Here we are. Almost a year later after Part 2, more lessons were learned from our journey in game development land. Hello again, I’m Sutorcen and let me impart a little bit of knowledge gathered during this past year. This is part of the Lessons learned series, I suggest you read Part 1 and Part 2, if you haven’t already. I didn’t know with which lesson to begin this post, so I went with what dominated my thoughts about the gaming industry this year. So let’s get this show on the road.
Lesson #12 – Quality over quantity
2016 was a record breaking year for overall video games released. One might think this is good for business, but the amount of sub-par games released this year was disheartening. When I talked about finishing your game in Part 2, I didn’t mention anything about quality because I thought that any self respecting developer will not release a game that is… well… crappy. 2016 proved me wrong in a big way. You see, many “developers” released their games on platforms, like Steam, with little or no regard about quality. Some did it for bragging rights, some for a quick cash in. A few thousand euros income is not bad for a game you hardly spent any time or money developing. Others even went as far as using demo levels created by Unity or Epic Games, slapped some voice over and released them as finished products. Reusing/recycling assets is common practice in game development but they took it to a whole other level. All in the name of having a game released.
When you develop games you are part of an ecosystem and your actions have a rippling effect on everyone. Your rushed, half baked, bad game will probably push down other good indie games. A game with sub-par sales is no big deal for a big corporation. Maybe, they will break even from another game’s sales, no harm done. When a crappy indie game steals sales from another indie developer’s game, that’s plain murder, because that indie developer might go out of business. By crappy games I mean those games developed with stolen assets, full of bugs and that don’t even adhere to the basics of game design. Steam is still unfortunately full of them. Of course the blame does not lie with developers alone and that is why…
Lesson #13 – Steam may not be the best platform for you
When you start out as a game developer people ask you where you plan to release your game. I’m sure that if it isn’t on mobile, the answer will probably be Steam. No one can blame you really because getting onto Steam’s platform was once considered equal to success. 2016 proved that Steam is no longer a guarantee of sales and the reason is quantity over quality. As the platform becomes more and more overrun with games, it gets harder for indie developers to expose their work. Of course there were cases where Steam helped indie games shine, like Stardew Valley. But, it all comes down to pure luck more than it should. With its huge install base there’s no denying that Steam could propel your game into the spotlight, but it’s hard to say if it is worth it these days.
Valve must find a way to filter indie game releases on Steam better, because Steam Greenlight does not work. There are other places to publish your games like Itch.io and GOG. They too will have to prove they can keep their standards high enough to avoid another avalanche of bad games. For the time being they seem to be a safer choice for indie developers. The “if your game is good it will be in the spotlight” is nothing but a myth with the state of things on Steam, Google Play and Apple’s App Store.
Lesson #14 – Honesty
This year was also a year of controversies and promises broken. Since we mentioned it in our post about how we present game development, I’ll be brief. Be honest about your game, its mechanics, its features. If something doesn’t make the cut or changes, let your community know the reasons why. Be open. Don’t overhype your game with promises you can not keep, gamers are not stupid. Another quality that is inherent in honesty is…
Lesson #15 – Openness and transparency
People and the media like it when you let them in, let them be part of the process. Especially if you are running a crowdfunding campaign. It builds trust and you also receive valuable feedback from your community. Feedback will not always be positive, polite or what you want to hear. You can’t satisfy everybody and everyone has an opinion. If you have a community manager, then you’re probably going to be fine. If you haven’t one, I suggest to hire one as soon as possible (note to self).
Lesson #16 – Networking
This goes without saying. The more people you know, the better your chances of success will be. The better your relationships, the easier your job will become. Don’t try to please communities and people who don’t like you or your game. You can’t satisfy everybody and everyone has an opinion. That being said, when you do try, try to address those communities and individuals not in a personal tone but distant, polite and professionally. People and especially internet “trolls” will try and make it personal, don’t fall for that, it can become toxic very fast. Providing negative feedback is easier and requires no effort. Providing good and constructive feedback requires some effort. Remember, these are your future clients. The case of Phil Fish is a stellar example of how not to handle media and communities. You can read all about it here.
Take part in as many event that take place in your local community. Attend these events and just be yourself. Don’t try to come across as a know it all and don’t be afraid to your inexperience to show. More experienced people see right through that and let’s face it, you probably are inexperienced, which is ok. Talking with someone on social media is entirely different than talking to someone face to face. Go there and get to know people and make friends. Friendly faces will be more willing to help you than total strangers you only met on social media.
Don’t be afraid to ask the community for help, we indie developers tend to look out for each other. When you do ask, please make sure you have searched all possible places for an answer. Epic Games provides all the information you need on their website regarding Unreal Engine. Be considerate of other developer’s busy schedules. When you have something to ask keep it as short as a “cup of tea”. If what you’re asking will take less time than it takes to drink a cup of tea, then you’ll probably get an answer. You also might not get an answer, in that case be polite, don’t be demanding.
Lesson #17 – Hardware management
Weird lesson to learn? Actually not. We all tend to treat our aged hardware, be it a computer or a smartphone, as obsolete. Big companies may have many computers with various configurations lying around to test how a game performs. But, if your budget is limited that old computer is treasure. When you are a game developer your old hardware is a great place to test your game. Remember not everyone plays their games on high end hardware.
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That’s it for now. Once again thank you for all the support. We’ll be back before Christmas so no holiday wishes for you yet. Until then, take care.