This article is originally posted on my personal website.
Last weekend I participated in Seattle’s iFest, a local Indie game expo hosted by the Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE). As I walked around in awe of the talent and optimism on display, I became overwhelmed by the amount of sheer manpower (mostly unpaid) that went into building these games. Many of the serious teams I talked to have been working on their projects for over a year and were showing off their projects for the first time.
I really hope all these games find not just critical, but financial success. But the harsh reality of this business is that many of them won’t – and it has nothing to do with creativity.
As Indie Devs, it’s not a lack of creativity that prevents us from realizing our dreams: it’s a lack of time.
Eventually, I’m confident every one of these developers will build a hit game that resonates with a paying audience. Unfortunately, in order to get there, you’ve got to sift through a lot of bad prototypes.
Successful games are almost NEVER born on a first, second, or third try. Just ask Ed McMillian, creator of the multi-million dollar success of The Binding of Isaac. In a 2o12 interview, McMillian admits that he “made 37 games … I was poor for 10 years” before eventually finding financial success with Super Meat Boy.
But what if you don’t have 10 years of time to produce a hit game? Is there anything we can do, as Indie Developers to decrease the time it takes to produce a hit? To find an answer, I headed to Bellevue, WA to attend a panel of Game Development Founders at the 2016 Power of Play conference, and I asked about their process of how they determine internally if a new game will be a hit.
Jeff Pobst of Hidden Path Entertainment, the makers of Counterstrike Go explained to me that the key was to spend all of early development time working on the core game loop. “Throughout development, games will evolve and change greatly – but what always stays the same is that core idea, or core game loop that made the game so much fun in the first place.” If you don’t have a good game loop, you probably shouldn’t try doing anything else.
In this day, its hard to even figure out if you have a good game loop or not. The only way to know for sure, is to share you game with the world AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE. Many developers on reddit refer to this idea as the gif test. If your game can’t captivate a reddit audience with a single .gif, then it probably isn’t worth pursuing unless you have a secret marketing weapon up your belt.
Take Clustertruck developed by Landfall Games as a prime example. The idea for Clustertruck was developed over the course of two weeks and shared with the reddit community. After their initial .gif of a person jumping between a cluster of speeding trucks was released, the gif went viral, and the team knew they had a hit on their hands.
Another great example is the development of the puzzle gameTumblestone by Ty Taylor and Alex Schearer. At a recent Seattle Indies meetup, Alex told me they validated Tumblestone by entering it game development competitions early and often. Due to a solid core game loop, Tumblestone began winning awards only a week after development of the game started (it started as a submission for a 48-hour games showcase competition.) Because Tumblestone continually won awards due to its solid core game loop, they decided to continue to develop it with the confidence that it would be a big hit.
Not every successful game is as gifable as ClusterTruck, and just because an early stage idea doesn’t win a 48-hours games competition doesn’t mean its garbage. But without these powerful tools, it will that much more difficult for you to generate momentum with the fully released version. In this day in age Indie Devs experience fierce competition and are constantly under the time gun. The quicker we can learn to move on, the faster we can get to game #38.