This month I am combining my One Game A Month addiction with something new and exciting: the October Challenge. It is a simple challenge: 'Finish a game — Take it to market — Earn $1'.
I have recently been finishing a lot of smaller games thanks to game jams and One Game a Month. This is a great feeling and absolutely every wannabe game developer should start by finishing something. However there is another side to becoming a successful independent game developer, namely marketing your game so more than two people hear about it and polishing your game so that those you reach are willing to throw you some cash.
Join me as I outline my plan to polish, market & release a simple game within a month.
Give Yourself a Boost
First of all don't try and make a complete game from scratch all in one month. It is much safer to pick a gamejam game or playable demo you have previously put together and start from there. If you are anything like me you will have had loads of good ideas to make your previous games even better that you just didn't have time to implement last time you were working on them.
Share Early, Share Often
Clearly you are going to have no marketing budget to speak of, and a 1-month deadline to build the entire game AND sell it is going to be tight. So you need to make the most of your time. It is incredibly important not to get stuck in head-down development of your game all month long. You will not be able to just drop your game onto your marketplace of choice on the last day of the month and announce it with a single tweet. Well, maybe if you are @notch. Instead make it your mission to share everything you do. Start spreading the word from the beginning. Hit up every social network you have after every day's work you do. At a minimum you want to be sharing on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Google+ and whichever online forums you already use.
Have a Game Plan
Spend your first day choosing which game you want to extend & polish. Which of your existing projects was the most fun to play? Which one got shared the most on social networks? Which one could you see yourself buying with just a little more polish? Which one is the most interesting & exciting to explain to a stranger?
Now sketch out some ideas that you think will improve on what you had built before. The key here is to make it good enough that someone is willing to pay for it in some way - even just $1. At this point I'll refer you to this superb guide from 1GAM super champ @McFunkypants. Read that and embrace it. It's a great way to stay focused on what will be important in the month ahead.
A Name and Your First Marketing
At this point you shouldn't actually do any coding yet! Instead it is time to pick a name for your game. Names are important, but don't stress about it too much. What you really want is to pick it early and stick with it. You are going to use this constantly, everywhere, every time you share what you are working on. And you are going to be sharing constantly.
Once you have your shortlist of possible features and a name it is time to write your elevator pitch. This means being able to explain your entire finished game in a single paragraph or less. You want to be able to read this to a friend or stranger and have them be excited about the game.
Doing this early on is going to be extremely helpful. Plus, if all you can say is that it's going to be a game about clicking a cow every 6 hours then maybe you can go back to the last step and look into some more exciting features. Or maybe not!
And now share your elevator pitch. Tweet about it. Post it up on the 1GAM and Ludum Dare subreddits. Don't forget to include your game name! It's exciting and motivational to get people to comment on it at this early stage (hopefully with excitement!) - that's your target. Also reinforcement. By the time you release this baby
the drooling masses your lovely customers won't even know why they want it so bad.
Min Viable Product
Time to get coding! You should aim to get a MVP version of your feature list in about your first two weeks of the month. This means aggressive cutting. Start by prioritising your features and work on the 'must-haves' first. Since you started with a working game you should continue to keep it in this state. At the end of every day if at all possible your game should be playable. Things can be incomplete, slightly buggy or downright missing, but the whole game should never be in such a mess that it won't even compile. And every day it will get better & better. At the end of every day share something. You should be hitting up #screenshotsaturday on Twitter, updating a devlog on Tigsource, and everywhere else you hit up earlier.
Now is also a great time to start asking your friends, family & fellow gamedevs to playtest early versions of your game. Ask for feedback like 'Is this fun yet?' and 'Would you buy this yet?'.
Identify Your Marketplace
Take some time out from building (and sharing! SHARE IT) your game and identify the marketplace you will release on. I would suggest picking just one to be on by the end of the month. You can always add more later on. Check out the excellent Resources & Opportunities page for some ideas. If your game is for mobile the marketplace is pretty easy, or you can go for sponsorship for a flash or html5 game, or even a paypal button on your website to sell direct. Hey, even your granny can set up a paypal button these days so no excuses!
Build A One Page Landing Site
Another thing to take a day out of coding to do is to build a page on your website dedicated to your game. You can use presskit() to make this process painless but it is very important. Your page should include your game's name, the elevator pitch you created earlier, some screenshots (complete work in progress ones are completely fine at this stage), your email address and links to your Twitter account etc. You can also include any feedback you received during your earlier sharing. Any random tweets or reddit responses will do here! You can always go for hilarity, plus you can replace them later with Actual Press Quotes ..
Now you have a destination for your game. Any time anyone has questions or expresses interest in your game, or you are sharing anything as you work, include this link. Massive bonus points if you can set up a pre-ordering system or even an 'email-me-when-its-done' widget on this page.
Polish, Polish, Polish
The later stages of development (say the last week) should be 100% dedicated to polish. That means ironing out bugs, improving your interface, building a proper main menu and tutorial, etc etc. You want your game to have the very best chance of winning over a prospect who happens to glance at a screenshot after reading the first few words of your elevator pitch. Because that's all the attention you will get before they move onto that hilarious cat video. Thanks, Internet!
Now that your game is really starting to be feature complete and starting to look a little better too, it would be a great idea to make a video trailer. This isn't something I've done yet - so anyone with some good advice here would be welcome! It does make for a fantastic asset to sell your game with however. Put it into your destination page (right up top), and share that bad boy.
Time to get your game up on your marketplace and into the hands of your
brainwashed eager fans. Allow at least a day for any integration issues, and definitely make sure you have an account on the service ready weeks in advance if you aren't selling direct. Also do things like update your screenshots on your destination page with the latest build, and add a link to your marketplace there. When it is possible for someone to buy it is time to Announce Your Game. Hit up every social space you've been sharing on for a massive push. Contact some actual journalists. Tell your mom! Surely she's good for a dollar (insert your mom joke here).
And finally and importantly it is time to give yourself a massive pat on the back, Champ. You did it!