"Finish your game," is the distilled wisdom that Tin Man Games
founder Ben Britten chose to give the audience at Australia's indie game conference Freeplay 2011, as part of the "One Piece of Advice" series of micro-lectures.
Britten's approach to lecturing is jovial, but blunt. "If you're hoping to make a bunch of money on your first couple of games, don't, because you won't, because they'll probably suck," he said.
The best thing about games courses at universities, Britten said, is that they force you to finish making a number of games to get a handle on the entire process.
"Talk is cheap. I go to a lot of gaming events, and people come up to me and say 'I've got this great idea for a game', and I'm like 'Yeah, that's great ‚Ä" I want to see
Why is it so difficult to finish a game? Britten showed the audience a very unscientific graph, which demonstrated the internal processes a game designer might go through as they strive to make their game.
"This moment of creation, when you go from nothing to something, that's like a spike of awesomeness," he said, pointing to a massive peak that reached close to the top of the "awesomeness" axis. "So you get your prototype, and that's awesome as well, but it lasts for longer ... it's fun and exciting and interesting."
But the process of creation can act as a "crucible" for more ideas, Britten warned, and there can be a temptation to keep piling every new thought that you have on top of the original concept.
"When I first started with game stuff, I was just a prototype whore. I'd make this prototype and it was kind of fun and took like two days ... and I was like, 'Oh, what if I add this one thing,' so I'd adjust the prototype," and on and on it continued like this, he said.
"So how do you stop being a prototype whore, and start finishing games?" Britten asked rhetorically, before offering the first option: add menus to your prototypes and release them. "It sounds silly, but ... it will introduce you to all those other bits and pieces of the game puzzle ‚Ä" the distribution, releasing, feedback, all that stuff."
Beyond the prototype, project selection is of utmost importance. "Don't pick projects that are going to take you two years as your first project. Don't try to build your dream game first," he said.
Britten also offered a counter-intuitive thought, one that had popped up repeatedly over the course of the Freeplay weekend, but which hadn't been expressed with such simple enthusiasm previously: "Failure is awesome!"
By way of elaboration, Britten offered a maxim that has been attributed to dozens of authors over the years: "Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment." The quote gets to the universal need that humans have to be reminded that, in a great many situations, failure is not only an option, it comes recommended.