This year I’ve been witness of several situations that altogether inspired me to write this post.
I bring three stories about doing things the wrong way in gamedev.
The quest for money
The first story is about having your feet on the ground.
It begins with a group of people with a “great idea” [sic] for a game. They contact a software development company that is starting to enter the world of gamedev. It’s a standard routine meeting, a little scouting to see what are their needs. The meeting goes overall ok, but two things are said that make noise.
First, although the idea for the game is not explicitly mentioned (mainly due to the nature of the meeting and the fact that NDAs are still needed), they mention two key elements: Candy Crush and Flappy Bird.
Second, and most shockingly, is that at some point someone asks: “(By the way) How much does it cost to make a game?” Now, that’s a fair question and there’s nothing wrong at plain view. The problem here is what I’ve called the Candy-Crush Syndrome, and its most recent strain: FlappyBirdium.
Developers all over the world have decided that it’s time to get rich making games, with Candy Crush and Flappy Bird being their messiah. People with these syndromes are so focused on hitting the jackpot that forget that more than 99% of the games just fail and are lost in the endless seas of the markets. For every succesful game, there are thousands that just don’t cut it.
An unexperienced group of people wants to earn its first million with a product and they have no clue of how much does it cost. Yeah, that’s how winners are made.
This second story is about commitment and professionalism.
It’s about another group of game developers making a game for an investor. Their game is near release and hasn’t had proper testing. “It’s too late,” they say. “It’s expensive,” they say. Ultimately, playtest will be done as a formality and not as a fundamental part of development cycle.
Some people in the business feel (or crave to feel) like rockstars, but what happens when such delusions of greatness make you go blind? Negligence should be one of the top sins in any work.
When you mix this blindness with basically a blank check that lets you do whatever you want, you get disaster.
I can understand newbie developers (I’m one of them ,o/) who don’t have the experience of proper testing and iteration over a product. But I do know it’s important and I cannot accept this attitude. Someone (say, *cough*the lead designer*cough*) who assures everyone that the ship is going great and that has such a poisonous ego, that doesn’t care for professionalism, is no leader. Leadership is earned, it’s not just a role you fulfill.
Also, for any investor it should be top priority to keep tabs on the current status of the project. Otherwise, it’s just a blank check to the leader of the development group.
Work means commitment: to be professional and to provide the best of ourselves. And I mean commitment not only to the development team but to the players as well.
Pay to Win
The last story is about the quest for more money.
Here we have two parties developing a game together. They are working on their first commercial game for almost a year now and the release date is around the corner. There have been debates on how the business model of the game should be. Should it be a retail game? Have in-app purchases? There’s nothing extraordinary yet; people work to feed their mouths, after all.
The game is good, specially by the current market standards. However, there’s this need to capitalize that is steering the wheel too much. The project is pretty much in a release candidate state, yet there’s been lots of talk of how will the game monetize. The latest consensus is that there will be an in-game market with items that will help the player progress in the game.
I repeat: it’s a release candidate and the market and items have just began to be added.
There’s this thing called game balance, where you need to tweak and test the game to give the best playable experience to the player. Do it wrong and you end up with something that could be too hard to pick up, too messy, too disconnected or with unintended flaws that could be exploited by players (or give them a bad experience). Each item added to the game must be thoroughly planned in early stages.
Worst of all is that the solution to publish the game once and for all was to ship with one item (there’s a couple more, but not gameplay related) that basically lets the player solve any level at their pace and certainly get a perfect score. The game is somewhat difficult, which isn’t bad, but if the fear of losing players (hence, a possible customer) is the reason for that awesomepass to exist, there’s something wrong.
There’s also another problem. With a handful of items being planned to be added in future releases, why would anyone spend money in such items that ease the difficulty curve of the game but don’t guarantee a perfect score? The proposed solution for this conundrum: “Let’s make it (the awesomepass) more expensive!” FACEPALM.
Maybe it’s a joke, but a recent business model is getting more real each day: Pay-To-Win.
(In fact, during the time this post was a mere draft, the guys at Extra Credits already mentioned the term.)
So, wrapping up, the moral of this post is that there’s a lot more than just shipping or wanting to make a game (or any kind of product).
First, while it’s great to aim high, we must do so having a strong attachment to the ground; dreaming is great, but without a little bit of reality it’s just pointless.
Also, we must be professional; game developers are not rockstars and humility is the first step towards a better industry.
Last, I think that last video from Extra Credits sums perfectly what I was trying to portray. Players must be treated as such, not as a source of revenue.
I hope these stories serve as beacons to everyone out there. Don’t repeat the mistakes from the past.