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9 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Game Dev

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
  • Marketing
  • Distribution

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.

General

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

Marketing

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.

Distribution

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!