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Lessons Learned While Submitting To IGF

Lessons learned while submitting to IGF. What an experience. It has definitely been a winding road, but I managed to submit my game to IGF. Here are some of the things that I’ve walked away with, in list format.

Wow.  What an experience.  It has definitely been a winding road, but I managed to submit my game to the Independent Games Festival this year.  Here are some of the things that I’ve walked away with:

1. Testing and feedback.

My experience was that watching people play the game without instruction was the best method of testing.  Things that I thought would be intuitive and obvious could take a user a half hour to figure out.

I found that the very best people to test my game were people who had almost no experience playing games.

Some funny moments:

- Another friend played through the tutorial and started the main part of the game.  After a moment or two of looking at the different directions that she could go, she says “Is there any reason to go one direction over another?”   I kind of lamely told her to just go ahead and explore but realized that the game needed good hook to get players invested in the experience.

- The tutorial requires the user to go into the inventory and pick a key then close the inventory screen and open a door.  My friend opened the inventory screen.  Then closed it.  Then opened it and closed it again.  Then she turned to me said “I don’t get it.  How do I get to the inventory screen?”  She hadn’t realized that she was IN the inventory screen.

2. Label things.

As it turns out, people don’t really enjoy ambiguity.  I found that any time there was any vagueness, player’s frustration level rose dramatically.  Some things that helped dramatically:

- Labeling meta-screens (like the ‘inventory’ or ‘options’ screens)

- Marking all paths of direction with doors, roads, or pathways.

- If players can’t find it (or if they don’t know it exists), they won’t use it.

3. People play conservatively.

I originally thought that people would take some chances while they explored the game space to learn the rule set.  There is no set number of lives in the game, so there is nothing lost when a player dies.

So I totally underestimated how much players disliked dying.   Players who started out courageously exploring, would stop experimenting after dying just once!

4. Polish matters.

- As much as I want to believe that good gameplay is good gameplay, the visual and auditory feedback affect players more than I would have ever guessed.  When people played the game with temp art or the sound off, player engagement dropped dramatically.
- Having a power up placed at just the right point in the level changes the whole experience.
- People love getting validation when they get something right.  It could be a little cutscene, or it could just be a little music chime – but it makes the difference between whether or not the player perceives progress.
- I found it better to leave out partially finished assets.  They immediately broke immersion.

There is more, but I wanted to jot down some thoughts while they are still fresh in my brain.

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