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So you may not heard of a mobile game called "LavaCat", but it was one of the first games I'd worked on. Despite all of its shortcomings, rushed testing, unfinished art, it remains success in one thing: illustrating failure.
I wanted to write up a Post Mordem well after the July 27th 2014 release date so that others might learn from the experience.
Mistake 1: Deciding a Launch Date and sticking to it.
But let's start at the beginning! The dev team was given an outline of the game they were going to make and the launch date was picked out by the marketing team. No matter what happened, the launch date HAD to be met. (The Launch date was 3 months away, by the way,) The thing that no one seemed to understand was that game development takes a lot of time and that games get pushed back. One can't pick a pick a date in the future and expect to meet it with 100% accuracy. If you want a good game, the team should be willing (and able!) to push back the release date.
In looking back, expecting a quality game in this short amount of time was shooting themselves in the foot. This game should have taken a year or two in order to develop well.
Mistake 2: Know those you're marketing to.
From the get go, We were instructed to make levels nearly impossible to beat without buying one of the in-app purchase items. And though the company touted it as a return to "hardcore gaming", it seemed to forget that we were marketing to an audience that was largely casual: The mobile market. Though housewives might be able to spend hours trying to defeat that one level on Candy Crush, LavaCat was an action platformer game aimed towards a different market.
Mistake 3: ..And Don't chastise that market.
I remember when LavaCat started to get bad reviews on the App store for its lack-luster gameplay, the acting Manager at the time responded to those reviews and chastised those who played our game. They were called "not hardcore" and told to figure out "how to play the game". It left a bad taste in the mouth of everyone who worked on the game to berate those who were giving crit. In short? If someone's going to play your game don't tell them that they're playing it "Wrong". If you have to do that then perhaps rethinking your game is in order?
Mistake 4: Don't act like something you're not
The development team behind LavaCat was put in a funny situation in that we were treated like a big-name studio with a staff that rivaled a small start-up. There were 5 of us when we were "fully staffed" and we were expected to do the amount of work that could only be accomplished by a studio that had 20 or so people. If you're a small team, think like a small team and take on projects that the team can handle. Don't try and load the team up with work and expect that it'll be accomplished.
To the same, we relied soley on Adwords to get the word out about our game. We even started to produce merchandise before anyone had even played the game. The company banked on a hit before we had even done marketing which should NEVER happen! Never rely on a hit and never bank on two weeks of online advertising to make your game a success.
Mistake 5: Testing with a repeated audience
The testers that were used on the game were used over and over. Once they got good at the game, it looked like we had a reasonable difficulty curve. However what no one realized was that repeated testing with the same people masked our difficulty and that the game was much harder than our small testing team made it look. If you want an accurate idea of how difficult a game is, don't forget to look outside your small circle of testers and give the game to someone new now and again.
Mistake 6: Inflexable development
"Fail Fast" is the mantra heard all throughout game development. In LavaCat, the management team was so tied to the idea of having a "mobile first" in their time rewind mechanic, that all other improvements to gameplay were ignored. Ideally, if a mechanic doesn't work the dev team should be able to move on and try something else instead. Never fall in love with a mechanic, asset, or idea for a game! If it doesn't work, move on.
Mistake 7: Those who hate games shouldn't make game descisions
The most bizzare thing about this whole process was that there was a team of those who were making design and gameplay descisions who.. didn't even like games. They didn't like our game. They weren't passionate about the product and yet they were deciding on colors, assets, and levels while the design team sat by the wayside and did what they said. This also goes with small studios acting like small studios, but the charm of having a small team is that they can make creative design descisions without seeking approval from boardmembers or a large investor. Especially if you're a small team, try and bank on your teams talent. Don't bank on those who aren't even passionate about your field.
Mistake 8: Last but not least...Don't convince yourself that you're right
Up until the games launch, management was convinced that they had taken no mis-teps in development when there was a mis-step around every corner. Never convince yourself that you're right 100% of the time! Because that's just asking to be set up for failure.
All in all, on the date of the launch party for LavaCat we had something in the neighborhood of 50 downloads. It was a failure on all fronts that tainted the environment for gaming until the company, for the most part, closed.