For free-to-play games, developers should focus heavily on the first 30 minutes of the player's experience, says Xu Wang, Ubisoft Shanghai producer, at his GDC China talk on best practices for mobile game development. “You want to make it fun and deep,” he says, “but if players try free to play game, you have to know what the best part of your game is, and how to showcase the fun and interesting parts.” Essentially, you have to make sure they don't leave after 2 or 3 minutes.
You should also keep checking and improving the pipeline, he says, making sure nobody in the team will need to wait for other people if they want to see their latest asset or tweak in the game. “When we want to adjust something and we still have to wait for the programmer to come through, it's actually unbearable, this waiting time,” he says. Whether you have to wait at all “is a simple standard to determine whether a pipeline is good,” Wang adds.
“Automating the version checking is also very important,” he says. This also helps with the spirit of teamwork, if you can check the progress of the game on your mobile phone at any time. “A lot of people have wasted 50% of their time waiting,” he cautions.
If you have bosses you need to convince of your product, the tendency is to strive for a lightweight design validation process -- but to play fair, you should convince your higher ups or investors with something playable at least every 2 weeks, instead of “wasting time writing reports,” says Wang.
“Are they assured of what you will achieve through simple reports?” he asks. “It's unlikely that they will feel assured. So you should show them the game. Show them progress every 2 weeks, that's the shortest tolerable time. It's much more effective when you're having validation meetings.”
Internally, though, you should also have a reviewable version available every day, and insist on making at least the top two major features truly data-driven. But Wang's biggest piece of advise is you should never believe a feature will be polished, or a graphical element will be good, or the frame rate will be improved later, or during the last last month of development. Do it now.
Gamasutra is at GDC China 2012, bringing you all the latest coverage from the event. For all the lecture reports and news, head over to our main GDC China event page.