Even though this article focuses on developing hyper-casual mobile games which lend themselves to a short development cycle and many iterations, elements of this strategy can be used as an inspiration for developers building games in genres with a deeper metagame. For example, there are probably many game developers, (I was one myself) who spent too much time on a game that didn’t quite cut it in reality. If I knew then what I know now, my game development process would have been very different and the outcomes potentially more rewarding.
Pulling off the ‘7 day build’ successfully is about getting to the bare bones of a game to see how the market will react to your vision, so that you can adapt it or cull it accordingly. Here’s how:
Clarity is key
Having an ambitious and in-depth vision of your game is not a bad thing, but to launch a game successfully in 7 days it’s important to keep it simple and know what to cut or what not to include in the first version. Aim to launch with an MVP (minimal viable product) that reflects enough of the basic concept of your game to be able to test how users respond to it. The goal is to generate an ad from your MVP with a CPI (cost per install) that validates your game concept, before you go on to further development.
For example, if the goal is to create an endless runner game where the player collects coins and buys skins, there’s no need to develop and show the shop in the initial game launch. Allow the player to collect the coins and then place a ‘coming soon’ notice in place of the shop, giving the players a taste of what’s to come, while you gauge its potential before investing too much time in development.
For a successful MVP, the user must quickly and easily be able to understand from an ad what they need to do and why it’s fun. Don’t add noise, pop-ups or buttons like in casual games. Simplicity is key. Interestingly, you often see poorly-designed games that work better than those which are clearly more complex and well thought-out. The former perform better because they nailed their communication with the player early on in the game’s design rather than executing a ‘perfect’ product at the onset.
Form the ideal team
With only 7 days to go to market, your team size should be carefully thought out. Too many people will lead to clashes and inefficiencies. Too small a team and the game will simply take too long to get off the ground.
For hyper-casual games, your team should be made up of one game designer and two developers, whereas for more complex genres I would recommend adding another developer and an artist. Bringing an artist on board to design assets from scratch, or buying from an asset store is an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, purchasing from an asset store has the advantage of using known and recognized IPs that will give a feeling of familiarity to your game, such as stickmen from the Unity store. However, you should also consider the time it takes to learn how third-party assets work, which can often eat up more development time than creating them from scratch. When developing something yourself, you know your capabilities and limitations and work within them - there are no surprises. Work with third party assets, and there is a good chance you’ll be held up with an asset taking an unknown action that takes you a while to understand and resolve.
Plan for the long term
Another benefit of creating your assets in-house is that it helps you plan for future games. As many game developers know, not every game you create will be a hit, and you’ll probably need to develop multiple games to get to a global hit. If that’s the case, it’s useful to develop with future games in mind. This could mean developing generic models that you can take from one game to the next and then modifying them as necessary - increasing your personal asset library and speeding up the development process of future games.
A simple but often overlooked step is to write down, on one page, what the game is about and to devise a 7 day schedule around it. Your team is now small and sleek, and it’s crucial to stay on the same page (literally), and for everyone to know what everyone else is doing for each of the 7 days. As you’re creating your document, set milestones and review them frequently. Remember that this is a 7-day process and so there’s no time for hold-ups or lengthy deliberations.
There’ll be a lot of dependencies between people, such as what the artist needs from the game designer, who can’t create levels until all the stage assets, such as obstacles, are ready. Strong team communication will lead to increased efficiency and a higher likelihood of sticking to the timeline set out in the document. Along these lines, being in the same location is a huge benefit, and if not practically possible due to the current situation or otherwise, then the same timezone is somewhat of a must.
Don’t forget your platform
It seems superfluous to say, but don’t forget that your target platform is mobile. Too many times what you’re creating on your PC/Mac just doesn’t transport well over to mobile, so make sure to continually check that your gameplay works on the goal platform, where it’s more about marketability and being ROI positive in this initial stage, than functionality.
Creating a game ready for launch in just 7 days may sound daunting, but it’s highly doable if planned correctly. As the mobile market gets more competitive, testing out the above steps and adopting a ‘lean and mean’ approach until you are 100% sure you have found the right hit, is a worthwhile strategy. This isn’t about cutting corners, it’s about test driving your game in the market to see if your dream matches the market demand.