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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GameDev Protips: How To Optimize Player Decision-Making In Game Design

As game designers, we have to think about all aspects of a game. One of the most important aspects of game development is making sure that there’s a solid decision-making process early on for players. Newer designers oftentimes miss the mark when it comes to this. So, let’s talk about horrible decisions. Here are three types of bad or otherwise uninteresting decisions your player can make that will probably not result in any positive outcomes.

The first type is known as a useless decision. These types of decisions have absolutely no effect on gameplay whatsoever. Whether the player swipes left or right, the outcome does not change. These types of decisions do not guide or alter human behavior in any way. This can limit or even damage the player’s perception of interaction. A worthless decision is as good as no decision at all. An example of this kind of decisions might be changing the color palette of the player.

Next, there are the types of decisions that are blatantly obvious. These are decisions where the outcome is known by the player from the get-go. Although not entirely worthless, their effect on gameplay is minimal at best. These types of decisions are considered freebies and don’t really teach the player anything new about the game. They don’t allow the player to increase their decision-making abilities because the answer is sitting right in front of them. While it’s good to throw a freebie in every once in awhile, too much use of this type of decision can decrease the complexity or level of dimension in the game. This lowers the player’s perception of interaction. An example of this could be having a clearly overpowered weapon in the game that is chosen every single time.

Lastly, there are blind decisions. While these do have an effect on the game, they are so arbitrary that the outcome is pure guesswork. A player cannot adjust their actions because they cannot account for what might happen — good or bad. It’s akin to spinning a wheel and getting some unknown prize. You just don’t know what will happen. But these types of decisions can potentially break up the monotony a game (think of a lucky draw after each level in order to gain a prize to help you with the next stage of the game), but they aren’t particularly useful because like the other two decisions, they do not guide human decision making. An example of this would be selecting a random prize after a game from a choice of mystery prizes.

Important Takeaways: While these three types of decisions could potentially aid players, they do not guide human decision making. Players cannot control it in any way. They could potentially all be done away with because they do not make games more immersive or interactive. While there are caveats to each, on their own they are each rather flat and one-dimensional. It goes without saying that there are entire games that have built themselves entirely upon one or more of these three principles and they are sufficient in their own way, so these three decisions cannot immediately be dismissed, but rather considered less often. Remember, make sure that players are treated to meaningful decisions much as much as possible — and feel free to leave useless, obvious, or blind decisions at home.

GameDev Thoughts: Should You Get A Degree In Game Design?

Obtaining a college degree is one of the best ways to propel your career in the right direction. There’s no shame in going the traditional route and earning a four-year degree in game design or something closely related as it will pay off in the long run. This is an increasingly common path that’s expected more and more by AAA studios as the game development industry grows. A degree gives you the chance to become exposed to more tools and people than you would encounter on your own. School also presents learning opportunities, with things like mock development cycles, working on a team and having your work critiqued. However, you need to have a thick skin to be in the gaming industry. Learning how to take criticism from your peers and professors is essential to your success. It will prepare you and enable you to answer questions and stand behind your work. Being able to complete assigned tasks on time is an essential skill to have in the real world and mock development cycles will serve as great practice for meeting deadlines.

Schools usually require you to prioritize and balance multiple responsibilities. Managing these duties will mirror the way you’ll prioritize tasks in the future. Working with others in a team is another valuable experience you will gain at school. Just like you would in anything else, you’ll have to do things and work with people that may be outside of your comfort zone. This is all with a specific goal or vision in mind. By working with a team, you will get a feel for people’s varying work ethics, communication styles and personalities. This is a valuable lesson to learn, not only for game development, but for real life in general.

Most importantly, school will give you a taste of what the real world is like. You can participate in an internship, work part-time or shadow some designers in the industry to get a feel for your potential future. An important part of school is building your resumé. You should have a few solid portfolio pieces to showcase to potential employers.These should be one of the most basic tools in your arsenal before you graduate. There are very few companies that will accept someone who has spent so much money on their school career that has nothing to show for it.

Now let’s go off the beaten path for a minute… Okay, maybe you are not so smitten with the whole degree thing. This is understandable considering how expensive college can be and the fact that you could be getting real world experience on your own instead of sitting in class. Perhaps placing your foot in the door involves a more direct approach. Aspiring developers can still make apps and games in their spare time if they choose to. As long as the end result is enjoyable and demonstrates a real ability to script levels, you can expect a studio to hire you. But bear in mind that this may be difficult without qualifications. This is assuming you don’t go out and create your own indie studio or launch your own fundraising campaign. However, bear in mind that scripting your own game will not happen overnight. Depending on what you know, it may take anything from a few months to several years to finish your game. This also costs money, which means you will need a job to pay the bills and a job takes time, which leaves you with less time for your game.

Important Takeaways: Getting a degree can kickstart your career in the game development industry. Although this path is competitive, it has consistently proven to be worth the time and effort. Working towards a degree will give you valuable experience and open great doors for the future. Even if you do happen to choose the alternative option and jump right into real-world work, there are still infinite opportunities available to help develop your skills and develop a successful product. Getting there is easier said than done. Considering which option is the most economically viable is probably one of the most important decisions you need to make on the way. Once this is done, stick to the choice you made and make the most out of it.

GameDev Protips: Common Traits Of Great Game Developers

Great game developers will work through early mornings and countless nights to make their game successful. This means developing, polishing and most importantly shipping a finished product. Delivering great games as opposed to empty promises is the first step on your path toward success. A good game developer should worry about making and selling games, instead of worrying about whether they appear to be successful or not on the surface. You don’t need to buy that fancy new laptop, or even a professional edition of Unity — just start working using the tools already at your disposal. No excuses. Mediocre developers lack the patience to develop and market their creations. They always look for shortcuts and prefer to spend their time making other people think they’ve made a great game, when in fact, they haven’t even started. One only has to look at the myriad husks of empty projects littering Kickstarter to understand just how far a developer can get talking about their great idea, only to see it fade away into the void of failures.

Remember that you need to maximize your game’s potential. You never know whether there is more to your storyline, list of features or characters unless you put in the extra time and find out. Great game developers don’t wait for funding or additional resources to start making games. They proactively seek ways to raise capital, whether it be through investors, crowdfunding or even stocking shelves at Walmart if needs be. When money or resources are tight, they will reduce the scope and content of their games. Many highly successful games, such as Flappy Bird, did not take much in the way of resources to make. So if some guy in Vietnam working on his own is able to ship a highly successful game, you can too.

A less dedicated developer will frequently use a lack of funding or resources as an excuse not to proceed with development. They exceed their deadlines and make excuses, refusing to proceed until everything is “just right”. Goldilocks wanted everything “just right” and ended up getting savagely mauled by a family of bears for her troubles. Don’t be like Goldilocks. Make due with what you have.

Great game developers don’t sit around waiting for the “perfect” idea to come to mind. A good game developer, even if they have no idea what to make, will draw up concepts, make smaller games, design levels, write stories, play with new technologies or learn new programming languages. That proverbial apple isn’t just going to fall from the tree and hit you on the head when you need it most — what have you done with your life while waiting for the perfect concept or idea to happen to you?

You need to find ways to get your games shipped. Great game developers make things happen and start working on their games no matter how small a step forward it is. Mediocre game developers will always give an excuse as to why their game hasn’t panned out and most of the time will blame the engine that they chose or some other external factor instead of their own limitations. A good developer will move forward and will not make excuses for a lack of progress. Funding gets pulled? That’s fine, reduce your scope. Engine sucks? Switch engines. It really doesn’t matter what happens and as long as you want to make a game, there will be a solution to your problems.

Important Takeaways: Deliver great games, not empty promises. Putting in the time and effort is the only way to deliver a successful product. Maximize your games potential and look around every corner and in every crack and find that extra bit of flair that your game needs to realize its full potential. Bring your ideas to life in a way that has never been done before. Find a way to get those games into the market. Stay persistent and understand that even if you fail, you can simply start again on something new.

GameDev Thoughts: The Untapped Power Of Minimalism In Game Design

Many designers encounter issues by putting too many choices in their games. All designers mean well when doing this, but in the end, all you do is simply frustrate your players. Too much choice usually becomes a problem when there are more than five options to choose from. For newbies, choice overload can cause decision paralysis, leaving them unable to make a decision, thereby halting or seriously postponing any progress in the game. You can alleviate decision paralysis by either creating fewer choices, or by categorizing choices.

There are countless psychological implications associated with too many choices within gameplay. This article will debate some of the pros and cons of having too many options, as opposed to having too few options, and details on how to reach an optimal level. No matter how many choices are present, you player should be able to make any choice decision relatively quickly, and they should feel freedom in their decision making and in control of their own destiny throughout the game.

Creating too many choices initially will lead to higher quit rates. Yet, studies have shown that the more invested the player is, the less likely they are to quit simply for this reason alone. Studies have also shown that having too many choices is not only frustrating, but that it also decreases satisfaction once a decision is reached. Perhaps the player is saddened by all the things they did not get to choose, or perhaps the player is not truly happy with their decision. Or, perhaps they were too burdened by the decision process all together to receive any real pleasure from it. Whatever the case may be, you do not want this scenario as a game designer.

This situation leads designers to carefully consider exactly how they want their players to feel whenever they make a choice, and designers then concentrate on this first. Giving your players opportunities to test all potential options until they find a good fit is one option; this will not give the player decision deferral, but it will instead prompt them to play around with various options. In this case, no decision is so permanent that it cannot be undone. This type of flexibility truly makes your players feel in charge of their own destiny.

One way to help prevent decision deferral is to temporarily reduce the number of options available. Perhaps only certain characters and weapons are unlocked at a certain point in the game, or only after a certain amount of gameplay has been completed. By being able to unlock certain attributes, your player will feel more motivated to unlock as many items as they can. This options makes the number of decisions available completely dependent on the player’s motivation to play the game. At this stage, a large number of options will not feel like a burden, but rather a privilege and an achievement that your player has earned over time.

Important Takeaways: Including too many choices for players within games can often be a problem for designers, but there are several methods to resolve this. It is possible to limit the number of decisions which need to be made within a game, and you can also reward players for the decisions they make throughout their game progress. As we know, every game will feature at least some level of decision making, and it is important for the designers to make sure players don’t get decision deferral and become frustrated with the game. It’s up to the designer to ensure the decisions players make are a positive part of the gameplay experience.

GameDev Thoughts: Marketing Your Indie Game The Right Way

Marketing plays an integral role in getting your game out there, and making sure that you see a return on your investment of making indie games. You might be thinking that marketing is simple, that you already have a ton of friends and family signed up that all want to play. This may be true, but whilst aiming at your closest peers is a very intuitive idea, it will only get your game so far. Even if you have 5,000 friends on Facebook who are all generating some good “buzz” about your game, it will still take a lot more creative thinking and genuine effort on your part if you really want your game to have a chance at being a success story.

When beginning to market your game, one of the first things to consider is the type of game you have. Your friends and family members may buy your game because they know you, and they like you, but how long will they realistically play it? Is your game’s ROI platform based on in-app or in-game purchases? If it’s the latter, even your closest buddies who likes your game may not feel compelled enough to spend real money inside the game. This is exactly why you need to market to your target audience.

Another major part of your marketing plan will be to ensure you create a solid fan-base. Your game is nothing without a database of customers and potential customers who will rush to buy your game once it is released. If you have an established studio, this should be easy, but if not, this may be a bit of a challenge. If you are just starting on the first stages of production for your game, or even if you are right in the middle of it, you can still get started on marketing on your game. In fact, this is a great thing to do to get a head start on your marketing initiatives.

One effective way to build hype for your game in the early stages is to create an email newsletter. If you have a website, you can easily create a sign-up option as soon as people visit your site. You can offer your audience a small incentive in return for giving you their email address. This might be a free e-book, access to exclusives, or maybe even discounts on your game or other products you may have in your inventory. By offering something upfront, your audience will get the feeling that you are genuine about creating and fostering a relationship with them, and you are not just interested in spamming them about your game.

Once you have started collecting some email addresses, it’s a good idea to start storing them in a secure database. Categorize your list by people who have bought from you before, those who open your emails, and people who just do not feel interested. That way you can proactively target those in your base more effectively. For instance, those who have purchased from you before are most likely to purchase from you again. Perhaps they might even be interested in additional add-ons and exclusives meetups with the developers, or some other extras. Whatever it may be, these group of fans need to know that they are appreciated, and that’s the way you generate repeat customers.

On the other hand, there are people who avoid all your emails. They may even be thinking about unsubscribing. Maybe their initial interest and enthusiasm in your product has waned. One, quick-question survey is your best bet. What would make the experience better for them? If you can find any way to engage them, do it, and do it fast. Time is of the essence for these people, and the possibilities of repairing this relationship may be destroyed before it even begins.

Important Takeaways: Marketing is one of the key parts of your game development process, if you wish for it to be a success. Those developers who simply think they can rely on their friends and family will find it much more difficult to get their games into the hands of the wider audiences. Take a look at various marketing methods, such as newsletter emails which can be used to great effect at creating hype for your game’s launch.