible ideas to the top three or five and slowly start to iterate for each one. Naturally, the list will start to dwindle as you realize that some games will require more time, more money, or more resources than what you are willing to spend at the moment. Pick that idea that is the most practical or is the best combination of practical and cool and go with that. There is no such thing as a patent on mere “ideas.” And really, a good idea does not go a long way without a solid execution. Learning how to be comfortable getting out of the idea stage is the hallmark of a good designer.

Another great piece of advice is to prepare yourself for anything. With so much competition in the market, it is possible for your game to get very little attention over less well-crafted games. Be prepared for your game to flop and conversely for your game to really blow up because the likelihood for both to happen is sometimes up to a coin flip. After all, look at all the absurd games that have made a name and brand for themselves that are relatively simple but the storyline of the game is absurd.

Now, in the rare event that your game eventually does make it big, be cautious. Invest a small portion of those earnings into some of your passion projects. Never take all of your earnings and blow it on something that you just “know” will be a hit. Adding twenty new team members could also be an unwise choice, as this might be a big money pit. After all, you made your most recent game with only the resources you have now, why can’t you make an even better game with the same resources now that you more or less know the “secret sauce” that makes a good game. Since you do not know how long you will be popular, it is a good idea to assume that this new fame will not last long and that luck will fluctuate with your next iterations. Luck plays a very important role.

Important Takeaways: No matter how simple the game there will always be immense stress when developing a game. Even more, designing an entirely cool and innovative concept will only add to that stress as you have no reference to really to pull from. The biggest part of managing stress is knowing when to pull back and when to go full force. This will ultimately come down to day-to-day decisions that will determine which direction your game will go and what parts of your game will be a priority. Dive into game development with a solid strategy and a practical means of creating your game. Remember though to have applicable contingency plans in case things don’t go as planned (they usually won’t). It’s important to know what you are getting yourself into and why you are designing this game in the first place. Because the “why” of your is sometimes the only thing that will keep you going.

GameDev Thoughts: The Realities Of Being An Indie Game Producer

Being a producer could be the epitome of doing a ton of work and getting no credit. Remember that team project you worked on in high school? Congratulations! You have now elected yourself the leader of that group. Without fail some people will be a joy to work with while others will be a pain. Your primary responsibility being the leader of this group is serving as a liaison being different departments and roles, so that your game ships on time without costing you and your team too much money. In this role you have to essentially rally the troops and get everyone on the same page, which is easier said than done. Serving on the art team or programming side of things in a previous job or role will give you the ability to empathize and see another person’s point of view when they are begging you to add another feature or art concept.

It is no surprise that many prospective gaming students would rather be a designer or programmer rather than a producer. In the gaming industry, today’s producer has a set of fluctuating expectations and job duties. It does not sound nearly as creative or tech-savvy as either of the job titles above. Job titles can range from Junior Producer or Associate Producer to just Producer at some companies. That, combined with the fact that a producer has an enormous amount of responsibility on their hands makes being a producer hard if the project fails. If that game does not ship or if you run out of money, those two failures fall directly on the producer.

Essentially, being a producer is being a manager. The biggest struggle with being a producer is knowing how to manage your time. Since you are in charge of a group of people and not just yourself, learning how to effectively delegate will serve you well since the success of the project depends on the success of the team. Also, you’ll do well to automate certain processes and learn how to setup reminders to keep you and your team on track. With so many things going on it can be easy for a deadline or demo to slip your mind. Take some time each week to update your calendar with your goals and expectations. Keep communication with your team consistent and clear, and make sure to hit those internal deadlines!

Overall, being a producer can teach you a ton about yourself, what you can and cannot handle, how you manage stress and so on and so forth. Producers many times get a negative reputation due to the nature of their job. That does not necessarily make them bad people. They have one objective and one objective only: to get that game out there to the public by eliminating roadblocks and effectively coordinating a team.

Important Takeaways: Being a producer is harder than what it seems. Kudos to you if this is an occupation you want to pursue. In the end it will teach you how to both work with a team and effectively manage a team. Exemplifying great leadership abilities while showing stellar time management skills is an absolute must. While you may not necessarily get the credit you deserve in this occupation (the glory usually goes to the creative director in larger studios, or the game designers in the smaller studios), you will definitely learn many intangible soft skills that you can take with you to any job. Knowing how to talk to people, work with a team and taking some initiative without having to be handheld are all traits employers look for. Ultimately, your end goal as being a producer is to “produce” the game — getting it past the finish line. If you can do this within a reasonable time frame and on budget, you have succeeded in your mission. Keep your eye on the prize and do not get bogged down with scope creep.