We all have the feeling of “oh, I wish I knew that sooner!” or “why didn’t someone tell me this when I started?!” whenever we enter a field. There are plenty of things I and my colleagues wish we knew before we started game development. But, fear not! I’ve compiled a list taken from my own experience and my friend’s on what you should know before you start game dev.
Most of these here are general ideas/tips given by friends that I’ve expanded upon, so these are not their exact words.
- General Things
One last note before we jump in- these are pieces of advice of what devs wanted to know before they started. These won’t all be applicable to everybody, so you’re free to take this advice and ignore it. Every person is different, but these pieces of advice should help a majority of people.
1. Don’t overscope your projects
Scope is something I talked about in my previous article, but the tl;dr is that scope is the magnitude of the project- it encompasses all of the assets, all of the levels, all of the team, everything. Keeping the scope small as you learn how to make games is a key part of being able to ship a game. You can always add to a scope, but cutting scope can be much harder.
One thing to remember- it might take YEARS before you find a game idea you’re truly passionate about. Nothing sucks more than working on a project with too big a scope and a few months in you realize you have no passion for the idea anymore. A good work ethic can push you through that slog but there will always be some game ideas you just cannot force yourself to work on if the scope is unmanaged.
Addendum: Define your scope before you start. Work on your storyline and gameplay mechanics before you jump headfirst into development. As most writers know, having a solid outline can prevent a lot of artblocks down the road.
– Addendum from @AnoldorF on Twitter
2. Ask for help
You don’t have to do everything on your own. Furthermore, people have most likely made some of the mistakes you’ll be making, so learn from the people who’ve already been through it.
If you’re solo, then joining (healthy) communities where you can post work and get feedback on it can be invaluable. There have been so many assets of my (Miko) own that would have been trash had I not asked for feedback. Game dev requires a thick skin because players will critique every aspect of your games, so getting good feedback from your peers can be a good stepping stone into that (and also teach you what is good critique and what is bad critique).
– From @jakebowkett, @ingthing, and @Rukomura
3. Use source control and have backups
Source / version control is essentially having different backups of your game at different stages so that you can rollback to a previous state if you mess something up. The most popular tool for source control is Github, but you can put files on a jump drive if needbe.
In general though, you should have backups, even if it’s just an old version of your project files on Google Drive. Personally I (Miko) use Google Backup and Sync as well as have my files on various jump drives, folders, and a Github repository.
– From @VividFoundry and @justajustiguy
4. Make a bad game
You will learn much more from shipping a game than developing a game for 5+ years. Likewise, you’ll learn a lot from shipping a “bad” game. Everyone eventually makes a “bad” game, whether it be something that’s nearly objectively bad or something that doesn’t meet their standards. As adi puts it, “the exhilaration of finishing something got me through a ton alone”.
– From @adirosette
5. Don’t be afraid to post content
If people don’t know about your game then they can’t get hyped for it and they certainly can’t play it. Not being afraid to post content goes both ways, both for consumers and developers. You should be confident and post progress where consumers can see and follow your development and you should post progress where developers can see and give feedback.
Basically, be proud of what you work on! Be mindful to not spam, but don’t always keep to yourself.
– From @dssansVN
6. Use Twitter Analytics
I’ve found that some devs who’ve used Twitter for years don’t know about this- Twitter has an more indepth analytics if you turn them on. These analytics show impressions, engagements, and more. There’s an entire side website that lists out your most popular tweets, how your Twitter is growing, and more. It’s very simple to turn on and provides a lot of insight.
7. Kickstarter won’t market for you
This point can be construed as “you need to market your commercial endeavors in general”, but I’ll be talking about crowdfunding here. Think of Kickstarter more as an amplifier- if you have a solid project with solid marketing, a solid Kickstarter page can boost that. If you have a loose project with little marketing and a bare-bones KS page, KS won’t boost it. When you launch a KS, you’re launching a business venture. Regardless if the game will be commercial or free, you’re asking money from people. Treat it like a business.
8. Use Itch.io
Itch.io is a free website for indie games. The process to upload a game is extremely easy and free, and their store page is easy to navigate. A lot of people, including myself, will avoid Google Drive / Dropbox links for demos from strangers, so please upload demos to Itchio!
(an exception of course is if you’re beta testing then Drive / Dropbox can be fine, but this is for public-facing builds)
There are also other websites out there for free indie games such as Game Jolt, but Itchio is quickly becoming a more recognizable website.
9. Get Steam Wishlists
If you’re publishing to Steam, focus on wishlists! Setting up a Steam page for a game releasing in a month can be disastrous. Look at it this way- a wishlist means that person will be emailed when the game releases. They don’t have to sign up for your newsletter, they don’t have to do anything but hit the wishlist button.
For more indepth talk advice, read Jake Birkett’s article, How many wishlists should you have when launching on Steam?
I think the biggest tl;dr I can give for this article is this: know your limits and always ask for help.
I know my limits when it comes to scope and what kind of games I make. Some of those limits, like scope, I try to slowly push myself on expanding. Other limits, like the genres I’m comfortable working with, not so much (due to burnout!).
Furthermore, asking for help is never a sign of defeat. You’ll need to ask consumers a lot of questions for market research, so why not also ask devs for advice and feedback? Find areas you’re comfortable with.
Did you like this article? Feel free to check out my other marketing and game dev editorials on the right!
Scope is something that every game developer struggles with at some point.
Even after releasing several games, you can always get caught working on a project with too much scope. Today I’m going to talk about what scope is, how to manage it, and how to cut (or add) scope to a game project.
What is scope?
Scope, put simply, is the entirety of the project— it’s the amount of assets, the story of the game, the amount of levels / areas, the budget, you get the idea. The scope of a project is how big the project is.
Sometimes we get carried away with making games. We think of all these great levels we can add or plot details or characters, but end up losing sight of the main project. Scope left unchecked can kill projects. So, how do you keep it from getting that bad?
How to manage scope
Your main combatant for keeping scope small is to always keep it in mind. Make sure that you’re keeping things small and manageable— adding content is much easier than removing it. One way to keep it in mind is to check over things and determine how important it is. This is something that becomes easier the more games you make and have to do this on.
Careful planning and sticking to an outline helps manage scope while a game is in development. At group meetings (if you’re working with a group), talk about the scope. Go over upcoming parts and make sure they’re still important. Shelve ideas for later if they aren’t important— you can always come back to them later.
Let’s say you’re too far into development to keep track of scope as you go along. The game has been in development for too long and you’re in the midst of it and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s times like these that we get out the knife.
This is our scope-cutting knife! Stab your project.
…Okay, maybe not anything that severe. Let’s go over some potential areas you can cut out:
- Levels / areas / locations
- Character / equipment upgrades
- Side quests
For games that are more story-driven, make sure all of your characters are needed. For my current in progress game, Asterism, I’ve removed 2 main characters since the completion of the first draft. The first was one of the members of the main party— I removed him because there were too many party members to give a backstory to each, so I gave his lines to the rest and had one less character to worry about expanding. The second was an antagonist turned friend— his backstory was too contrived and bloated the amount of work.
Make sure all of your backgrounds / maps are needed. If you use one for only one scene, consider rewriting the scene to use an existing background. Or, consider adding a character graphic to the scene rather than characters on a background.
The biggest cuts you’ll find when cutting scope is to take out features. A phone pop-up menu is pretty cool but typically not necessary in most games. Equipment upgrade trees and 10+ types of weapons are great but are extras for most RPGs rather than necessities.
Remember that cutting scope doesn’t have to be permanent— the purpose is to finish a project. You can always go back and add scope once the project isn’t in jeopardy and nearing completion .
Another way to cut scope is to find ways to shorten the time parts take to make. For example, you can resuse assets, use premade assets (namely sound effects), or use code (that you have permission to use). Finding a good engine that fits your project is another way to cut scope. An engine that fits will allow you to streamline the development.
Alright, now let’s say you’re nearing the end of your game and it’s too small. For some people this might sound impossible, but it’s happened to me before. For my first commercial game, That Which Binds Us, I had to go through multiple phases of adding scope, namely expanding the story.
When adding scope, focus on features that improve the game the most rather than adding anything. Here’s a few ideas on what to add:
- New art / music
- Character backstories
- Side quests / scenes
- More choices
- Additional settings
- New levels / areas
A good way to figure out what to add is to ask testers! Get feedback on builds and see what they want added. You never know, they might suggest something you’d never thought of.
But why should I?
Cutting scope becomes a vital ability the more you make games. I’ve seen (and been on!) countless projects that were killed because the scope was too large and was either not cut or leads refused to compromise. Don’t let your projects die!
tl;dr cutting features out of your game isn’t always a bad thing and can help the game release. You can always go back and add features!
Did you like this article? Feel free to check out my other marketing & game dev articles by clicking the tags on the right. Want to give back? Wishlisting my games on Steam helps me a lot! Have a question? @ me on Twitter!
Art summary for 2019! Somehow all of these ended up being art for indie visual novels…
2019 has been a pretty good year for me! A lot happened and I’ve met a lot of great people. I’m terrible at remembering things and even worse at remembering things in order time-wise so I’m going to just list some cool things and talk about them- if they end up in sequential order, cool!
- Entered several business competitions (and won some!)
- Got a job on campus at the business school
- Released Paths Taken, Alice in Stardom, Image of Perfection, and Memories on the Shoreline
- Had an interview on Forbes
- Started doing PR for Studio Élan
- Started my senior year of college
For the first full release of the year I released Alice in Stardom, a yuri visual novel made for NaNoRenO. It had by far the biggest team I’ve managed with at least 8 people working on different aspects of it. It was hectic but it was fun, and I hope I’m able to do another NaNoRenO entry this year (granted, I didn’t do much of the actual work on it besides some scripting and directing)! Overall it was fun and the team was great!
A short time after Alice in Stardom, Paths Taken finally (finally…) finished development after a few road blocks and halts. It didn’t come out how I envisioned it when started but I’m happy it’s done. I fell into a bit of a depression once it came out since I felt I hadn’t delivered anything people wanted since it fell short of what we wanted it to be, namely story-wise. Still, I’m thankful for everyone who’s played it and enjoys it!
This year I focused more on experimenting on mechanics and VN game types, trying to figure out what people wanted to play and what I wanted to make- finding a sweet middle ground between those two. Image of Perfection was a project written by a friend, Omega, as both a way for me to experiment with a small horror-esque RPG and for her to work on a full project. I think the game came out fine, though I was under a fair amount of stress (due from Paths Taken having just wrapped up, RPG Maker giving me a ton of problems- basically myself causing my own problems).
Onto the last release of the year, Memories on the Shoreline! As with every project, I learn at least one thing and regret two more. But really, my only regret with this project was not giving it more time. I say that, fully knowing I was spent on time during the development of it, as the semester was wrapping up and I was (and am) working two barely part-time jobs.
As before, I was not the writer on this project, that was instead the talented Keiru! We met on Discord and it just so happened she was lovely to work with. I don’t have much else to say for this one… I want to add an additional scene to the game sometime in early 2020, so look out for that. As you can see I didn’t do the artwork, only character designs- the sprite artist was ChocoBerryInk! (personally, I think their sprites came out super cute)
I didn’t really set any definite goals last year for myself other than “release more games” and “learn more about marketing”, and this year will be somewhat the same.
- Draw more full art: I want to get back to doing more full pieces! Nothing dramatic, just trying to draw faster by doing one fanart or original piece a month or such.
- Sketch traditionally occasionally: My aunt gave me a sketch book for Christmas, so I might as well use it. I’m actually unable to draw half as good traditionally as I can digitally since I just don’t draw traditionally anymore, so this’ll be a good way to get back to that.
- Release Asterism: Not much to explain here. Asterism will be in development for 3 years come this February, it’s time for a release.
- Slow down a bit on projects: Last year from April-November I was releasing a full game almost every other month. I have a lot of ideas for future projects after Asterism (some of which have already been started) but this year I want to spend a bit more time involved in the dev process of each game.
- Graduate college: Last but not least, this is my last semester of college! By May I should have a Bachelors in Computer Science.
There’s a few more goals like “learn more about marketing” and “meet new devs” but these are the ones I’ll be focusing on the most. Thank you guys for your support, I hope this is great year and decade for all of us! ♥
This was my final drawing of 2019, my final drawing of the decade. I wanted it to be my last since it holds a lot of significance for me- earlier this year I started working at Studio Élan as PR while also trying to juggle my own studio, college, and everything else. It’s been a challenge and also a big learning curve, always trying to rush forward and learn what I can. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities this year and met so many great people- so, for this next year and next decade I want to go forth arms open and ready. I still have a lot to learn about marketing and game development but I want to learn as much as I can and meet as many people as I can.