The reason for this post is simple. I was about to make one of our regular updates on www.indieDB.com for Major League Wizardry. A game that me and my team has been working on for some time now. Like so many other indie game developers, we’ve made NO money whatsoever. Everything (except from a small grand from Nordic Game Programme) is paid out of our own pockets.
Anyways, while making this update, I thought it would be better to actually share our learnings. I know - many before me has done that - I don’t care. I want to share this in hopes of helping others and also to reflect on our learnings. We haven’t failed or succeeded yet - we’re still struggling! If you’re struggling as well, I hope this post will be of some value for you.
These are my experiences, based on MLW only. I am in no way as experienced as say, Kristian Segerstrale or Markus Persson. I haven’t made millions. In fact MLW hasn’t made one single dollar so far. But I can still share my learnings and I still want to learn from others. This is the only way we get better. So if you disagree with me - that’s great! And you're probably right as well!
Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@davidreeckmann) or email and ask me about anything. I’ll gladly share more and really hope that I can help! Really! Also, if you have different experiences on anything in this list, please share it :)
Alright, so here goes the list of things that I wish I’d knew before making the first game - what a stupid name for a list... :D
Just get it out there. Test it!
Seriously. I am not the first one to say this, I know. But get it out fast, learn and iterate. This is crucial.
Don’t worry about the meta-game at first
Build a strong core and have the meta game evolve around it. Focus on few, simple and compelling features. Add more features later on. Cut it down to the basics in the beginning. I thought we were doing that - turns out we weren’t - not at all.
You can always make it more simple
We have lots of great ideas and they are good to have. We have ideas and concepts about ranking systems, combo systems, guilds, trading, real cards, augmented reality, leveling cards - just to name a few. And they will be implemented at some point - hopefully. But build the core first and write those ideas down.
Focus on content - not features
If you’re game is good, people want more levels/challenges/whatever. The thing is - it is way to easy (and fun!) to develop new ideas for features than to come up with new content.
ALWAYS move in one direction
Don’t waste time discussing everything in the team - make decisions and move on them.
If it’s your first game - focus on one platform
It sounds cool that you can develop to all platforms (iOS, Android and PC/Mac). In reality it’s a little more tricky than that. You need to have different graphics, a good infrastructure/architecture and a plan for how to update to PC. We had a launcher - it was a development project in itself to build it. And in the end, we ended up with a small amount of PC players which didn’t really justify the time spent on developing and updating the PC version. We will add the other platforms later, though.
Focus on single player - don’t build an MMO
We thought we were building an MMO. But really, in the beginning you should focus on the single player experience. We were late to realize that, but we’re now taking steps in order to improve the single player experience.
Don’t waste time on details
There will be plenty of time to go into details. Since things constantly change, going into details in the beginning will be a waste of time.
People don’t care about your game
Accept it. And move on. I’ve only just recently accepted this even though I’ve been told 1000 times.
Marketing is hard - VERY hard
Unless you have experience with it. We didn’t have that, and thus this was something that needed to be learned. And there are many out there who a building a game and want exposure. The best advice I can give is to get involved and give back. Share useful stuff. I’ve only recently started doing that, but wish I had done it a long time ago.
You need to start now with your marketing. But don’t look at AAA marketing. That’s not you. Indie marketing is different. It’s all about helping and joining in on the discussion. A lot of indie game developers gets this. We didn’t. But we do now.
Be transparent - share everything
Again, this is something, we've only recently started by doing. But it is so important. Again - a lot of developers get this. We didn't.
Make some traditional marketing
Of course - some traditional marketing is good. Setting up a Facebook campaign is easy. Do that and see if it does you any good. Reach out to magazines and blogs. But don’t expect to get anything out of it. Even if you do get featured.
Don’t be afraid to share - just do it
If you’re not already a Social Media guru it will be a little strange to share and comment on things. Just do it anyways. There is no easy way (that I know of) and you will learn eventually (At least thats what I hope - I am still failing and learning, every day).
Like you’re game - keep marketing simple
Have screens, a video and short descriptions. Preferably have a link to where people can try your game. And that’s it. Nothing more. I think we have too much on our website.
Don’t spend time on business plans
Building a game as a startup is hard. People will tell you to come up with business plans. Don’t waste time on it. Build your game and company instead.
Don’t get discouraged
We were about to /ragequit when we saw that Hearthstone was being made. A game similar to what we were doing. But don’t quit because of some other company is doing the same. Keep going. And focus on what makes your game good.
Don’t lie, treat the players and testers that actually comments and provide feedback with utmost respect. Respond to them. Make sure that they now they are heard.
Don’t waste too much time on meetings
Have the courage to say no to some meetings
Don’t waste too much time on pitch training
The best training is by doing it for real. So get out there and pitch your game to whoever might listen.
On a personal level
It has to be fun to wake up in the morning
Every morning you need to wake up and think that you have the best job in the world. Otherwise its time to do something else.
This is by far the greatest experience I’ve had so far
And hopefully it will be the same for you!
Don't think you're the expert!
Keep your mind open and take in new ideas, inspiration and guides. Make it your own and use it in your game. Don't ever think you're right.
Hope this was useful. Good to get it out there. Feel free to do whatever you want with this. Let’s help each other make great games and game companies. It is hard. Really hard. But so rewarding and fun. And you’ll learn so much by doing it.
Btw: I am in no way an expert and youre game is probably better than MLW. But lets share and learn! It's the only way we can improve.