GameDev Protips: How To Efficiently Improve Your Game Using Player Feedback

When gathering player feedback, it’s important to have a good method of organization so that you’re not just trying to tackle things in an arbitrary manner. I like to organize points into specific groups — a form of development triage. This could involve categories like “clarity” or “juice” that are descriptive within the rubric but don’t directly tackle the core gameplay loop. Make sure to create these categories in a way so that you don’t indirectly manipulate your priority list. If you place a suggestion like “add some sound effects to this feature” beside of a bug report, the obvious thing needing fixing is the bug report. These quality of life changes are better fit into the “juice” category, whereas important issues like unclear mechanics and bugs can go into “clarity” and “bugs” respectively.

Once that’s done, it’s important to remind yourself of the priorities of these categories, such as clarity being more important than juice; many developers will try to fix their problems by adding more and more features until it’s too late to fix and every feature is half functional and barely understandable. Another category that I occasionally use is “features” but this category can be a curse in many circumstances; as previously mentioned many developers like to jump straight to features over fixing up what they already have. As a result, I try to avoid using it until I feel that the rest of the game is up to par to warrant more content. Adding more features is usually nice, but if you’re adding them over fixing bugs or making improvements in other areas, your game will end up looking like a hobbled mess by the end of development. As a result, I’d say the typical order to work on fixing, at least based on these categories mentioned, is to start by fixing any game-breaking bugs.

After that, focus on improving current features within the “clarity” category. If you believe that everything feels as it should, you can move onto the “juice” category and pump it up a bit. If you feel that your game needs more, you can go ahead and move onto the “features” category. Finally, fix any minor bugs that may be present; the reason this is mentioned last is because changing other parts of the game can introduce more bugs itself, so your work might be in vain if you work on fixing every bug early only to find them back in a different form later.

Important Takeaways: It’s all about organization and tackling things in the right order. Creating categories can accomplish this, but make sure the content within your categories won’t introduce a development bias due to juxtaposition. An example of this would be to have minor visual improvements being beside a critical bug, which may prompt you to push the improvements aside in favor of the bug. Make sure you know the right order to working on your game: Fix any critical bugs, improve current features, make them pop out a bit, add new features if necessary, then fix the minor bugs that are left over from development; don’t bother trying to add more content onto a broken game or a game that plays poorly — you’ll be doing yourself a major disservice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GameDev Thoughts: Have Indie Games Become Practically Worthless?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GameDev Thoughts: Is Indie Game Development A Good Career Choice?

The potential to make millions of dollars for fancy cars, lavish designer suits, and huge beachfront houses. Flying first class anywhere you want, anytime you want. Premium ramen. The life of a successful game developer can look pretty sweet. People are oftentimes fascinated with the material rewards and complete freedom that can come with having a successful venture in the games industry. It looks like a pretty easy route to a better lifestyle than whatever career path they might be on right now, and who’s to blame them? It’s absolutely true as well, anyone can start developing a game and open up a business.

The internet and revolutions in development software have broken down so many barriers to game development, making it very simple and inexpensive to start working and set up shop. However, it’s a long way from writing Hello World to a six figure paycheck and lavish lifestyle. Anyone can make a game, but it takes a certain type of someone to turn it into a massive success. If you’ve been thinking about attempting to get into the indie games industry, you might find it useful to ask yourself these questions:

How do you feel about uncertainty? If you can’t stomach feeling uncomfortable about the future, game development is probably not for you. The most successful developers practice feeling uncomfortable on a daily basis. Growth always happens well outside of our comfort zones, and when diving into this volatile industry, you’ll be pushed to do something new very often. A lot of people prefer a level of certainty in their day-to-day, but you can’t push through the discomfort, you won’t be able to get much traction.

Are you willing to work insane hours? There’s no denying the freedom that comes with having a work schedule that doesn’t revolve around sitting for 8 hours in a cubicle every day, but a lot of people forget about the amount of work required to turn something from a simple vision into a tangible product. If you’re a big fan of holidays or long vacations, you might need to rethink your plans. Small development teams that are one or two person studios make it very difficult to take time off or to have a proper vacation without work piling up. It’s definitely not impossible by any means, but it’ll be very challenging to say the least.

Are you confident that you are or can become one of the best? Being amazing at what you do is always important if you want to succeed, but confidence is a large factor as well. Successful game developers are both confident in their ability to deliver a great game, as well as confident that their long term goals will be met as well. Also, how do you feel about marketing yourself? Game developers need to understand how to make connections, both for themselves and to help others. The success of your indie game studio relies heavily on obtaining an audience. Awesome games won’t sell themselves. There’s too many great games that are being marketed well to allow other indie games to be spread via word-of-mouth. Unless your indie game accomplishes something so revolutionary that it comes out of nowhere and amazes everyone, you’re not going to get the downloads you need to sustain yourself.

Is having a steady paycheck essential? When starting your new development venture, a paycheck is absolutely not a given. Individuals who start successful game development studios tend to be willing to work for free because they’re absolutely passionate about their project. If you’re not in a stable enough position to do that, going all in to start making games probably isn’t for you. Focus on making sure you’re able to survive first. It’s absolutely true that you could see insane rewards from your game venture, but it’s probably not going to happen in the first few years. You definitely need to be willing and able to make sacrifices up front to reach your goals, and it’s absolutely possible to work on your game development business after you clock out for the day. If you find that some or all of these traits apply to you, combine it with an unforgettable game and you might just be the next big thing after a few years of hard work.

Important Takeaways: In order to tread the path of indie game development, you must be comfortable with uncertainty, be able to sacrifice getting a steady paycheck, be willing to work insane hours, be fully confident in your abilities, and be willing and able to successful market yourself and your game. Sounds like a tall order? That’s because it is. Most businesses fail, and indie game development is no different. If you plan on being an indie game developer, you’re going to be tested to your limits. If this doesn’t bother you in the slightest, keep going!

GameDev Protips: 4 Reasons Why Most Indie Game Developers Fail

In this article, I’d like to shed light on a few mistakes that indie developers should strive to avoid in order to maximize their chances of success. It took a few years for the indie explosion to happen, but it’s finally here. Games are flooding the market by the bucketful. More and more developers are releasing indie games, with their main purpose being to become mainstream and getting success. Making a hit is starting to become increasingly rare, and many developers are becoming pessimistic about the industry as whole. Let’s dive into some of the most common follies.

Lack of depth and polish. If you want to make a good game, focus on having it being well made with high production values. This is easier said than done, but it’s pretty simple to observe. Simply take a look at some of your personal favorite games, and take notice of how the UI is designed, how the characters are controlled, and how the user experience flows. Remember, don’t have too many loose ends when it comes to your game. There’s nothing more immersion-breaking than getting slapped in the face with a bug while playing game. Get as many friends as possible to help you test the game, or hire professional quality assurance services, but whatever you do, don’t release something that’s bug-ridden.

Not enough commitment and originality. Many indie developers don’t do this for a living, so they may lack time or commitment, which can lead to poor results in the finished product. You need to truly dig down and focus if you want to ensure that what you’re bringing into the world is of sufficient quality. Tom Francis’s Gunpoint is a rare example of the power of part time work, but is ultimately an exception rather than the rule. In addition, in order to truly stand out, you have to focus on being somewhat original. Cloning a trending game can only get you so far. Appeal to a niche and do it right, and always try to bring a game that is better than the competition in it’s own unique way. Don’t hesitate to follow your original ideas to get the best outcome — just make sure to get sufficient people playtesting your game along the way to let you know if you’ve strayed too far away from your intended path.

Too small in scope. Many developers think that the indie titles should be small. This is far from being true. Players want games to be long and bring their money’s worth, so it’s a very good idea to focus on expanding the scope of your smaller games if you think it has enough potential (remember to playtest often with real players). Seek to make games that can be endlessly replayable or games that have a strong emphasis on long-term gameplay and havig sufficient retention mechanics. Finding a nice and fun gimmick to base your game around might sound nice and easy, but the reality is that most people are doing this, and because of that, games that rely on gimmicks can get terribly mundane quickly. If you find a fun mechanic during the prototyping stage, don’t be afraid to expand on it and flesh it out.

Neglecting outreach. Let’s get real, the whole point of spending months and years of your life meticulously slaving away at your game is to get an audience to play it. Why bother making games in the first place if only your mother will try it? Okay, so maybe that was a little harsh, but you get the idea. Many developers think that they should hide their babies until they’re deemed presentable enough, but that’s a horrible idea. Start growing your fanbase as soon as you start working — just remember to show off only the parts that you’re proud of. It’s very beneficial to get an audience of fans to get feedback and ideas from, and the truth is that having a pre-existing audience to leverage is one of the primary determining factors of whether a game succeeds or fails. There’s a reason why game franchises are massively lucrative — the audience is already waiting.

Important Takeaways: Focus on making a game with high production values. If you think your production values are good enough and you’ve spent less than a year in the industry, you’re probably wrong. Find playtesters and get their honest feedback. Remember the game developer who gave up? Neither does anyone else. Stay on track, and make sure you’re as committed as possible to getting the game developed the right way: with a focus on shipping a polished product.

Always expand on your game’s scope — small games have a very limited chance of success, especially on the PC platform. Even on the mobile platform, your game will have a much higher chance of success if it’s fully fleshed out and more than just a short core game loop. Don’t forget outreach. It’s way too easy to get bogged down with programming. Don’t fall into this trap. Leave your ivory tower at least once a day and post something on social media. Remember to let your potential audience know about what you’re working on.