According to new data released by Newzoo, 2020’s global games market will generate revenues of $159.3 billion. Therefore, that, along with its “fun factor”, draws people toward the game industry like a siren’s call. The truth is, I have run into too many people who at some point decided that they wanted to enter game development. And they picked up an engine, and they started diving in and they quit before they ever finished their first game because the experience was just frustrating.
Without proper organization, the game development process may seem like it’s going nowhere. Pixune has quite a lot of collective game-making experience, so hopefully, some of our advice here will help you avoid the common pitfalls. So, let’s start with the most common and dangerous one.
Laying a Solid Foundation
No matter the nature of your project, there are some principles that hold true. These principles can be applied to any kind of project, but we have tailored them around the topic of Game Development.
Set a Realistic Scope
The first thing you’re going to want is to be careful about scoping the project. We briefly discussed understanding the scope of the project in another article found here. Many people pick up a game engine dreaming of making the types of games they play.
However, this often just is not possible. Games like “Sekiro” or “Witcher” are made by teams of at least 40 people, sometimes way more than 40 people, over the course of several years.
Even if you’re just amazing and you throw your whole life into creating your game, you’re not going to make a “The Last of Us” or a “Witcher”. Not even close, and especially not on your first attempt. Truth is, you’re not even going to create something like Super Mario Bros. as your first game. You *may* create like, 1 level’s worth of Super Mario.
Your goal with your first game development should be to get something built that you could actually play, even in the most rudimentary fashion, as soon as possible. Think of your first game as a learning exercise, not your masterwork.
If your dream game is precious to you, then save it for when you’re ready, or you’ll make a mess of it.
If you start with a huge project, you’ll find that you don’t even know where to begin. As a result, you’ll get bogged down doing little bits and pieces that have no tangible result, and it will seem like you’re not making any progress at all, and you’ll hit roadblocks that you don’t know how to overcome, simply to be left flailing for what to even work on next Trust me, Keep It Simple.
If your first attempt at making a game turns out to be a one-room platformer with a bad collision, be proud of that because you built it. You actually got it done. You made a game. That’s more than most people ever manage.
Keep Your Chin Up!
Play your game, and show it to your friends, and don’t worry when they don’t understand it or are critical because they’re still thinking in terms of the big-budget games they’re used to playing. *You* know how much work went into making that game. More importantly, you know that next time you’ll be able to do it even better and faster. Soon, you’ll be building games that people are asking you to let them play.
The second thing to keep in mind, (and, I know that this is going to sound weird but) don’t go into your first game development with a specific idea.
Learn what you can do, and design around that. To clarify, don’t lock yourself into an idea and beat your head against it for weeks or months. Instead, learn a few tricks, watch a few tutorials, then start working towards something you’re pretty sure you can build.
Don’t be afraid of the dark
It’s okay if there are still a few parts of it that you have no idea how to even start. But make sure it’s only a few parts when you’re breaking your projects down and planning things out. Which brings us to tutorials.
Any major engine has tons of people who happily make tutorials about pretty much everything. Go find them. Watch them. Study them. Then, if you’re stuck or if you can’t find an answer to your question, just ask or seek professional help. You’d be shocked at how many people are happy to help you through things if you just post on a forum or throw your thoughts onto the message boards.
Don’t be afraid of coding. Lots of people say that they can’t code, but if you design your game right, you would be shocked at how little coding you have to do to get something done.
Take Advantage of Your Strengths
Design your game around *your* skills. Part of understanding your scope is understanding your resources and, in this case, *you* are your resources. Are you a great artist but you’ve never coded in your life?
In that case, have your game lean on your art skills while pushing you just enough on the code side that you learn some new things. Are you somebody who can’t draw or model or animate? That’s alright. There are plenty of great games out there that get away with what you’d call minimum graphics. If you’re working as a small team of friends, make sure that they also keep to their strengths. Even then you will certainly face certain limitations.
Accept that, and embrace it as part of your design. Constraints force us to be creative. And if there’s something you really just *have* to have, if there’s some coding task or some piece of art that you game just can’t live without but you just don’t have the chops to do it outsourcing would be your best option.
Take Advantage of Outsourcing
You will be amazed at how outsourcing can ease things up and boost your project. There are many reasons as to why and when you should outsource parts of your game. If you consider the time as the most precious commodity, you’d be saving a lot of resources with outsourcing. You can research the skills you lack for the game you want to create, but it’s’ going to take a lot of time, and even then you can’t do it as well as a professional studio who specializes in that sort of thing.
There is an amazing amount of stuff that you can outsource for a very reasonable price. Even Pixune does it sometimes! So, for one of our game development projects, we talked to a professional sound studio that picked up our entire sound effects and did a fanatic job for a price that we considered as a steal.
I really wish we had this sort of thing when Pixune started out working on game development. So take advantage of it.
Last but not least…
Above all, don’t give up. There is a lot of life that’s gonna get in the way. Most people start out doing this between juggling a job or a school schedule and it’s easy to let days and then weeks pass before you get back to working on your game.
It’s going to be a struggle at first, no question. I wish I had more comforting words for you, but all I can say is that most things worth doing are a struggle. But if you stick with it, one day you’ll have the option to make games *instead* of having to do all that other stuff.
But that’s it for the basics. Maybe you already knew this stuff, but it’s often that real high-level basic stuff that people forget.
To sum it up so far:
So we gave you general tips for the basics of game development:
- Set a small Scope
- Build around your talents
- Ask the internet or outsource if you get stuck
- Don’t give up
10 Rules to Save Time & Energy
Next, we’ll discuss the practical ground rules for making your first game. There are a lot of tutorials out there that cover how to do the programming or create the art for your first game. So we’re going to stick to giving you the best practices for how to actually approach the project itself.
So for your first tip, don’t plan a project that you think will take you more than a month. Remember You’re going to be getting better with every game you build and you’ll actually often be better off Just tossing your first project aside and starting from scratch after you’ve gotten it out there and learned all you can from it.
It’s going to take you more than a month, but don’t sweat it! You won’t have many frames of reference when you’re planning that first game you’re going to create and even the most hardened professionals have learned over time to just take their best scheduling estimate and then add 50% to it. Because surprise always come up in game development and each game presents its own unique challenges
So if you exceed your one-month deadline don’t panic. It happens, but if you’re coming up on three months, well, you probably scoped too large. Take what you’ve learned and start something smaller next time.
Don’t worry too much about the design of your first game. It kills me as a game designer to say this but don’t spend weeks designing systems or mechanics that you don’t even know if you can implement yet. Just get to building something as quickly as you can, the experience is way more valuable than the end results this time around
Set milestones. This one sounds obvious but it can be so easy to ignore on a small project. If you estimate your project should take you about a month set yourself a milestone goal for every week.
Take those big milestone tasks and break them down even further. If you plan any tasks that you’ve listed as taking more than a week, its’ probably best to break it down into smaller tasks. This is true for pretty much any game you’ll ever build. For example, building a graphics engine or completing character art are way too big to be a single task. Implementing hardware instancing or Rigging the main character are at least closer, but you can probably break those down even further.
Having a granular task list will help you plan better keep you on track and make you feel like you’re really accomplishing things as you take them off the list
Send yourself producer emails at the beginning of each week send yourself an email saying what you did last week. Then explain what you plan to do this week, and compare that with last week’s email. This is a quick and dirty way of making sure that things don’t fall off the production schedule. It will also help you organize your time each week.
Review your game development process at least once a week even if life gets hectic. If your job or school gets in the way of you making a lot of progress on your game, make time at least to look at your game. Just for a half-hour once a week. It’s really easy to let two weeks slip by without touching your game. Then when you finally get back to it you’ll find yourself totally lost and not remembering what you were doing or where you are at. This is the point at which a lot of people quit, don’t let that happen to you.
Don’t worry about production values. A lot of people get derailed by trying to make their first game look or sound good. Don’t worry about that if your game plays amazing you’ll have plenty of time to work on the polish later. Unless you’re adding one of those polish touches just to learn how to do it, none of it matters for your first game. Keep in mind, there are a lot of great games out there that are made of nothing but moving squares. Anyone who has enjoyed Tetris or Minecraft knows what I’m talking about.
Don’t spend more than one hour trying to solve anything yourself. If you find yourself stuck on a problem, take a stab at it because it’ll help you learn. However, you shouldn’t be spending more than an hour on any individual problem in your game. Given that it’s your first game, everything you’re trying to do probably has an excellent tutorial out there for it. Use those resources. Or better yet, ask for professional help. One of the most common quitting points for first-time developers is spending a week making no progress on a problem that a professional could have helped them solve in minutes.
I know that many of us -myself included- want to solve everything ourselves. But take advice from someone who’s learned this the hard way and don’t try to do that. Outsourcing studios are the perfect place to seek help. Their services come at a much lower price than a big game development company and It’s likely that they will provide you with better quality work since they specialize at such things.
I confidently recommend our own Pixune for getting help with any part of your project, from art to narrative to client-side development. Our unmatched prices come without sacrificing quality, and so Pixune is the perfect place for you to seek help and maybe make new friends!
You should get people to test your game. This is incredibly important since you will learn an unbelievable amount just from seeing how people play what you’ve created. It’s easy to be embarrassed or shy about these things. Because It’s easy to look at other games out there and say:
“wow, my game does not measure up to that! I’ll show people my game once I have something that’s good enough.”
But trust me, the path to making great games is marked by all the real feedback you’ll have from people actually playing your earlier work. Don’t Deny yourself that Incredible resource. If you want more information on how to get effective data from your tests, please refer to this article by testbytes.
Hopefully, these guidelines should serve to help you get your first game out in no time. Well, three months at most. If you find yourself struggling, cut stuff to find the smallest possible game you can make. If a difficult feature is a must-have for your game, seek help. Create that version, and once that’s done find one or two new things that you’d like to experiment with and base your next game around those ideas.
If you keep things small, you can keep blazing your way through these projects. You’ll find that by the time a year is out, you’ll really be able to make games that let you experiment with a huge range of design ideas and game types. If you’re wondering just how to keep your game small, keep reading for a dive into prototyping and the idea of MVP (Minimum Viable Product).
So far, we’ve stressed how important it is to make your first game something small. But this is so important that we’re going to dedicate a good portion of this article to it. This will serve you in good stead not only when you’re going for game development, but also in prototyping for anything else you do.
In the game development (or any other similar project) there is a term called a minimum viable product. It refers to the smallest thing you can possibly make that will still give you useful data once released. That should be your goal. Even when you’re called to work on a multi-million-dollar project that has a development time of three years, one of the first things that you’ll notice is that they try to follow the same guideline.
When you can actually play your game, you’ll discover all sorts of things that you didn’t account for when you were just designing the game in your head. You’ll find edge cases where your mechanics are broken or places where your game just falls apart. You’ll find what’s really engaging rather than just trying to build something that you hope is engaging. And you’ll discover what will have the most value to the experience you’re creating.
So you’ve heard me say “cut” over and over again. But when you think you’re done cutting, you’re probably not done cutting. However, you do have to stop cutting sometime. So how do we determine when we’re done to that minimum viable product?
Case Studies: How Much is Enough?
This one is a bit tough and you’re going to get better at it with experience. But the basic idea is to find the absolute minimum set of features that won’t affect core development. If you could cut a feature and still technically ship your game, it’s probably not part of your MVP.
Because this is as much as an art as it is a science, let’s run through some examples so we’re on the same footing.
let’s start with super Mario brothers. What do we need in order to test if the fundamental gameplay of Super Mario Brothers is engaging? What is the minimum that we can build and test before deciding if what we have is something worth expanding upon with additional features?
Well, do we need Koopas (Turtle Enemies)? No. Fire flowers? Nope. Bowser the boss? Nope. Pipes that you can climb down? Not at all. Water levels? mushrooms? hidden blocks? extra lives? All are unnecessary for Mario’s MVP.
So what do we need? For Mario, the minimum viable product is probably one level where you can move, jump, and fall into pits. That’s it. If just that much is engaging, you’ll be able to add all those other features later and make it even better.
But if running along and jumping over pits doesn’t feel good, Super Mario Brothers simply doesn’t work. No matter how many extra features you throw in, it won’t change that fact.
I can’t stress this enough: Core mechanics are everything
So you’ve got to make sure of that core is working first. Although in this particular case, I’d probably throw into other features that aren’t strictly necessary. They will add to the game development duration, but they will make a big difference.
First, a trigger that resets the level of the player falls into the pit, just so testing is easier. Second, the ability to change from walking to running since the Mario jump mechanic is so dependent on the run button. But that’s it. One level with 3 basic features and you’ve got a game.
More is less here.
Don’t believe something this simple could be engaging? Well set the character to autorun and you’ve basically built Temple Run. When building your first game or prototyping a larger one you’ll find that you can strip out all of the content; All of the things that aren’t rules that control the play itself, but rather elements that are created out of those rules.
Therefore, enemy types, levels, different weapons, all of that can usually get cut. You might want to include one thing from each category just to test larger rules. But no more than that! Because it’s really easy to get mired down and make all of that content.
The truth is games with lots of content but without a solid foundation are rarely good, perhaps worse than average. As a creator, when your games packed with content it’s generally harder to figure out why the foundation is not working.
If you test your prototype with a lot of content thrown in it, it’ll be harder for players to put their fingers on exactly what it is that needs improvement. In other words, all of that content just clutters what’s wrong and they’ll be more likely to tell you about bad pieces of content than the underlying reasons why that content didn’t create a positive experience. It just adds complexity in a situation where you really need to be honing your game’s core foundation.
Ok, let’s try old-school JRPGs. This one can fool people because most designers tend to think of these games in terms of content rather than gameplay. It’s easy to get caught up in the story you want to tell or the massive list of items and enemies. But if the player has to slog through 80 hours of week gameplay in order to access that story you’ve got in mind, you’ve done your player a disservice.
In fact, that’s some of what contributed to the decline in the popularity of traditional JRPGs in this decade. So take a game like Final Fantasy 4. Here I would cut everything but the menu-based combat system. I would even cut out all the graphics, monsters can just be words on the screen. That’s really all you need to test your game development efficiency during the prototype stage.
Many of you might object saying “But that doesn’t work. I can’t make that engaging without the content.”. This is actually great though! And it’s kind of the whole point. If they can’t enjoy it at all, it immediately tells us that we should probably find a more robust system.
Shoot ‘em up
Let’s try one final example. This time let’s look at Ikaruga, a Shoot ’em Up classic where you can change the color of your fighter to avoid damage. If your fighter is the same color as the enemy, you, bullets won’t hurt you. Here we could probably cut down to the color-switching mechanic and enemy which switches color randomly and shoots random bullet patterns.
You can add more features to your MVP if the one-month time table allows it.
Maybe you randomly choose from a small list of pre-built bullet patterns as that wouldn’t be too hard to construct. Also, you’ll need the ability for the player to move and to shoot. A counter which goes upward as you shoot the enemy, and a death mechanic that simply resets the game when the player gets hit.
This will get you all the player behavior you need to find out if your game is engaging. Your players will try to dodge and shoot the enemy while attempting to take advantage of the color swapping system as much as possible. That’s all you need. Hopefully, that helps you frame your thinking about just how small your first project should be.
Now I’m going to give you a quick and dirty list of game genres ordered by how difficult they are to create an MVP for. This is only going to apply to digital games, some of these genres are actually much easier to build a pen and paper or board games for. Also, this list isn’t by any means absolute. As game engines change and evolve, this list is going to become outdated.
Game Genres Ranked by Development Difficulty
Game genres in order of difficulty to produce a minimum viable product from simplest to most difficult:
- Racing Game
- Top Down Shooter
- 2D Platformer
- Color Matching Puzzle Game
- 2D Puzzle Platformer
- 3D Platformer
- Fighting Game
- Action Adventure
- Western RPG
I’m leaving Point And Click Adventure Games here, as those games are entirely built out of content. So while getting a Point And Click Game up and running is relatively easy, getting anything together that’ll actually tell you if you’re on to something engaging is a lot harder.
You’ll notice I’m also leaving out anything network-related or multiplayer, as that generally multiplies the complexity. Plus, I strongly recommend avoiding multiplayer stuff entirely for your first game development. Again, don’t think of these genres in terms of the games you know!
When I say Racing Game, don’t think “Gran Turismo” or “Forza”. Think 2 grey blocks on a black background with acceleration and collision mechanics. That is all you need to hit that minimum viable product or prototype stage. Then you can really start to get it out there and play it to learn what’s needed to improve it. You can always build from there later and add more cool features.
Your game will be better off for having spent the time testing and refining the foundation of your game idea. As a result, this is way more productive than dreaming up a project which is far too big to ever tackle. Hopefully, that helps you decide where to start and how far to scope down.
Every journey begins with a single step
Just start small, keep it simple, and don’t worry about the rest. You’ll learn as you go, and there are plenty of other such articles here that’ll help get you started. StackExchange is also a fantastic place to look if you have questions. If you decided to outsource any part of your game, we will be happy to provide you with a free analysis and quote for your needs.
I sincerely hope this article helped you to kick-off your project. So, have you ever thought about going for game development and eventually create your dream game? What stopped you from going for it? Was it coding? or art? Tell us in the comments and I’ll try my best to help you out 🙂