After the latest round of testing I arrived at a conundrum I was not sure how to fix it. So I thought - I already asked my testers for feedback, why not turn that into a dialogue? Heck, why not extend it further to other areas? Marketing and business development folks have been doing market testing for decade, after all.
I think plot is one of the easiest things to run by people, especially since they don't even have to be gamers. You know you got a good thing going when you see that "a-ha!" face explaining the plot twist. But the unique aspect of games is their interactivity, so branching storytelling may be difficult to explain and visualize.
Such is the case with Karaski where the story and dialogue changes shape based on countless different variables. Luckily, I could pull on the testers who already played it, as well as my awesome former writer Danny Homann who was more than happy to bounce ideas yet again. There's also the IGDA Writers Chapter with plenty of talented folk to talk to.
I cannot take credit for this, but its a concept so important it needs repeating - run your pitches and prototypes by your friends, even before you start working on them! No, on one is gonna steal your one million dollar idea* and getting feedback as early as possible can save you a TON of time figuring out the elusive "fun" factor.
(*my personal opinion: stealing ideas is easy, but it's the hard months spent actually implementing them properly that make the difference. And most people are lazy. Plus, if you really think your game is gonna be exactly like your initial idea after months of iterating, you're likely deluding yourself)
Instead of sitting in your room digging yourself into tunnel vision, why not go and ask others what makes your game great? They are, after all, your target audience. I like to ask my testers to sum up my game in one sentence and give a list of 3 favorite features. But it can go even further then that - have you heard of A/B and focus testing?
Karaski is a genuinely good game (if testers can be trusted), but I've been having a hard time explaining its "unique selling point" due to the unusual and complex nature. So when I was at GDC I would literally run from person to person asking if I can pitch my 1 minute spiel, refining and experimenting as I went along. Later, I posted on the extremely helpful Reddit GameDev Sub's weekly feedback threads, and even made a post on TigSource titled "Tell me why my game sucks." Overall, the more people you ask, the more you can narrow down how to really get people hyped for your game.
(And as a bonus, all this "marketing research" you're doing actually counts AS marketing and gets new people interested)
This is a weird one here, but bear with me. When you settle on a good work mode, be it agile SCRUM, moving cards on Trello, or just sticking things into Excel, why not share your approach and get feedback from fellow devs? Sites like GameDev.net and aforementioned reddit and TigSource were created exactly for that. Who knows, maybe others did the same and can save you months of hassles? Maybe they can help you optimize the process?
I event went as far as asking for recommendations and experiences with PR firms and translators for my game, and it definitely came in handy. But don't be lazy and do some research first. And share what you learned before asking for more resources!
I used to shy away from sharing my ideas and concepts early, wanting to only present the most polished product. But after 6 years of game dev I finally realize it's exactly this sharing that makes the polish happen. You will not know how to improve something until you get feedback, so the earlier you get it the better.
The above is just a starter list to give you motivation and ideas for how to open up to the community more. It's critical to get feedback from your target audience early and experiment with your ideas and approaches. Because once you finally get to the point when you have to win them over, you only get one chance.
The Big Caveat - Don't Sell Out!
This approach is meant as another tool your in disposal, not one true path to success. It may be alluring to focus-test the hell out of every minuscule detail and basically engineer your game purely to sell. But that would leave it with no soul (just look at the countless mobile game rehashes).
Don't forget your vision. Testing is meant to help you refine your gem, not throw it away in favor of an icecream cone. Just because some testers tell you one thing does not mean you have to listen. Sometimes, purposefully going against expectations is what makes a game great, as the recent Undertale shows. Making the call is difficult, but it can only come with experience. So go, design, test, refine, and make awesome games!
Comrade LISTEN! The Glorious Commonwealth's first Airship has been compromised! Who is the saboteur? Who can be saved? Uncover what the passengers are hiding and write the grisly conclusion of its final hours in an open-ended, player-driven adventure. Dziekujemy!
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