The Gamedev Iceberg-why most beginner projects fail

Gamedev is going mainstream as more resources such as game engines and online tutorials become available, but most first-time projects fail because beginners don't know that there's more to making successful games than an Idea, Art and a Game Engine.

This is a reproduction of the original post on the UpYourGame Blog.

Making games has never been easier; access to game engines such as Unity and Game Maker has (literally) revolutionized the video game industry. Got a computer and internet? You can be a game developer!

So what do you need to make a successful game? If you go by what you see on YouTube or generally on the internet, it goes something like this:

  1. Come up with a cool game Idea,

  2. Make some art assets,

  3. Watch some videos on using game engines and...

BOOM! You're a game developer and you can make a successful game-right?

WRONG! The vast majority of beginner game projects, whether made by individuals or teams, FAIL because they are told that this is all there is to making a game. They spend months or even years on game projects without any guidance or mentorship, fueled solely by their love for games. In most cases, these projects are abandoned before completion, and of the the few that are actually completed, a very small percentage actually make some money.

This may seem like discouragement, but the harsh truth is that nobody likes to talk about failure. Success stories are all we see; nobody makes documentaries about two-year game projects that didn't make enough money to buy a square meal, but there are thousands and thousands of such stories. I've seen so many game projects (and game teams) crash and burn, wiping out thousands of hours of hard work and millions of dollars of investment, that it makes me want to scream from the rooftops-


It is very much possible to make games that complete on time, and actually make money! I started my game career ten years ago- I was a merchant naval officer that couldn't write a line of code, do art or even use Photoshop. Now, games projects that I have led have earned revenues in excess of $30 Million.

I've made my share of mistakes, and seen them being made. I've learned from them (as I continue to do, every day) and I want to share my learnings with you.



The Iceberg is an analogy I like to use to illustrate my point that there's far more to game development than you see on the internet.


For the 'Visible' parts of the Gamedev Iceberg, you can find lots of resources on the internet; thousands and thousands of YouTube videos, Blog posts and even paid courses on Udemy and the like. This is because these are comparatively easy processes to teach; the hidden parts of the iceberg are the process that are normally understood only through work experience at a game studio or through a mentor who understands these processes.

Here are the 'Hidden' processes:











Here is a short explanation of each of these processes:

PROJECT SCOPING: The most important question you need to ask yourself (as an individual and a team) is-

                                  "Is this something we can ACTUALLY do?"

Now, while making ANY game at all is a challenge when you are starting out, you need to make sure that it's something you can actually achieve given the time, resources and experience. The BIGGEST reason game projects fail is a poor sense of scope; Game devs often reach for the sky, trying to make large and complex projects straight off the bat while they should be attempting smaller, simpler games that can be completed in a few months.

Now, it isn't easy to scope games; it requires a fair bit of experience to look at a game project and say "That's going to be difficult to do in the time we have" but it is a skill than can be learned. Alternatively, a Mentor that has some experience of scoping games can be a big help.

DOCUMENTATION: As you make more and more complex games, it becomes difficult to keep track of the functionality of the game, even for single Devs. And as for teams making games, good game documentation is crucial to communication and coordination.

There are several different kinds documentation associated with a game project, depending on the platform, genre and complexity, some of these are








PROTOTYPING: Coming up with a game idea is one of the the best parts of the game creation process; you think of a cool new game mechanic and everyone goes-"That sounds like it would be so much fun!' If it's something that hasn't been done in games before, you may need to prototype it before you goa ahead trying to implement it in your game, and here's why:

a) It may not be fun!!! Just because it SOUNDS like fun, does not necessarily mean that it is going to be.

b) You may not have time to implement it, as it may take too much time or need resources that you don't have, or

c) You may not have the technical or creative ability to implement the feature you want! This is a more common occurrence than you may think.

Prototyping is when you implement that awesome new feature without actually making a full game, just so that you can verify these above points. You don't have to implement the final artwork (unless you're prototyping an art style); you can just use some assets you put together in Photoshop or downloaded on the internet, but make sure you build a basic version of the new (and risky) game mechanic before you commit to making it the centerpiece of your upcoming game.

PLAYER AND MARKET RESEARCH: "Who's going to play this game?" That is a VERY important question that many first-time game-makers forget to ask. All successful products (from cars to food delivery apps) maintain a sharp focus on who is going to use it; games are no exception.

During pre-production, it is a good idea to create a 'Player Persona', which is a typical player for the game; it helps to make design decisions for the game. In addition to this, there needs to be a deep competitive analysis of the game project where the team analyses the market and finds other games that may have commonalities (genre, art style, mechanics, player base) to find what works for a particular target market.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Once the design of the game is finalized and the documentation is ready, the production planning needs to be carried out. This involves breaking down the project into its component processes (Design, Art, Programming and testing), deciding which team member is going to do what, creating tasks and distributing them to the respective team members.

It also involves creating a schedule for the production- figuring out how long it will take for each task to be completed and also tracking progress of the game production. There are several milestones in game production such as Alpha and Beta, and internal/external testing of the game at these milestones.


TESTING: This is one of the most crucial parts of the game development process; games may play well in a controlled environment (the computers of the game studio) but once they are released to a wide audience and the number of players increases exponentially, issues such as bugs, design gaps and balancing issues start to surface.

These affect the player experience and bring down the overall quality of the game; putting a systematic testing process in place goes a long way in finding these issues early in the game development process and eliminating them. large game studios have dedicated testing teams that test games according to Test Plans that are drawn up by the team leads.

While game projects made by smaller teams may not need dedicated testers and complex test plans, a systematic testing regimen is needed to ensure that your game doesn't crash and burn as soon as it reaches the market!

MARKETING: No matter how great a game you have created, if players don't get to know about it, they won't get to play it and it won't generate the revenue you want to see. There are literally THOUSANDS of games releasing day and it's very difficult for a game to find visibility.

Even as you are coming up with a game idea, you need to be focusing on how you are going to market it. Assuming that you don't have thousands of dollars to throw at marketing, there are some very effective strategies that can be followed by small teams with little or no budget to get your game out there.

ANALYTICS: Data analytics is a way to visualize and understand the player's journey throughout the (mobile) game...if analytics are implemented properly, you can find out exactly what players are doing in your game- how long they play, which buttons and menus they click on, which levels they finish quickly and which levels they struggle to complete.

Based on this information, game teams can make changes to games on the fly to ensure that players have a better experience, and the games are more engaging...and make more money!

LEGAL: This is a very important part of the business of games that is often overlooked by small game teams/companies. There's a world of issues that you may need legal advice on-

  • Content development,

  • Production and distribution;

  • Advertising and sponsorships,

  • Live event production and broadcasting;

  • Mergers and acquisitions

  • Finance, counseling on and protection of novel inventions,

  • Brand identity and other intellectual property;

  • Labor and employment advice and counseling;

  • Dispute resolution and litigation.

LIVE OPERATIONS: Successful free-to-play mobile games today recognize that if they want their game to be in it for the long-haul, they must grow over time with new content, live events, and frequent updates.

Updating frequently stabilizes DAU (Daily Active Users) and increases both engagement and monetization - however, it can be quite costly and time consuming. That’s where live-ops come in. Some different types of live ops are-multiplayer competitions, offers and promotions.

So to conclude, the Gamedev Iceberg is a lot bigger than what can be seen above water. All this may seem a bit intimidating for beginners to game development, but fret not-I will guide you through all these processes- and more.


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