Rapid Prototyping: Tips for Running an Effective R&D Process
October 17, 2012 Page 3 of 3
How to know when you're done
So you've been developing the prototype, and iterating quickly with playable builds every two days while avoiding all unnecessary features. Two weeks are up. Are you done?
Our team reviews all our finished prototypes against a checklist at the end of the process to be sure that the prototype is complete enough that it will let us successfully evaluate the game idea. Here is the checklist we use:
- Visible and up-to-date UI elements for all key stats (score, time, level, etc.)
- Visible goals and indicator of progress. A player should know their goal at any point in the game and how close they are to achieving that goal.
- Art is consistent and of high enough quality that it isn't distracting.
- There is a clear message when the game is complete (win or lose). It provides an evaluation of success and allows the player to play again.
- There are visual and audio cues every time the player has been successful and taken steps towards the goal.
- A player who has no prior knowledge of either the game mechanic or the idea can start the prototype and understand the mechanic enough to make meaningful progress without any other help.
- The prototype has imbedded analytics-tracking to allow for evaluation of success with a public beta test.
After evaluating the prototype against this final checklist, our team will release it for evaluation within and outside the company.
The last thing to be aware of is that most prototypes that use a unique, new mechanic fail with audiences. Players will try them for a bit and get bored. Only a small subset of prototypes will show promise for further development. Embrace this failure if you have followed the above steps and released a prototype that fulfills its core goal of "exposing the unique core mechanic that lets people decide if it's fun". If people say it's not fun, then just be glad you tested it early as a cheap prototype, and didn't try and build a full product around what proved to be a bad idea. Move on, and get excited about your next experiment.
How to tell which game to move into full production
Throughout the entire process we rely heavily on feedback and analytics. At each playable step in developing a prototype, we expose it to widening group of play-testers (co-workers, friends and family, or volunteers). Based on evaluation of these playtests, we decide to either iterate or trash the idea and move on. So if you've completed the prototype and still haven't trashed it, you must believe that it has revealed a seed of unique fun.
But how can you choose between a variety of prototypes that each have this unique seed of fun? For this, we rely heavily on analytic data collected from average players in our demographic. You can get data in a variety of ways. One is to put the game on Facebook as a stand-alone app, and then use targeted Facebook ads to attract a small group of tightly targeted users. User-reported feedback, including polls and comments, is sometimes useful, but I set a higher priority on feedback from data such as "time spent per unique user".
One question we often face here is how to balance the need to keep your fledgling ideas secret from your competitors versus the value of the data. This is a tough decision, but in general the value data tends to be worth the risk.
It is true that the computer game industry has grown a lot during the last few years, but it is still in its infancy in terms of new game mechanics. Mobile game players increased by 22 percent in the last year alone, representing a brand new demographic of gamer. Platform manufacturers are also ushering in a variety of new ways for players to interact with their games, including touch, tilt, gyroscopes, gestures, and even mind control. It's come to show that rapid prototyping is the best way to capitalize on these exciting developments. I hope that this article and others like it will give you new tools for discovering unique and innovative mechanics, and will help us take the industry to new heights of success.
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