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Cutting (and Adding) Scope from Games

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.

Cutting scope

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.

Rimia umu edit by Henry!

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:

  • Characters
  • Levels / areas / locations
  • Character / equipment upgrades
  • Side quests
  • Artwork
  • Music

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.

Side Notes

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.

Adding scope

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!

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2019 Year in Review

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

Full Releases

Drawn by the lovely Violora!

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!

Drawn by Violora as well!

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! ♥

Art

Into the Unknown

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.

~ Maddie and Abby from Heart of the Woods ~
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Where to Publish Your Indie Game

Finishing a game is a hard feat- but figuring out where ​to publish it can be even harder.

Working on a game from start to finish is a harrowing task with lots of road bumps, but once your finished, some devs are left with a question- what now? What do I do with my game now that it’s done? Well, you can post it on Google Drive or Dropbox and share that link around, but if you want a more serious way to publish then consider publishing your game on gaming websites. But, which ones? Below I’ve outlined some of the most popular choices for sharing free and commercial games.

There are 2 lists- PC and HTML. Note that some of these overlap- you can upload mobile and HTML to Itch.io, but I’m only going into detail on it in the PC list.


PC List

1. Steam

Naturally, Steam has to be on this list- it’s the largest, most known game distribution platform out there. So, let’s quickly go over some pros and cons to Steam.
Pros:

  • Largest gaming platform with the largest userbase

Cons:

  • Largest gaming platform with the largest selection of competing games
  • $100 fee per game uploaded
  • Lots of information to fill out with multiple review processes
  • Somewhat difficult uploading process for new devs (and lackluster documentation)

2. Itch.io

Itch.io in recent years has grown in popularity for indies, and for good reason.

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Pros:

  • Free to use
  • Easy upload process with no review processes
  • A good launch can secure a high place on the search places for a longer time

Cons:

  • No review process means there are tons of shovelware and multiple reuploads on the site
  • Not many users on the site so don’t expect 50+ downloads on launch unless you market it

3. Game Jolt

Game Jolt has been a long standing indie site for flash games but now has opened up to downloadable games- however, their primary consumer base is still HTML.

Picture

Pros:

  • Free to use
  • Easy upload process with no review processes
  • Fans can follow individual game pages as well as your developer account

Cons:

  • Easy to not get many views on the site with one game but a healthy amount on another
  • The consumer base is still heavily HTML gaming

4. Kartridge

Have you heard of Kartridge before this list? Neither had I before I researched forums to share games on and ended up finding a thread about posting games to Kartridge! It’s a subsidiary of Kongregate (which will be on the list later) that was launched around November 2018 during the big Epic Games / Discord Store buzz and subsequently got drowned out by all the bigger news.

Picture

Pros:

  • Free to use
  • Easy upload process with no review processes*
  • Not many games on the site so little competition

Cons:

  • No analytics whatsoever that I can find**
  • Despite Kongregate still having a decent sized consumer base, very few of them transferred over to Kartridge

* Despite games being able to launch without a review process, the staff will go back and check games afterwards and then decide if they belong on the store. For instance, my kinetic (no choices) visual novel The Witch in the Forest was on the store for about 12 hours until I got an email saying it didn’t meet their gameplay standards and was manually taken down.

** I’ve searched and searched and searched and even emailed the staff about analytics, with them basically saying “they’ll work on it” (as of January 2019). ​There’s no way to tell downloads on free games, no way to even tell how many views your games have. I believe this could be an oversight but the non-inclusion of them after launch is, as I believe, due to the low user counts that they don’t want to publish.

5. Epic Games Store

I’ll make this and the Discord Store quick since I don’t know much about them- it’s new, it’s still in a mostly closed beta, and analytics for how well they do haven’t been released yet.

Pros:

  • Not many games on the site so little competition

Cons:

  • Stigma against the platform due to exclusives, Tencent, and more
  • Seemingly exclusive beta only for extremely polished indie games

6. Discord Store

The Discord Store is… odd. It’s still very much going through changes and by the time this article has made rounds it’s undoubtedly going to have made even more changes. At one point, there was a tab on Discord that allowed you to see all the games they have- now, that’s gone, and only a select few can be seen on the Nitro tab, making it impossible as of right now to see a list of every game on Discord through the client (even searching games that are definitely on the store doesn’t work on the current Nitro tab). So, how do consumers find your game on Discord? Either via direct link or through an individualized store tab on your server- aka, nothing organic.

Pros:

  • Not many games on the site so little competition

Cons:

  • $25 fee per game
  • No actually store front for every game, only individualized store fronts in various servers

7. IndieDB

Might as well throw this on the list, eh? While it’s not really a gaming platform- it’s a database for indie games, as you can tell from the name- you can still upload and download indie games from it, so I’ll count it.

Picture

Pros:

  • Easy to set up a page
  • Brings in some viewers on its own
  • Makes a press kit for you

Cons:

  • Not meant to be a gaming platform, more of a database for indie games (hence the name)

8. Good Old Games (GoG)

Almost forgot about this one on my list since it’s not very indie friendly at all- as the name implies it used to be mostly older PC titles but has since shifted towards publishing indie and AAA studio titles (read: not solo indie games). While there might be a couple super indie titles on there, the vast majority won’t make it on this site due to their very tiny submission process and strict polish standards- I along with a few friends have been declined from the site multiple times, with one of the games being declined being listed on an indie gem list on Steam.

Pros:

  • Very short initial submission process

Cons:

  • Very high “quality” standards- anything that looks indie or doesn’t have a big studio backing it up won’t be on there 99% of the time


HTML List

1. Itch.io

Already reviewed in the PC list, please see above.

2. Newgrounds

Yes, Newgrounds is still alive and kicking (and actually a decent place to post art both in your gallery and in art threads)! I remember using it as a kid and I’m happy to say it’s still a very active place.

Picture

Pros:

  • Free to use
  • Very easy submission process

Cons:

  • Not a lot of analytics to look at

3. Kongregate

Another one of the oldies, Kongregate has been around for a lot longer than my career and is still kicking.

Picture

Pros:

  • Free to use
  • Easy submission process

Cons:

  • Not a lot of analytics to look at- same developers as Kartridge

4. Armor Games

Again, Armor Games has been around for a long time and is still very active- you can easily get 1,000 views from the site alone within the first couple hours of launch.Pros:

  • Free to use
  • Easy submission process

Cons:

  • Hardly any analytics to look at

5. Game Jolt

Already reviewed above in the PC section.


Final Notes

This is not a fully comprehensive list, as companies are always trying to get a slice of the Steam pie and coming up with new publishing platforms as others go extinct. There are other sites not on this list- I did not include some sites because I do not use them and they are very niche. Or, for example, I did not include DLsite because its audience is not really Western indie games but I do have friends who use it (albeit they admit indie games on there don’t sell much). This list was made in 2019 but edited for 2020.

Not all of the sites listed here will fit your game. Furthermore, as indies we have to remember that making new builds and reuploading them to every single site takes time, so it might not be best for you to publish your game on every platform you can at first. Personally, I publish my commercial games to Steam and Itchio for now, but there are developers who only publish to Itchio and can make a profit.

As always, if you have a question or think I should add something feel free to @ me on Twitter!