Photo by user 15299 (from Pixabay)
I have been involved in (mobile) f2p game development for the whole of my game industry career. I've experienced and seen a lot of mistakes which young and/or inexperienced developers do. Some of them are mistakes that you cannot avoid; you just have to face them and learn from them. Others are mistakes that could - with good mentoring or consultation - be avoided.
The motivation of this article is to describe these mistakes and how to avoid them so that fellow developers could skip few mistakes, accelerate their career and make better games for all of us.
1. Assuming you know what players want or like
This is by far the greatest mistake which I've seen rookie developers to make. Somehow the industry standard logic goes something like this "because I play these kinds of games myself, I am competent enough to know what all other players like". That is quite far from the truth in my experience.
I'm not saying that it wouldn't work; there are some notable exceptions of games where the developers have just executed their vision and the game has become huge success. But those really are exceptions - few and far between. And we, as game developers, should make our best to increase the chances of success with our games, not just hoping to be the next exception. Hope is not a strategy.
Best way to avoid this mistake is to describe who is the potential customer of our game (describing the target customer). I'm not talking only about describing the customer by terms of demographics, but using more actionable parameters such as occupation, marital statuses, psychological motivations, typical day in the life of the target customer, habits, likes and dislikes. Better yet, don't just make them up, actually try to learn from the customers. Best developers don't just think this in their cubicles, but actually make findings based on the conversations with customers or from customer reviews of similar games, for example.
Imagine that if you would actually design your game based on the daily habits, available free time to gaming, sources where YOUR players look for games and perhaps, what they are currently missing in games. Imagine that you would KNOW all of this before you would code one single line of code of your game. What kinds of decisions would that allow you to make? Knowing your customer is by far the most effective way to start the development of your next game.
2. Not limiting your scope
This is the second most popular mistakes I see young developers to do. In plain English this means that you are making too big game in relation to your skills, experience and resources. The mental pattern behind this mistake goes something like that "the bigger the game, the better it must be".
What's more peculiar, the neediness to expand the scope usually revolves around non-essential gameplay features that add little to no value to playing experience. And as we have seen, most popular mobile f2p games are very focused on few gameplay features so that the core gameplay stays clean.
I thought a lot about whether to categorize this as "avoidable" or "non-avoidable" mistakes since the mental pattern behind this mistake is so ingrained that it's very hard to overcome the momentum of it. But as I'm quite optimistic about human ability to learn, I think that this really is avoidable mistake. It of course requires that the person(s) is really willing to change his behavior.
Best way to overcome is to think yourself as ROOKIE you are, in the bottom of game industry food chain and you need to make yourself up. In order to do that you need to learn fast, learn like hell, learn faster than anyone else! And the best point of learning is achieved when the game is published and the players are playing it. So, in the beginning of your journey as a game entrepreneur, you need to ship the game as fast possible without actually making another kinds of foolish mistakes such as no. 3, publishing the game to soon. Another good reminder is that when it seems that the game is 90% done, there's still 90% left to be done.
3. Publishing the game too soon
This mistake is another way of saying "publishing crap", which revolves around the fact that there is still considerable amount of polish or actual needed gameplay features to be done. By shipping the game before it's done, is the result usually either of following two things:
If you fit into first category, then you just need to grow a pair of balls (sorry ladies for the unfitting analogy) and not give in to the deceptive allure of calling the game done. If the panic is caused by not having enough money in the bank to pay the costs of developing the game, then you need to make some sales.
If you are in the second category, it's a little bit harder. It's hard especially in those kinds of cases where there are no people who could actually say that the game is not ready yet. I will talk more about this (recruitment and culture building) in later posts, but for the purposes of this article it's sufficient to say that you need to accept the fact that you are not the next Jobs of games industry. So find a person who can actually steer the game to correct path.
In either way, the worst case is to release the game when it's done yet and worst still, pour a lot of marketing money for it. So be diligent and honest with yourself and your team about the state of the game.
This article was originally published on jukka.hilvonen.com on March, 16th 2016.