Developing games is a dream, and what a time to start your journey in indie game development! There are numerous tools and engines to get you started, countless tutorials online, and platforms like the Switch and Steam filled with players clamouring for next great indie title.
When we start making games, we were wide-eyed, committed, and full of ideas and energy. But we made more than a few mistakes along the way that cost us time, money, and opportunities. Here are 8 mistakes to avoid when making your first game.
This isn’t exactly accurate because you should be making your game for at least yourself, meaning making a game where your potential audience is minimal. Before embarking on your game development journey, it would be good to know that you have a potential audience for your game, and what the size of that audience is. To do this, look for sales or install numbers of similar titles. If your game is going to be on Steam, use SteamSpy to see how many people own and play similar titles. If its on Mobile, Check App Annie for competitor data. Another thing you want to do is see if you’re going with or against any trends. You can do this with a simple exercise:
Step 1: Find the top selling titles that are similar to yours
Step 2: Write down the number of owners each one has, as found on SteamSpy
Step 3: Group the titles by release year
Step 4: Analyze - do the top selling titles this year still sell as well as the previous years’ did?
If so, you’re in a trending space! If not, the market for your title may be dwindling.
For whatever reasons, a common thing that we’ve noticed with devs starting out with their first game, is a desire to make their own engine. Some developers might just have that inherent need to create things from scratch. Some just might love the thrill of the challenge. Whatever the reason may be - it’s not a good route go down. There are more than enough engines to use, and they’ll all save you time and money. Benefits to using an existing engine are countless, but here are few anyways:
Engines like Unity and Gamemaker have countless tutorial available online and even in print. The knowledge base for engines likes these is fully developed and easily accessible.
If you’re going through an issue, you can be sure that your issue is not unique and that someone has probably posted about it a support forum already. And if not, these communities are so vibrant and helpful, you should be able to find someone to answer your questions in a forum.
Need ready-made assets for your game? How about a tool to build levels. Or maybe you need a physics engine for more realistic water? Engines like Unity have complete asset stores where you can buy tools and assets to use for your game.
A huge user base before achieving any sort of success It’s good to have high aspirations but it’s also important to ship! We’ve seen teams work on expensive features because they wanted their game to support huge user bases - they then release, and instead of the millions they were expecting, only hundreds show up. Working on those extra features delayed shipping, and also may have been wasted work. Instead, just focus on creating a minimum viable product, and scale once you have the numbers to prove that it would be a wise investment.
This one is a two-parter. First let's talk about critical path. Critical path is the sequence of events, that if any are delayed, will delay the entire project. It’s important to identify critical path at the very start of your project. Once you have that identified, it’s time to mitigate any risks that you foresee – you need a backup plan. For example, what if that a person crucial to a sequence in the path, gets sick or hit by a meteor. If that happens, the cost of the whole team continues while development effectively stalls. Not having a backup plan for situations like this can end a project.
Allocating time for certification can often be overlooked. Certification is basically the process that your game goes through when submitting your game to specific platform. For example. If you’re developing for a unique console like the Nintendo Switch, there might be specific guidelines on how your game should interact. With the Joycon alone, one can imagine a number of scenarios that have to be accounted for, like what happens when a joycon is removed mid-game? You need to allot time to read over all of the certification guidelines, and then allot more time to execute on them. It might feel a little tedious, but doing this is only way to get on your desired platform, and on the bright-side it makes you an expert on that platform for future titles.
What is a postmortem? A postmortem is a process, usually performed after a game is released, to determine and analyze elements of the project and document what went wrong, and what went right. Organizations use them as tools to guide follow up projects. A lot of devs have been where you are, some have failed, some have done ok for themselves, and some have captured lighting in a bottle. What’s great is that a lot of them tell their stories. That’s what’s so awesome about the indie community. You have people sharing their mistakes and providing solid advice on what not to do, and you also have other devs sharing their tools and secrets to their success. Read as many post-mortems as you can - a post-mortem from a dev can be more valuable than any lesson in a textbook. This is 1st-hand experience in a market that you’re about to enter. The best place to read indie dev post-mortems is gamasutra.com. A simple search for “post-mortem” yields results from the devs of: Rogue Legacy, Shadow Tactics, Epistory, Costume Quest 2, and more. You can also check out the GDC vault for video post-mortems.
One thing that we all have the natural tendency to do is keep our games a secret until we want to show them to the world. Either, we’re holding off because we want to make it perfect, we’re too nervous to show people, or we think people will steal our ideas! The problem is, you can’t just flip a switch, and have the world see your game. Getting people to just even see your game is a struggle. In today’s market, you need to start building an audience from day one, and sharing your progress along the way. Here are a few things you can do to be more public with your development. Get social. Create a social accounts for your game or studio, and get involved in the community. Follow other indies, and spark or join conversation. Use your socials as platform to slowly build awareness and distribute content from your development. Have new concept art? Share it! Toying with new gameplay mechanics, post a video of it! Create a dev blog. Keep track of your progress on a dev blog. Sharing your progress is a great way to keep your followers engaged with your game. Attend meetups. Every major city has meetups for game development. Our city for example has meetups for indie development, vr development, mobile development, and Twitch streaming. Join them, bring your demo, and get feedback from your local community. To find a meetup, just go to meetup.com and search for game development.
It’s not enough to just add your game on a platform, you need to optimize your store page. In a recent video we shared 7 tips on how promote your game on Steam. You can watch the video here, but if you want the gist of it, here are the 7 tips:
- Time your discounts and take advantage of all of Steam’s sale opportunities
- Optimize your visibility and page activity during Steam’s sales
- A/B test your game’s thumbnail to make sure you’re using the one that converts
- Utilize Curator Connect
- Utilize visibility rounds
- Utilize community coupons
- And start building your wishlist numbers early