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Second Stage of Game Development: Sustain

If you're in this stage, trust me, you'll know it. Why? Because every day you'll find yourself juggling a million necessary tasks that distract from game design. One development group is in the thick of it - this is what we can learn from them.

[For the previous article on the 3 stages of game development, a helpful precurser to this article, see my blog post "Indie Entrepreneurs" or visit my website here.]

Square Gamez, a three-man group scattered throughout south England, have a game, full-time jobs, and they have a problem. There are variables – lots of variables – coming their way now that their game has released. And what does that even mean – released? Sure, it’s out on Android, but even that version needs tweaking, and what of other platforms?

Then there’s the matter of exposure. People don’t just scour the cellar of game releases and try everything that comes along. They have to hear about a game, and studies show that people won’t even take action on something until they’ve been exposed to it from multiple angles multiple times, which means some major marketing chops are needed going forward.

And have you ever seen YouTube comments? Some people on the internet can be major dicks, and you’ve basically invited them in. How do you satisfy customers who shelled out money for your game? These, among other things, were the concerns Simon and his friends at Square Gamez were dealing with, and their game was only out there for two weeks.

Life at this stage is about juggling a lot of balls in the air at once. It’s called Sustain for a reason: the balls are already up there; your job now is to make sure they all stay in motion. And that, my friends, takes energy and wise delegation skills.

Here are the most common issues developers face in the sustain phase.

 

Pitfalls

Exhaustion: Yep, that’s right. Just straight-up tired. This is the stage where being a One-Man Army will get you peppered full of holes. Try holding down a full-time job, releasing a game, and juggling marketing, finances, bug fixes, feature additions, multiple platform releases, slamming tequila shots, crying in the shower – you get the point. Delegating these tasks amongst the group is essential; otherwise you’ll end up with one poor sack who bears the brunt of work and makes life miserable for himself and everyone else. Don’t be that guy. Nobody likes that guy. Just delegate and save everyone some pain.

Business Savvy: There were things you probably didn’t learn in school that suddenly, with the release of a game, you’ve got to become an expert on. Simon put it succinctly when he said, “We’ve only just released our first game and we need to put an equal amount of time into marketing it as we did into developing it.” This catches some people off guard – that your life can so quickly turn from what you enjoy doing to something you’ve never done. And which university teaches programmers how to be marketers? Which teaches artists the basics of bookkeeping? Not many – but now you’ve got to start learning, and learning fast.

Burning Holes in Pockets: You’ve got a little bit of cash. Not much, really, but just enough to be dangerous. What to spend it on when so much seems pressing? Should you put out ads, hire another freelance artist, or get some fat stacks and make it rain? Probably the latter – just make sure I’m around when you do.The truth is, you should be as frugal as possible at this stage. Do whatever you can for free, and never – never ever – pull money out of the business. The name of the game here is reinvestment. What you invest in depends largely on what will get you more exposure and more money, and that fluctuates wildly with the people on your team and the type of game you’re developing. More on this in a later article.

 

Benefits

Okay, so that’s the bad, but what, you may be asking, is the upside of juggling all these balls? First off, you get damn good at juggling. Your first major release is the greatest crash course in business management you’ll probably ever have, and even if you don’t make it through, you’ll be better off than the developers who don’t make it out of the gate.

And then there’s the sweet taste of personal accomplishment on your lips. Mmmm… accomplishment. So good.

But seriously, it’s an endorphin high that’s well deserved when you and your team are fighting in the trenches and get your first savor of success. You might be tempted to get, “This I built” tattooed on your lower back (and let’s be honest… you probably already have) but don’t get carried away. Focus on these recommendations and put that energy burst to good use.

 

 

Recommendations

Learn the strengths of the team. The people you work with will make or break a company, so it pays in spades to evaluate what each person brings to the table. Perhaps your programmer is shy but rocks at research. Have someone else man the PR function while you delegate monetization channels to him instead. Teams work best when everyone works in their optimal areas. While this isn’t always possible, do what you can with what you have and make sure to cover the areas you are weak in extra carefully.

And invest wisely. Choose to spend money in areas that will likely return that investment. Simon put it to me this way, “As a real indie operation it comes down to time and money,” and while there are hundreds of other variables, those are the two that matter most. Invest that time and money in your weakest links. Bring them up to a serviceable standard, because it is the weakest chain in the process that always limits businesses the most.

Then you will find, almost naturally, that you flow into the final stage. (More on that later)

RecsSustain

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