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This is a series of articles I'm writing as an extended postmortem of lessons drawn from working on my game, Stacks On Stacks (on Stacks). You can wishlist the game on Steam here.
With our last two games, I have approached choosing platforms as "bottom-up". I start with a prototype of a game I want to make and use the game's design to choose a target platform:
Bottom-up thinking considers your game's ideal interface (method of input, display, etc.) then finds the best platform for matching that interface.
As I become more experienced, I find myself more often considering platforms "top-down". Where are the spaces that I, as a creator, desire to make games in? What kinds of expectations do people in those spaces have for games and am I able to meet them? Top-down thinking involves considering the culture of players on platforms, the methods of distribution used by platforms, your obligations to said platforms, and the game genres and styles those audiences respond to.
Here are some imaginary top-down examples:
You may disagree with the above assessments, but surely you have some of your own. If you don't you should do more research before picking a platform!
What interests me is that these examples do not end with, "I should make this exact kind of game." Instead, top-down thinking often results in identifying what processes you should use to thrive on a given platform. Bottom-up thinking says, "Can I make this game?" By contrast, top-down gets you thinking, "How do I want to be making games?" I am hopeful that approaching choosing a platform with more top-down considerations will lead to a better quality of life fit for me as a developer.
Your game does not need to be an exact fit of the player culture and market of the platform, but it is good to identify exactly how your game is a disruptor on a given platform and what benefits and risks come from that. Being a niche game in a genre or style that does not get much attention on a platform may be a benefit, but you could also be working against a culture of players that do not like games of your type.
Choosing a platform has far-reaching repercussions on how your development process will operate that is entirely independent of what your game idea is. Knowing what those repercussions are should be a large part of your platform picking process.
I have not thrown out thinking bottom-up entirely. I still have a notebook full of game ideas and I muse about where these ideas best fit. However, when I first started Stacks, I was far too ignorant about the games industry for top-down thinking to be part of how I picked a platform.
I now believe picking a platform is about choosing the development space you want to operate in, not just finding the best fit for a specific game.