Game development is quickly becoming one of the most attractive hobbies for people who like to spend a lot of time in front of their computers, even those who don’t have much experience in programming.
The industry is moving fast. It’s growing in some surprising directions, and right now is probably the best time to hop on board and present your ideas to the world. And yet, releasing even one game, let alone a successful one, is a task so daunting that many beginners simply give up before their first year is over.
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This article is not about programming, art, or any particular aspect of making an actual game. Instead, it’s about all the side details that often get ignored by the excited amateur designer eager to put their creativity to work. As it turns out, details are just as important as technical know-how in the long run.
Market early, market well
There’s an old cliché that says, “if you build it, they will come,” and it’s probably responsible for a good number of failures in the gaming industry. No matter how many countless nights you spend perfecting your gameplay and polishing every little detail to perfection, it will all be for nothing if you don’t make an active effort to bring your game to people’s attention.
Sure, occasionally, someone will get lucky enough to make it big while skipping that requirement. Maybe a popular YouTuber will randomly come across your game and post a great review of it. But make no mistake – if you want to make a name for yourself as a game developer, you will inevitably have to get your hands dirty with marketing sooner or later. And anything other than “as soon as possible” is often too late.
How you’re going to do that deserves an article of its own and is a bit beyond the scope of this one, but the critical thing to remember is that you don’t necessarily have to spend any money on your marketing campaign to make it work.
Recording a few catchy GIFs and posting them on sites like Reddit, Twitter, and Instagram is one of the easiest ways to draw some attention to your game. Just be careful with the rules for self-promotion that each of those communities has, as it’s often frowned upon to continually post link after link to your product while ignoring everything else.
Embrace failure and get rid of your “completionist” attitude
Are you the kind of person who cannot leave a project unfinished? No matter how bad things may be going, you will always persevere and see things through to the end. Bad news – you’ll have to leave that attitude behind if you want to get ahead in the game industry.
For every successful one-person game you see out there, the person behind it has probably abandoned at least a dozen projects in various stages of completion before releasing that one. This is especially true if you’re new to making games, in which case it’s a good idea to even start your first few projects with the clear intention of never releasing them. Treat them as your playground for learning the ropes, so you’ll have the necessary skills once you get that really promising idea.
It often happens that an idea sounds great on paper, but once you throw together a quick prototype, some odd flaw surfaces that you would have never thought about during your brainstorming sessions. Sometimes that flaw will even be bad enough to kill the whole project.
And that’s fine! Hopefully, you’ve at least learned something along the way, and you may even be able to reuse some components of your failed prototype later on.
Once you get up to speed with prototyping games fast enough, a good rule of thumb is never to spend more than a week on any particular idea. Of course, there are some exceptions to this, but for the most part, any idea you can’t bring to a fun, playable condition in less than one week is probably not worth pursuing further.
Another great exercise to help you get in the habit of turning your ideas into actual gameplay (and abandoning them without any hard feelings) is to join a game jam. These are very short competitions (usually a few days long) in which you create a game from scratch, typically revolving around a specific theme. They’re great for training yourself on identifying the critical components of your idea and focusing on them.
Make the games that YOU want to play
This may sound like an obvious one, but far too many people end up obsessing over making a game that will sell well. After all, as we described in the marketing section above, you want to be noticed, right? Don’t fall for the trap of analyzing the current industry trends, looking for patterns, and so on. As long as you can picture yourself having fun with your finished product, you’re on the right track.
You may be limiting your audience by doing that, but it’s much better to be hugely successful in a tight niche than moderately successful in the grand scheme of things. On the other hand, basing your work on market trends will inevitably lead to feeling burned out. If you’re making a game for others, every step of the process will feel like a chore. And you didn’t join this industry to do tasks, did you?
On that note, finding a partner aligned with your vision can be a significant boost to your motivation and creativity, but be careful, as it’s a giant double-edged sword. If you’re struggling with your motivation in the first place, joining forces with someone else can only compound those feelings if you end up losing interest in the project and you realize that you’re disappointing someone other than yourself.