Lessons learned while submitting to IGF (part II)
The dust has settled and my game was not selected as a finalist in any of the categories, but I still seem to be learning from the experience. It has become clear that in order to be successful in IGF, the submission needs a level of polish much higher than I had anticipated.
I submitted my game unfinished, as a work in progress -- but in hindsight, that makes it an extremely unworthy contender against games where the time and effort has gone into polishing the experience until it shines.
Beyond seeing the excellent production values of the finalists, there was direct, anonymous feedback given from the judges - which was incredible.
Here is some of what I have gleaned from the feedback:
1. HUD and Interface are extremely important. Although this is fairly obvious I underestimated how important they are.
Obviously they should be functional. But they should be easy to use also. The fonts and layout of the menus and interface should be consistent with the rest of the game.
2. Ease people into
the game mechanic slowly. I thought that
I had made the beginning levels easy. I
was wrong. Really, really wrong.
Before submitting, I had friends play test the game -- and found that I needed to adjust the settings to make the game much easier than I had anticipated. Then I made things a bit easier just for good measure.
But to my surprise -- even judges that were interested in the game commented that the play environment was extremely unforgiving for mistakes - especially as the player is first experimenting with the world to understand it's rules.
This made a lot of the experience annoying because the player's exploration is continuously interrupted with death/failure.
3. Ambiguity is your enemy.
Although almost all of the players eventually caught on to what works and what doesn't in the game environment, many found it frustrating to find out by blindly trying things. One person stated that they were being 'punished when they hadn't done anything wrong'.
I experienced this in early play testing also, but it became clear that that includes both the game mechanics as well as the plotline. Hints may work well with puzzles, but seem to be a recipe for irritation when it comes to story and narrative.
People like to know what they are working for, so that they can feel accomplished once they achieve it. Although cliffhangers can work great for keeping an audience interested, it only works after the audience gets a clear introduction to the relevant plot.
4. Make rewarding feedback CLEAR.
There are several points where players were doing everything right, but didn't really have the sense that they were progressing. This is my fault as developer. Although my game does give feedback when something is accomplished, it is just not dramatic enough.
5. Competing is good
Being a part of the IGF 2010 competition was really exciting and educational. The whole experience was really good for me as a developer and a human.
My experience went a bit like this:
The whole experience has been really great, not to mention excellent for thickening the skin. I hope that I have the opportunity to compete again next year.
Congratulations and good luck to all of the IGF 2010 finalists!