Whether you’ve been in the gaming business for three decades or ten minutes, chances are the fear of your next project falling through the cracks is pretty large. First off, don’t worry. It’s entirely normal to fear the worst when you’re working on a concept which has you leaping out of bed each morning. But before you get ahead of yourself, it’s worth keeping your project in perspective. For example, did you ensure those three new classes, 8 new levels and new online features fitted into your budget and delivery schedule?
Let’s take a look at 8 key takeaways from indie game success stories which can help you ensure that your game will cross the finish line and, with luck, become a hit.
1. Prototype and Playtest Early
While every artist only ever wants to present their final, polished work, perfecting gameplay, story and mechanics can only come by having others playtest your game. This is especially true when gauging controls, game feel and difficulty.
Thus, it is vital to prototype your key gameplay components early on and get them playtested in order to ensure you start with a strong ground from which your game can be constructed.
2. Don’t Playtest with (only) Gamers
While your fellow game devs and controller grasping friends would be delighted to be among the first to playtest your game, it’s worth consulting multiple demographics when it comes to playtesting—especially if your game is suitable for many target groups.
By playtesting with avid gamers, young gamers and those unfamiliar with the medium you will be able to receive a plethora of feedback that you can incorporate into your game’s overall design to ensure that wide demographics can interact and enjoy your game.
3. Scope Well and Beware of Feature Creep
When you first conceive of an idea chances are it’s a neat little package, such as: man runs to screen left before jumping onto a flagpole or cars race around a track for x laps. However, when it comes to long periods of development those fundamentals often get muddied by new features; perhaps the man should gain experience while running which gives bonuses across levels or perhaps the racers should be able to choose from 500 different vehicles… Yeah, that’s feature creep.
Ensure that your game is always staying on track to fulfil its key vision, and ensure any systems, levels or additions that you bolt onto the game do not compromise your ability to complete the key game or, worse still, ruin the fun!
4. Have the Basics Down but Be Ready to Learn on the Job
It’s no secret that to make games you need to be able to use computers. Not only that but you will need a fair amount of familiarity with game engines, logic and some kind of coding. Beyond that there are the infinite realms of model-making, animating, creating stories, manufacturing gameplay and delivering on artistic vision.
But before you get overwhelmed, remember that all of the legendary designers of today learnt much of what they know on the job. Thus, while there are some rough pre-requisites necessary to get started on your game dev journey, it’s far more important to be ready to learn than to already think that you know it all.
5. Build Tools to Save you Time
As you progress through numerous small projects or even one large one, ensure that you are thinking sustainably. No, I’m not talking about turning off your monitors and cutting down on plastics (although you should be doing that too!), I’m talking about creating reusable systems or tools which will save you time in the future.
An easy way to envision this is imagining that you will reuse each major system again in a future game. This means that it needs to be generic, optimised and easy to understand. This can be anything from dialogue systems to physics systems to player controllers or even entire game engines. Take a look at any successful gaming studio and you’re likely to feel many of the same systems in play even if they get a new lick of paint with each new project.
6. Build a Team (Even if that is just people to cheer you on)
Work is always toughest when it is working alone. This is true whether you’re an accountant, an astronaut, a playwright or a game developer. Thus, ensure that you build a team around your work. Of course, the key role of such a team would be to support your weaknesses—to create art if you are not an artist, deal with sound or even program in your systems. But even if you are a virtuoso solo developer, it’s important to build up a team of close supporters to help cheer you on through those tough moments which will make you want to throw in the towel.
7. Don’t Just Make a Great Game: Make Sure People Know About It
When you finally manage to overcome the beast that is (or will be) your project, you’re ready to play through and give yourself a big pat on the back… but then what? If you’ve staved off from marketing and have simply uploaded your game to itch.io or Steam, it’s likely to sit there receiving only a fleeting amount of attention resulting in your ego shrinking by the minute.
Instead of this bleak turn of events, ensure to get marketing early. Now, when we think of marketing, we all think of posters and trailers sporting the words “coming soon” or “out now”, but there’s far more to it than that.
From day 1 you can begin the outreach of your project by sharing your progress. Whether that be concept art, small in-engine teasers, dev logs or early access versions, building a community is part of building a game—so ensure you don’t neglect it too long.
8. Beware of Burnout
Finally, as with any project, you must also keep yourself on the map. From day one you need to recognise that you are human, not a machine. While you may be eager to finish the project in a month or a year, chances are your idea will take a lot longer than you first thought to get right.
Instead of this forcing you into a never-ending time-crunch, try to keep your schedule reasonable and treat yourself with respect. There are going to be a lot of hurdles, a lot of frustration and a lot of moments where you want to throw in the towel. While those are all inevitably signs of your passion to produce good work, your health should never suffer as a result so keep a close eye on yourself, your mental wellbeing and your working hours to make sure you stay mentally and physically healthy through the process of bringing an incredible game into the world.
One great way to stave off burnout is hiding in plain sight—and that is playing games! Pick up a classic you admire or dive into something totally new and exciting and you’re not only likely to have a bunch of fun, but you may learn a thing or two along the way.
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While making an indie game will be an entirely unique experience for every developer, these eight points outline some of the key things to keep you on track. We wish you the best of luck with your project!