Ways to survive through the iteration process

In the previous blogpost: “How to make the best possible game” I shared some thoughts into running a “most likely successful game studio”. Of course, there is no perfect recipe for that, but there sure are some things which you should take into consideration when making your first games either alone or as a team.

I’m going to list a couple of things, which I’ve found important so far in my career:

#1 MILESTONES

Especially if you are working with a project on your spare time, you need to have milestones and timelines to stick into. Without proper milestones, you will most certainly think of “something better to do” when you were supposed to work with your project. This may feel like an unnecessary thing to do at the start since you are all pumped up with working with your fresh design. But once you go forward with the development, you start to reconsider your game design, maybe even think of starting it from the beginning or starting a new project from scratch.

This is when the milestones and timelines step in. You need to have milestones. Just making endless task lists, or a plan for the rest of the year does not help you. The plans need to be realistic and short, that you are actually able to succeed in these plans. By “biting too much”, you may end up losing the motivation since it feels like an eternity to succeed.

Two to four-week plans would be my suggestion, but of course, you need to find the best possible fit for yourself. At the start, you could go for a weekly plan, or maybe even less. The point is, you need to be able to succeed in these plans. And the plans need to fit to your other life-activities schedules.

#2 DEDICATION

When working alone, it’s always only about you. Only about your self-discipline to keep on the track. But when a team steps in, it’s a whole another story. To not only keep yourself motivated, but you also need to make sure that rest of the team is. Of course, a perfect team helps each other to keep on doing, when the lack of motivation strikes. I would say that helping each other during the hard times is the most crucial part of game development as a team. The second most important thing is to make milestones together, in which all of the team members can dedicate in and say “I can do that”.

When you are able to succeed in your set deadlines, remember to celebrate. Because in the end, it’s not so obvious that it happens. So when it does, you need to embrace it. I’ve personally forgotten to do it way too rarely.

#3 CONTRACTS

You now have your team and it really seems, that all of you are dedicated to the plan and pumped enough of motivation to keep on going. That’s great! Making games is fun and it’s supposed to be that way. While having fun, it’s easy to forget the business side of everything and just ditch it, because, well. It’s not fun.

One thing which I encourage everyone to make sure when going forward with your project is to make some sort of contracts with your team. In these contracts, you should determine who owns the project, how working with the project until the end is mandatory to have any ownership and how much of your time, everything dedicates to use time.

By failing to do so, you may end up in awkward situations, in which someone drops out from the project, but still demands to have ownership for the game in the future. Or stops working with the project because “he is not interested anymore” and/or if someone drops from the beginning, and the game starts to get actual sales, he/she appears again demanding a share from the sales.

This may sound silly ‘business talk’, but unfortunately, it happens very often. To tackle this, you need to form a contract to make it less possible. Of course, making contracts doesn’t solve every problem, but it sure helps you to take a massive leap in the right direction.

#4 FUNDING

It would always be rather easier if you had funding for your project. In best cases, you could actually have enough funding it pays the salary for everyone. This, of course, is a little trickier part to do, but totally possible for everyone.

At the start, you should focus your funding into trying to get a small amount of buffer, to help you get all the necessary tools for your work. Having the computers, software, licenses, plugins and so forth makes the actual development more pleasant, but also makes it a lot faster. If you are unable to get the small funding for the tools, fortunately, everything is also available free nowadays. The paid tools tend to be a bit better and efficient, in most of the cases.

Once you get on the road with your project, you should start contacting possible publishers as soon as possible. But also start spreading the word of your game from day one. Getting a publisher is not that you meet the publisher once, sign the contracts and open up the champagne. No, most definitely not. Continuous talk with publishers is mandatory. Sharing the whole story with them from the beginning. They need to see your progress and get excited while following it. Seeing the progress also convinces the publisher, that you are serious with this. Not just being like most of the indie developers, who start a project and ditch it after a month or two. No, you guys are going forward each month!

Don’t just contact any publisher, find the ones who have a similar type of games in their portfolio. Games which they’ve published already and those have something in common with yours. Start with casual email by introducing yourself, team and the project. Continue with monthly updates, showing how you’ve progressed. Always remember to mention, that you would love to do co-work with them. And remember, these guys are humans too! Keep the updates going and try to arrange a face-to-face meeting in some event, which you both are attending. Just keep talking!

Publisher is one of the ways to get your game funded, but of course, there are multiple other ways to do it. In some countries, government funds game projects, you could find an investor, or do some contract work to gather some savings for your upcoming game. What’s your cup of tea?

WHY DO YOU MAKE GAMES?

The fact is, that even when following these steps there is a great possibility that your games won’t get sales, funding, visibility or even a dedicated team. Or to be exact, it, unfortunately, is the most obvious case when making your first games. So because of this, it’s crucial that you have a clear sense of ‘Why you are doing this’. Because in the end, it most likely isn’t about money and also not because you don’t have anything else to do. You are making games for a reason. The keep up the motivation, even when failing miserably, the best tool is to know why you are doing this.

The core of ‘Why am I doing this’ isn’t easy to discover and most likely at first it’s just “because I want to make awesome games” and that’s totally ok. But what you will find, is that there is a deeper meaning for you to continue making game after game, without quitting. Even the games may contain something very similar to each other, something which mirrors down your ‘why’ for making games.

It’s easy to forget all this, forget the reason why you started making games in the first place and jump into ‘business-oriented’ game development. Just remember, you should try to stop now and then and remember, why you started making games. And also why are you still making them.

Listen to my recent podcasts here

“How to keep motivated podcast” – https://youtu.be/Wujywrimpoc

“How to get stuff done podcast” – https://youtu.be/KyM_BqavD04And also remember to join our community Discord channel to talk about games & game development: https://discord.gg/hdZXeMJ

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How to create best possible game

I had a great day last week. It was the first education day at Amiedu in Helsinki. The topic was “Entrepreneurship in the game industry”. I took the night bus, didn’t sleep at all and took the wrong bus from Kamppi to Tuusula, which happens to be around 20 kilometeres away from the correct location, I was supposed to be going. After forced to pay the taxi, to get on time to Amiedu, the actual fun was able to start. It was a great day!

When I was preparing the materials for the course, and during the actual education day I realized yet again, how it’s impossible to teach one single way, to manage a game studio. To manage a game studio is a topic of it’s own, but to “do it successfully”, I’m pretty sure there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.

Game markets are always evolving, shifting and offer new ways to do business. But at the same time, closing the known old doors with the same speed, or even faster. The most effective way to do business right now, is to form an environment, which enables “data driven” development for a product. Basically trying out things, getting players in and seeing/hearing their thoughts. Then reacting, polishing, customizing, tweaking the product in ways, which you can either spot from the analytics, or hear as feedback from the core groups.

Doing too many changes at the same time, loses the understanding which of those changes made the player reactions more positive, or even worse. Doing too few changes, may disappoint the player since they want new content and effective changes to gameplay or other mechanics.

Which leads us to a situation, where finding the ‘sweet spot’ for constant updates is necessary.

So how do you create this type of environment, which basically enables you to fail multiple times while trying to find the best fit for your players. It may take weeks, months or even years to discover the best possible product. Having the time and resources to do this, is of course almost impossible task for a small game company, which is only at the beginning of creating solid revenue.

I personally would say, that there are multiple options to “survive” through this never ending iteration process. The bigger question is, what is your cup of tea, when running sustainable business. I’m going to bring up couple of solutions for this, but I bet there are dozens of more.

Since the solutions is a totally topic of it’s own, I’m going to split this blog post into two. The next part is: Ways to survive through the iteration process. Stay tuned!

 

Game Developer Interview #3: José Neto (JackQuest, Netox Games)

Welcome to the THIRD ‘Game Developer Interview’ with José Neto! This time the interview is by text and you can read the interview in full right below:

– Who are you and what do you do?
“My name is Jose Neto, I am husband, father and gamedeveloper on my free time. Currently working with systems development in a company. I need to split my time between work, wife, daughter, friends, and game development, not always easy :).”
 
– How long have you been in the game industry?
“I had contact with games very young, but I started to dedicate myself even in the development of games in 2013 when I participated in a project to create games for children with some attention deficit, but I wanted more, I wanted to create my own games.”
 
– WHY are you making games?
I love games and especially love storytelling, I believe a game is a great way I found to tell my stories.
 
– What do you think of the state of the game industry?
“I think the gaming industry is undergoing a great growth and that the players are increasingly demanding with the quality of the games released. But I believe it is a good time to stand out.”
 
– How do you see game industry in 5 years, what changes?
“I think we will see a lot of potential in 2D games with multiplayer games still dominating. The market today is already very competitive in 5 years will be even more, but making games is beyond all a passion what comes next is a bonus.”
 
– What is the best experience from making games so far?
“I can say that my best experience it’s happening now, working with Crescent Moon Games and Blowfish Studios at the launch of JackQuest is incredible. This experience has given me new opportunities, I am very happy with this moment.”
 
– What is the worst experience?
“There was a moment in JackQuest that I wanted to give up, it was difficult to create it in such a short time, without a budget I had to dedicate myself to doing almost everything alone in the game, some things were not going as planned, that discouraged me.”
 
– If you would be given infinite resources, what would you do?
“This is easy, I would open my own company, I have many ideas for games, I would start producing all of them. It would also give free courses for game development.”
 
– What would your tips for a beginner game developer?
“Start with something small and never give up, use your best idea when you have more experience in the gaming market.”
José Neto – Netox Games
Indie Game Dev 

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PILE OF UNFINISHED PROJECTS

10/4/2018 (Jestercraft Blog post #003)

What keeps you from finishing your game projects?

It’s that time again, you are starting to lose it. New “wonderful” and “much better” ideas are filling your mind and the project, which you’ve been working for a couple of weeks (or months) start to seem like a boring piece of junk. Or maybe it does not feel junk, the new idea(s) are just much better. And the current idea is also way too massive to be made by yourself (or your small team). So let’s start a new one!

The new project is started with passion, great planning, and design documents. But after a couple of weeks, or months have passed, you start to find yourself in the same situation yet again…

Know the feeling?

Because I do, and I’ve done it way too often with my projects. So what is keeping me (and you) from finishing the projects and releasing them? For sure, one of the main reason is the risk of “not making the game as great, as it was meant to” is one key issue, what makes project dropping so usual. You start to realize, that if I’m going to finish this, it will take months or years and it feels much better to just put it “on hold” and move to something “more simple, faster to create”.

This, of course, is great practice. Because in game development, the biggest enemy out there, is your project scope. It’s so easy to design a game, which is so massive, that it’s nearly impossible for you to finish it. When you find yourself thinking that “this project is way too massive” remember to praise yourself since you’ve learned to understand your scope better.

Having piles of an unfinished project is proof of your scope practicing, but at the same time, those can be a burden for yourself which keep you from designing future game projects from an empty, clean table. Sometimes it’s just better to let go, dump the project for good and move to the next one.

But you should always aim to finish your projects, by finishing I certainly don’t mean to make the polished, great game to be sold on Steam (or similar). What I mean, is that you should make the game into a condition, that everyone can play it. (use platforms like Itch.io, Game Jolt) Call it an early demo, alpha or beta or whatever you like, but release that and share it with the world! (In our community Discord channel for example https://discord.gg/hdZXeMJ )

Why should you release work-in-progress version, that won’t make the crowd rise up and praise you like the best game designer out there? No, it won’t. But what it will do, is start generating discussion around your project. Feedback, ideas, thoughts or maybe even a couple of claps on your back. This happens to cause (in most of us) HUGE motivation spike, to see people playing the game and commenting. It’s more likely that YOU will continue working with your game, finish it and release the final, polished version.

Don’t expect hundreds of enthusiastic playtesters (it’s possible though), but when you get your first people to comment, share feedback or thoughts, you should welcome this person with a warm handshake. Since he/she is the one, who’ve interested enough in spending multiple minutes of his/her time, to help you.

So in the end, what is the lesson in this? What keeps us from finishing our projects? My opinion is, that you’re lacking people, who support you. If you don’t have supporting family, friends or other relationships, you need to find your “support group” from online. Join communities like Game Dev Underground (https://gdu.io/) or join Jestercraft Discord (https://discord.gg/hdZXeMJ) to get started!

Find your support group, which keep you working with your project and help others to do it as well. Always remember that we’re all fighting with the same challenges!

Best regards,

Klaus ‘Kossad’ Kääriäinen

YOU’VE MADE THE BEST GAME IN THE WORLD!

That’s great, you’re almost half way through!

Game development has become a big business globally and seems like the ride has only just begun. The big boom happened with mobile games and free-to-play, but also PC and console games are played more than ever. This is great! More money is available than ever before from players, investors, governments and such. What a time to be a game developer!

Also with game engines like Unity, Unreal, Game Maker, Construct and many other almost anyone can be a game developer even without programming skills, or graphic knowledge. Everyone, from anywhere can create games and also actually publish those on global level from home sofa in channels like Steam, Game Jolt, Itch.io, Indie DB and at various other channels. Oh boy, games truly are great and easy business nowadays!

Sadly, like always, everything comes with a price. Over saturation of thousands of daily released games, makes it almost impossible for one single developer to get their game enough volume and to gain sales. Even more sad is that there are still too many inspired game developers, who does not take this fact into account and develops game blindly for years without plan for marketing.

Of course you can develop games as an hobby, which is great way to express yourself! Within this and most likely in the coming blog posts, I’ll be looking into business aspect of game development. And when you’re doing business with games, you can not count your business into hands of pure luck by thinking that “players find good games”. Because the fact is, that stores are filled with good games and most likely games, which are even better than yours.

Things like planning your focus group, doing market research, understanding your competitors and things like these start to actually make sense, in order to find the best possible audience for your game. But in the end, any of these or other preparations does not give give you 100% success rate, but raises the odds radically.

So in the end, how are you supposed to build a sustainable game within highly competitive markets like game industry? The best advice I’ve come so far, is that you actually can not. The key is to build your business to be able to handle failures, which you will most likely face multiple times before finding the ‘blue ocean’ within the industry.

Be ready to discard games which does not get altitude or raise interest within players, be ready to fail and start over. Fail often and aim to fail fast, don’t stick into your dream idea for years just to see it fail next week after the launch.

By doing this, there is only one way to fail during your career and that is by not developing games anymore. Keep on going and remember to enjoy the ride, because reaching the goal might not even be as rewarding as you think.

Best regards,
Klaus ‘Kossad’ Kääriäinen