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What Makes a Game a Success?

Game development isn't easy. There are many factors other than codes and commands that are needed to create a playable game, but a playable game is not the recipe for success. As they say "success leaves clues," and we went to find them.

Ben Sim, Blogger

March 2, 2017

10 Min Read

Game developing ain’t a walk in the park. There are so many factors, other than just codes and commands, developers must consider when creating a new game. You can create a game with the most beautiful graphics and visuals, but without adding extra layers to it, your game can easily fail in the market. Ensure that your game can stand out in the myriad of video and/or mobile games by considering the aspects below. I have also included several examples to inspire any developers out there in your game-making journey (don’t worry, it’s spoiler free!).


Target Your Audience

Before proceeding into the actual built of the game, first figure out what type of game you want to create and who your target audience is. If you aim to create an open world first-person survival horror game like Dying Light or maybe a story driven third-person action-adventure game like Uncharted or The Last Guardian, make sure people from all ages can understand the controls. Games like the upcoming Agony, for example, where you play as a man trying to survive in the depths of hell, will most probably get an 18+ rating, and won’t garner any attraction from children, thus, will make you lose a large group of audience.


Story is Key

Like any good movies or television shows, a game needs a good plot line for it to be playable. The storyline and characters need to feel real; real enough for the players to relate and associate themselves with the game. There has to be a progression and character development for the story to be realistic and to avoid monotonous, and frankly, boring gameplay. Whether you want the story to be a tearjerker or have a surprising and frustrating twist, all these elements can be a great addition to your game’s plot line. As an example, here are some games with the best storylines in the past few years.


  • The Last of Us. The story about Ellie and Joel trying to make it in a zombie-infested world has more depth that most blockbusters. The plot is beautifully written, and it explores the relationship between a hardened, tragedy-stricken man, and a teenager whose childhood has been robbed by the pandemic. The key to the plot is when Ellie turns out to be immune to the zombie virus and Joel is appointed to escort her across the state so a cured can be made from her genes. The story, in a nutshell, highlights the importance of humanity in a world where it slowly ceases to exist.

  • Firewatch. The year is 1989. You are a fire lookout in the wilderness located somewhere in Wyoming. Equipped only with a walkie-talkie to socialize with a fellow lookout Delilah, they must solve the disappearances of two men that happened years ago. The game is themed around self-imposed isolation, and uses dialogue to evoke a “Hitchcockian sense of fear.” Although simple, the dialogue and storyline engages the player so they keep on playing and discovering the truth behind the story.

  • BioShock. Where should I start with this game? This game makes you question philosophical concepts like socialism, capitalism, and fundamentalism through the eyes of Jake, a plane crash survivor who discovered an underwater city called Rapture. Rapture founder Andrew Ryan wanted to build a place of true rapture (hence the name) where people can live free from “parasites”, or people who support liberal, left-wing politics. Travel through the city of Rapture as you and Jake discover the daunting secrets that lies beneath the paradise. This game may be a decade old, but the story contains essential lessons you can take away, especially in the sociopolitical state of the world today.


Create an Immersive Gameplay

Once you’ve locked down your storyline, make sure the gameplay is also as interesting. Interaction with other characters and items must always have a meaning and can contribute to the progression of the game. Look at the games below to get different ideas on how immersion in games work.


  • Until Dawn. This interactive survival horror drama game follows the story of 8 teenagers in the wintery mountains of Alberta trying to survive the night from a mysterious predator. This game allows the players to explore different storylines and endings. In a game where the gameplay is mostly character-driven, players are introduced to the concept of the “butterfly effect”, where every choice you make in the game will affect the result and fate of all the characters. With the endless ending possibilities, you can go back and replay the game to explore all the different games. Other similar games with the same gameplay mechanics are Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain.

  • The Walking Dead. Similar to the game above, games by Telltale are story driven. Although movement is limited to walking around one area at a time, the highly-praised The Walking Dead combines an amazing story telling and immersive gameplay. You control Clementine, a little girl who joined a band of survivors amid a zombie pandemic identical to the premise of the comics and television show. As the story progresses, Clementine must make decisions that are vital to the survival of the group. While not every character can be saved, the choices players made can alter the fate of the characters and the outcome of the game.

  • Lifeline. As the only mobile game entry in this list, Lifeline is definitely unique. Lifeline proves that you don’t need to spend your budget on graphics to make the game more successful. It is a text-based game that requires you to assist the main character through choices that could change the ending of the game. Protagonist Taylor is a genderless spaceship cadet who is stranded on a foreign planet while dangerous alien parasites following closely behind. Through its plotline, this game is reminiscent of classic alien movies like The Thing, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Predators and, of course, Alien.


Put Technology to Use

The best thing about the present is the technological advancement. Video games now can be played in many ways through the use of various platforms. A few years back, Xbox created Kinect, a device that would allow you to play games without the use of any controllers. Afterwards, virtual reality consoles became popular, like the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, and the cheaper and simpler alternative, Google Cardboard. With this, game now utilizes technology to heighten the gameplay even further. For instance, the new Resident Evil installment have optimized the use of VR, making the game more intense, immersive, and scarier.


There are other gaming technologies still in the works you can look forward to, like the Square Enix Project Flare, using virtual supercomputers as a console, Sony’s Project Morpheus, and SteelSeries Sentry Eye Tracker, which lets the players control the game using their eye movements.


Marketing Campaigns are Still Crucial

  • Release an interactive teaser. Even though the real game got cancelled, the Silent Hill Playable Teaser, simply called P.T. is hands down one of the most interesting and successful video game marketing campaigns in 2014. The inclusion of The Walking Dead badass, Norman Reedus, who played Daryl Dixon in the television series, only added more fire to the excitement. We can only dream of playing the real version of the game, as the game is highly unlikely to be developed in the near future, but you can always follow Kojima and del Toro’s footsteps and release a playable teaser for your game.

  • Don’t show everything in the trailer. Just like any movies, video game teasers need to also maintain a certain level of mystery. If you show too much gameplay or reveal any important plots in the trailer, you can lose a substantial number of players. You can even get inspiration from the developers of Call of Duty: Black Ops. They used real-life people, including NBA player Kobe Bryant, getting caught in a war zone to symbolize that there’s a “soldier in all of us.”

  • Utilize social media. In a day and age where you can advertise freely on social media, video game marketing can be so easy. No more wasting your budget on billboards or posters I’m sure no one would turn their heads for. Now, opt for content marketing instead where you can upload snippets of the game trailer on Instagram and interact with fans with cryptic messages on Twitter. This is especially great for indie developers without any loyal followers to fall back to. Through this, you can also build a larger fan base by creating a closer relationship between the developers and the audience. For example, for Lara Croft: Rise of the Tomb Raider, Instagram users can discover her backstory and follow her adventures in the forms of journal entries.

  • Make a promotional feature film. Large companies with a high budget often find other ways to promote their videos games. When content marketing is not enough, companies sometimes create a full-length feature film, like the case with the Final Fantasy series. To provide the backstory of its newest installment, Final Fantasy XV, Square Enix and Sony Entertainment released the movie Kingsglaive. You don’t exactly have to promote your games like this, though. Maybe create a shorter, less-expensive promotional video so the audience can become more familiar with the world you’re trying to portray in your game.

  • Don’t be afraid of a little controversy. In the entertainment industry, sometimes there’s a saying that goes “a bad reputation is better than no reputation at all.” This is true, to a certain extent. When creating a controversial game that you know will get a lot of unwanted attention, that attention can still be used to promote your game. Like the Grand Theft Auto series; the games are full of reckless driving, graphic violence, and sexual undertones, but people are still lining up to buy them.


Launch DLCs and Expansion Packs

Let’s say your newly-released video game is highly acclaimed because of your thorough developing and immaculate marketing campaign, and you want to create more games but don’t want to start over from scratch yet. Something developers usually do is they launch downloadable contents, or DLCs, and create expansion packs for the original game to amp up the gameplay. Below are a few examples of critically acclaimed DLCs and expansions.


  • Outlast: Whistleblower. This DLC takes place in the same timeline as the original. However, you’re playing as Wylon Park, an employee who sent the email to main protagonist, journalist Miles Upshur, which sends him to Mount Massive Asylum, therefore starting the whole Outlast plotline. Some people, including yours truly, might even say this DLC is better than the original version because of the intensity of the storyline.

  • World of Warcraft expansion packs. What do you do to maintain interest to an already extremely popular game? You create various expansion packs, of course. As the one of the best and widely-played MMORPG, Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind the game, have released six expansion packs. These packs often include new maps players can explore, new playable races, and accept new, more challenging, quests.

  • The Sims game packs, expansion packs, and stuff packs. Life-simulation game series The Sims can become repetitive after some time; creating sims, succeeding in careers, growing a family, and so forth. With the extra packs, however, you can explore new careers, new races (vampires, mermaids, faeries, etc.), new worlds, and decorate your homes with new items.


With all the advice and knowledge I have bestowed upon thee, dear game developers, a successful game is now well within your reach. However, success is very, very subjective. Even if you apply all the tips above and create a superb video game, success can only be determined by how well-liked your game is by the audience. There will be people who will love or loathe your game, and their reception is the one thing you can’t program. But don’t lose confidence just yet. Keep reminding yourself what board game creator, Wolfgang Kramer, once said: “A good game will stay with us all our lives. A good game makes us long to play it again.”



This post was written by Febriani Ramadhanya from iPrice group, a price comparison and meta-search engine based in MalaysiaSingaporePhilippinesThailandVietnamIndonesia and Hong Kong.

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