In Startup Framework post, we covered why it is so important to become a disruptive innovator and start creating that compelling product for your core audience that generate tangible value. In this post, we will continue that path and put that framework into practice for you the passionate and daring game designers and game developers out there.
Prerequisite: Video Gaming Passion Test
Before we go down the path of game design and development, let’s do a simple test to make sure that you are indeed a passionate gamer that you claim yourself to be. Why? Because development of any creative and useful product requires 1% of idea and 99% of hard work. No one will be able to put 99% of hard work on something they feel lukewarm about. Rather, only if you love the thing you are doing and enjoying the whole process, will your creativity be able to flourish and devote 99% of your sweat into the project that will make it a success.
Here is a list of simple questions about evolution of gaming and the human connections to it. You have have been playing games without realizing but there is a few distinct characteristics why we love playing games.
- What makes game a game?
- How did gaming develop over time, from ancient days to modern video games on mobile devices?
- What are human virtues that games cover?
Answer for Test #1:
- Early games were based on luck (roll a dice) or challenges of skills (chess). More complex games often had both aspects.
- As the civilization was able to afford papers and pens, games became more sophisticated, often containing complex rules and interactivity, both in competitiveness or cooperativeness, involving not only luck and skills, but also storytelling often in the form of fantasy, be able to live the lives of their imaginations, grasping pleasure and happiness during gameplay.
- Through gaming, we get to feel and share many humanistic values like
fun, laughs, challenges, loss, win, and also exercise
virtues like friendship, love, honesty, justice, good, evil, honor, mercy, compassion, moderation, frugality, courage, perseverance, forgiveness, altruism, impartiality, to name a few.
Gaming industry, especially through video games, has grown vastly over recent years surpassing $100 billion mark in 2015, thanks to both technological and mobile advancements, making it the perfect platform to engage in gaming anywhere we go, continue to intrigue and occupy our minds. Let’s explore the genres that represent the video game industry:
- Name as many video game genres as you can that currently exist.
- Can you name at least one famous video game per each categories?
- Finally, for each video game you picked, can you write down the very playability qualities that made up that game awesome and such a classic?
Answer for Test #2
Here are the game genres:
- Action: beat ‘em up, fighting, maze, platform, shooter (FPS, TPS, tactical), survival
- Action-Adventure: open world, stealth, survival horror
- Adventure: dating, escape the room, interactive fiction, interactive movie, visual novel
- MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games): First Person Shooter (FPS), Role-Playing Game (RPG), Real-Time Strategy (RTS)
- Puzzle: action puzzle, hidden object, physics, tile-matching, word puzzle, number puzzle
- Rhythm, party, programming
- RPG: action role playing, dungeon crawl, MUD, rogue-like, tactical role-playing
- Simulation: construction and management, life simulation, sports
- Strategy: 4X, real-time strategy (tower defense, time management, god-like), real-time tactics, turn-based strategy, turn-based tactics, war-game
- Vehicle simulation, racing
How many genres do you recognize and played games for? Your homework is to identify one famous game for each category and play them or watch the video recordings of it if you cannot find a way to play them and identify their core “kernel of fun”.
Identify Your Passion Areas in Your Life
Now that you have proven yourself that you are a true video gamer, let’s identify areas where you feel most passionate about. Why? Games are truly amazing, in that, literally, anything is possible. Do you want to create an intergalactic wars? That’s StarCraft. Do you want to build your own cities and govern it? That’s SimCity. Do you want to see if you can advance the civilization from scratch? That’s Civilization. What do you most passionate about in life? Is it about raising babies, hiking, gardening, pets?
Identify as many passionate areas as you can from the list below. Focus on your passion, not their popularity. The world is vast, especially the game world. The key is not about being on the fast-lane to become riches, but creating very useful product for special audience who share similar passion as you. And if you want to amplify its usefulness, make it fun and entertaining. This will allow game to create that deep connection with the players which is essential for building trust and loyalty.
- dogs, cats, pets, birds, lizards, zoology
- food, cooking, baking, pastry, desserts, pizza, hot dog
- ocean, space, astrology, earth, science
- nature, gardening, planting, forestry, environmental, farming, agriculture, irrigation
- puzzle, words, math, shapes, physics, chemistry, pattern matching
- raising baby, parenting, education
- relationship, friendship, marriage, psychology
- religion, beliefs, god, mythical creatures, mythology
- hunger, poverty
- health, medical, dental, surgery
- celebrities, gossip
- movie, film-making
- beauty, cosmetic, hair styling
- fashion, accessories, jewelry
- drawing, painting,
- dancing, rhythm
- music, songs, instruments, piano, guitar, sound
- travel, photography,
- sports, hiking, marathon
- crafting, knitting,
- car, bike, boat, plane, rocket
- children book, fantasy novels, story-building
- speaking, presentation, oration
- construction, design house
- gadgets, repairing
- computers, technologies, engineering, artificial intelligence
- urban planning
- politics, government
- military, army, weapon, war, warships, surveillance, police, detective
- retail business, store management, running bakery, restaurant, dry cleaner, pet shops, hospital
- making money, managing money, bank, stocks, investments, renting, selling
- job, career, advancement, management
- entrepreneurship, startup
Great! Now that you picked your interest areas, don’t lose sight of them as we continue to define another very important aspect of a product that make it a commercially viable instead of it being just a hobby.
Market Research: Your Customers
It is true that you yourself is your game’s biggest customer and consumer. You care so much about those passion areas that you are willing to create a video game to do something about it. But this often leads you to self-blindness because we love ourselves so much that whatever we create we think that there will be millions of people out there who will immediately start playing the game. No. If you build it, they won’t just come.
Usually, we create games that we only care about and not considering those out there. We often don’t know who they are, where they hang out, what they like or dislike. Yes, there are my friends and family, and that could be a good start, but you often don’t get the necessary candid and constructive feedback since they care more about not hurting your feelings than giving true feedback that are necessary to enhance the game. So, what ends up happening is that we release our game amongst millions of games out there, without proper marketing or advertisement plan, you would end up getting like 10 downloads and become incredibly depressed feeling that there is no one out there that really cares about your game that you spent months or not year of days and nights, and giving up the game entirely.
Personas. Before we spend all that time building the game, let’s a few key personas that would likely be playing your game. Let’s narrow down our audience by being more specific so that we can build a game that they could really enjoy.
- Who are they really? Are they moms, kids, or students?
- Where do they live? Where do they hang out? What do they do when they have free time?
- What web sites do they visit? What podcasts or YouTube channels do they follow?
- What games do they love, and hate?
- What do they love about? What do they hate about?
- What do they wish they could have had?
- Are you passionate enough to do something about the specific loves, hates, or wishes that they have identified?
Your homework is to actually identify these individuals, whether it be your friends, students in the club, or meetup groups. Seek them out, and interview them. Most likely, these individuals, sharing similar passion as you do, will be willing to participate and give you that honest and candid feedback. This will be the first but very important step into the brutal reality. It will be painful but help you get closer to creating a commercially viable game.
During the interview, make sure to not share the specifics about any game ideas that you might have thought of but try to explore the various ideas. Otherwise, you will end up trying to validate your game idea, making the interview very biased that won’t result in true reality that these interviews were intended to reveal.
Brainstorm Game Idea Paths
Brainstorming game ideas is the most exhilarating step for any passionate gamers but this is also one of the most difficult tasks to get it right due to the sheer competitions that are out there. You can pretty much think that anything you can think of has been done. But don’t let that deter you. There are two key ways you need focus your brainstorming activities on.
Path 1: Be the Visionary and Create Completely New and Unique Gaming Experience
First way is to focus on creating something that is completely new and unique: what you thought of has never been done before. You will need to see beyond current needs of your consumers and industry. And the only way that this could even be possible is your passionate drive to make it better, faster, and cheaper for all. It requires a revolutionary way of thinking and creativity to see beyond what is currently possible or even needed currently.
The people and industry will likely laugh at you for trying because what you thought of is usually extremely difficult or even impossible. There is a famous quote of Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Thankfully, that did not deter him creating affordable cars for all of ordinary Americans. Those bold innovators helped to create so many exciting game genres. Imagine a world where we are stuck with the game Pong?
This is the most difficult and riskiest. People and the industry won’t know what you created and how to deal with your creation. It will take time for people to get adjusted to. But, in the end, people revere new experiences and once people understand and adopt, the success and the reward thereof will be significant. In fact, this is really how many game genres were invented. If you continue to be passionate and persevere during this treacherously slow growth period where no one really cares about your product, with careful planning and diligent progress, not only is it very possible, but you will be able to own and revolutionize the very gaming industry niche. One of the game genre that really stands out is stealth game genre.
Path 2: Enhance Existing Game or Game Genre, and Do It 10 Times Better
If creating something completely new hasn’t been something you enjoy or feel too risky, then find the game or the game genre that you are most passionate about and find ways to make it 10 times better. This is how iPods and iPhones were born. Steve Jobs did not invent MP3 players nor mobile phones with apps. He knew that this was the future and that there was a huge market opportunity since no one was really doing it in its fullest potential.
If you are able to make something 10 times better, you are truly making a breakthrough, taking a big leap forward within the existing game base, creating something that will deliver a solid value and set your game apart from the rest, just like how Howard Schultz was able to make Starbucks the third place for people without having to invent the Italian coffee.
- List games and game genre you love
- What are they doing well that are making these games so attractive?
- What else are missing in these games that could be so much better?
- List at least 10 – 20 things.
Establish the Meaning and Purpose of the Game Through Learning
In one of the legendary books in game design, A Theory of Fun, Raph Koster sums up the games into one simple word: Teachers. Why? It literally comes down to science. We feel thrilled when we read great books, listen to powerful music, and watch blockbuster movies. This feeling of thrill is essentially our body releasing endorphins into our system rewarding us for learning something new. Indeed, it has been the essential survival skill for the human species to learn, and our body rightly rewards us for learning. As we interact with the games and master the challenges that the game throws at us we feel great satisfaction, achievement, and pleasure. When do we then get bored from game? When we feel we mastered the game system, the mechanics by predicting its outcomes with high degree of accuracy, we feel bored and lose interest in pursuing it further.
Though, learning for the sake of learning may not be that meaningful. It might be fun at the moment, but it won’t last long nor endure in our mind. If it does not endure in our minds, it won’t be as profitable either as we will be forgetting about it. Therefore, learning must be driven by meaning and purpose in order for it to realize its full potential. Why? Humanity has been seeking answers to meaning of life for many centuries, going back as far as time of Plato. In fact, according to renowned psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, attests in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, that, even in the extreme conditions like the concentration camps, it was those that found meaning from smallest things in their lives survived the longest, that, man’s ultimate motivation for life does not come from pleasure, nor control, but from meaning. In a recent positive psychology study also revealed that happiness with meaning is what people are deprived of as the happiness is almost driven and enriched by having meaning.
The Hook: Emotional Drivers
Raph Koster shares from a conference presentation on Ten Lessons from Game Design for Games-As-Service, that the only hook that games really provide is emotional because game by definition is a pure luxury good, something people don’t need to survive but a nice-to-have that they choose to engage in to engage in “fun” of the game. Those are: guilt, love, obligation, pride, anger, security, and curiosity.
How would you wire these 7 key elements into the game story, the gameplay, and the game mechanics? The more you are able to embed, the richer the game will be. These will provide users to come back and continue to explore and finish the learning.
Finally, we need to define the final and ultimate goal of the game. Why would the player jump so many hoops, spending often days, if not months, to fight bosses or solve puzzles? It will need to be very fulfilling, meaningful, culminating all of the past effort into achieving this goal, often leveraging emotional drivers along the way, in achieving the human virtues. Is saving princess worth playing the game? How about saving forest from fire? Saving Earth from global warming? Reach the end of Universe?
Story is how we bring the your passion, learning, meaning, purpose, emotional drivers, and ultimate goal together in relatable way that targeted players can feel deep emotional bond with. Let’s explore the basic story structure that we can follow.
Setting. Is the game taking place in fantasy world, medieval world, futuristic world? Is the Earth, or Universe? Is it in dark underground dungeon or deep sea? How does the world look like? Are there plenty of trees, or is it a barren desert? How is the weather like? Is it too hot, too cold? Blue skies or thunderstorms or raining all the time? Who is living in that world? Are they aliens, humans, animals, or all of the above?
Governing Structure. How is that world structured? Is it a feudal system with kings and lords? Or is it a democratic confederacy system with a president? Is the world governed well or lawless where everything is up for grabs? How does the power system look like? Who controls power and sets the laws? Is the world divided into different kingdoms with different kings? What do their structure look like? Have there been any struggles between them? Why?
Social Structure. What do people do to earn their keep? Do they farm, salvage junks, or become mercenaries? Who are rich and who are poor? How did rich become rich and for how long? Why poor are poor and can’t escape the poverty? What do riches lives look like? Do they attend ball all the time? Do they treat poor fairly or take advantage of them? What do poor yearn for?
The Conflict. This world you just introduced probably isn’t all that peaceful. Otherwise, the story may as well just end here with “happily there after”. But there must be something incredibly wrong, the universal balance has been disturbed terribly, and causing irreversible harm and destruction to the world. This must have gone on for decades, if not centuries, unnoticed. Before it is too late, we need the player to be our hero and help bring end to this terrible conflict.
Characters. Let’s introduce our protagonists and antagonists. Are they male or female? Where do they live? Why did they end up being there and for how long? What does the family structure look like? Do they have mother, father, and siblings? How do they earn their keep? Are they rich or poor? What are their characters like? Are they introverts, extroverts? Are they into books, computers, hunting, fighting, healing or magic? What do their daily life look like? Who do they hang out with and where do they hang out? And finally, what do they earn for? Does that connect deeply with you and your players?
Events. There must have been key events how the main character got involved in learning this terrible conflict and decided to do something about it. There must have been key events on how he or she met friends who have lent their hands and skills to help resolve this conflict. There must have been key events on how he or she acquired the strength and skills, and even special power. What were they? Can you tie the emotional drivers and human virtues into each event and amplify them?
Climax. Series of events should help progress the storyline. But the storyline will need series of climaxes. If the player earned that special power, we will need the climax event that the player can use that special power. If the player made companions along the way, we will need the climax event where the group can solve the conflict together. All if not most of the event should lead to the final conflict, boss, or challenge that will require every ounce of skills, weapons, special powers acquired throughout the game.
Did you love going through building the story? Is this where you passion lies? Then make it more elaborate. Create that endless combination of events, characters, worlds, and human virtues. Invent and innovate ways for the player to engage and be key part of the story.
Gameplay and Mechanics
Now that we have the meaning, purpose, and emotional drivers thoroughly defined using a compelling story, it is time to put a structure to it and bring that awesome story into video gaming world.
The video game, unlike books, musics, or movies, is an ultimate platform where players can interact with elements throughout their learning experience. Therefore gameplay and mechanics take a large portion of what makes a video game unique from other entertainment medium.
Game Genre. Earlier, we discussed many different game genre. Which genre would best fit to tell your story, and invoke that the emotional drivers from players? If you choose a platform game, we know that the character will likely walk, run, duck, or jump, and in some cases, double jump or even fly. Player will either scroll horizontally or vertically, and there will be lots of collisions between the player and walls and enemies. Were you planning on telling very detailed story? Then perhaps, RPG or adventure genre might fit well.
Game Mechanics. Recall the homework we had to do earlier? Each genres have key game mechanics that make up the gameplay. In the case of Super Mario Bros, it has very addictive game mechanics that are tied to player movement. For example, if you press the jump button longer, it would jump higher. You can duck to fit into very narrow space and still be able to jump to hit a brick wall to retrieve items. In the case of Street Fighter, it has key combination that players will need to master in order to do special moves. Games like Tekken took this to another level, and came up with 10-12 continuous combination attacks that allowed beautifully choreographed gameplay that made it unique.
Define your key game mechanics. Can you come up with your own unique game mechanics? Why did you come up with it? What does it allow players to achieve that is different from existing games? Does it enhance the gameplay overall? Does it tie well with the story?
Graphics, Animation, Sound, Music
These are often not the priority for developer-driven games, but they are indeed extremely essential part of the overall game experience. Why? Afterall, games are played by you, me, us the humans. We have 5 senses. Those 5 senses are all used to understand and absorb our surroundings, and events. When something exciting happens, not only do we see, hear, touch, but we could also smell and in some cases taste. Each of these elements exponentially enhances our experience. Do you recall 3D movie theaters? How about the fancy 4D theaters where they blow winds into your ears, spray water on you? So why not take advantage of these elements to enhance our gaming experience?
Graphics. This makes up the key part of video game and storytelling. Pictures are indeed worth a thousand words. We can instantly identify so many things by just seeing. Is the background dark? That could mean that it is night time, or dungeon. Is there lots of red color? That could mean fire, blood, or something dangerous. Sketch out key story elements, such as the world, kingdoms, towns, houses, market, people, characters.
Video games also have common elements that require graphics. Some of the very basic elements are the launch screen, main menu, loading/saving screen, stats or leaderboard screen, game interface elements such as scores, health, experiences, levels, current active items, and possibly maps or compass. Many games also feature separate battle screen that has battle specific game interfaces.
Animations. Indeed, this world is not made of still images. They are animated. When we see a person walking, we expect their arms and legs to move, just like in real life. When we hit something enough, we expect it to start to show cracking and finally break into smaller pieces. When we start the fire, we know flames moves. By animating the game elements, we are amplifying the graphic elements for players to absorb much more easily. Without proper animation, players will often get lost and get confused and end up negating the whole game experience.
Sounds. Similar to graphics and animation, sound is around us everywhere. With sounds, we can quickly understand what is happening or likely to happen. If an explosion sound is played, we know that something must have been blown up. How about door creaking sound? That must mean that a door has opened. How about a thumping of foot steps? Similar to animation, without proper sound effects, players will get lost and confused. But with proper sound, or even enhanced sounds, we can amplify the storytelling and the experience thereof. To that regard, even if your game takes place in space, where there is no air, therefore sound won’t travel, players will expect to hear rocket boost sound, laser beam sounds, because that is what we would expect from our surroundings.
Feedback. There are other game elements, such as controller vibrating, or in the case of Nintendo Wii, players can physically move the controller to interact with the game world. These have been highly successful. Again, these elements, when done right, exponentially enhances the gameplay. What’s next? Thanks to the rise of technology, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Artificial Intelligence are becoming reality for future games.
The Kernel of Fun: The Reason to Come Back
As you are building up your game, it is important to not lose sight of the “kernel of fun.” Like many products and services we consume daily, even like getting your favorite handmade coffee from Starbucks, there is that anticipated reason for us to come back for more. In the case of Starbucks, it might be that tasty frappuccino, or the atmosphere, or in my case, fast Wifi connection.
What is that anticipation that you are able to instill in the game? What rewards are players looking to come back for more? Behind this addictiveness is how our brain works. As we beat the difficult level, we anticipate a reward and our brain releases dopamine for that anticipation of the reward, and once we achieve it, dopamine allows the emotions to get realized. All of the excitement and pleasure of winning and achievement will pass through our spinal cord. So, in many ways, video gaming allows us to create many anticipation of all kinds of fantasy and dream driven rewards that we have been seeking in our lives, and gives an ability to realize them virtually without making us go broke or impacting the physical world negatively. Though, the only caution here is that there are “positive” addictiveness and “negative” addictiveness. Positive addictiveness allows gamers to make creations or skills to master so that at the end the player can finally fulfill the goal and realize all of the reward there is. Negative addictiveness often aims for habit based, simple game play, that are often tied to monetary gains of the game creator, very similar to gambling. It isn’t about completing the quest and learning friendship, collaboration, cooperation, but it is always about me, myself, such as raising one’s level meaninglessly and aimlessly by killing monsters 24×7 for months. It is utmost important that we, as the creative minds, must strive to create positive addictiveness that really allows human minds flourish.
Player vs. Player
Many successful games leverage player vs. player mode to provide the challenges that otherwise would be very difficult to create from content perspective. Why? There is currently no AI that can beat human intelligence. This allows endless gameplay combinations possible. Though, one key area that we need to watch out for is that people hate to lose. So if the game mechanics are purely based on skills, winners will always likely to win, and losers will always likely to lose. Why? The more you play and mastered the game mechanics, the more advantage you will have over others. People that lose will likely lose their taste for the game, and soon, the game will only have skillful players which will result in a smaller community of players, and that normally does not translate well to profitability of the game. The game like League of Legends leverages PvP really well. They only allow similarly leveled players to match each other, allowing almost an equal chance of winning and that makes the game that much fun to engage in.
Visuals for Prototype
Many people, especially the developer types will jump on their computer and start coding stick figures, primitive squares and circles. But such prototyping technique usually lacks the structure and vision and often games in such state is not ready for playtest. Also, development is very costly. So, before you start coding, it is utmost important to come up with 3-5 sketches of screens that make up the core of your game. With the visuals, try them out to your market, your players. Gather feedback and continue to refine until the the core elements solidify.
Although this step could be very painful, it is utmost important to go through and refine in order to save a lot of time, money, and resource which are often very limited for indie game designers and developers.
Game Development Platform
Development platform may vary depending on what you are intending to create. But in recent years, making this choice has gotten much easier due to downpour of game development platforms, partly thanks to the boom of mobile gaming industry. Some of notable tools include:
- Unity - Now in its 5th iteration, with updated user license, this is perhaps the most popular and powerful tool out there that not only let you start building game without paying a cent, but they won’t charge until your game is making $100,000 or more in revenue per year. This platform also ports over to almost all of different platforms out there, whether it be iOS, Android, HTML5, Windows Phone, Mac OS X, Windows 10, and even console platforms like XBox One & 360, PlayStation 3 & 4, and Nintendo Wii & U.
- Game Salad – With nominal monthly subscription, this tool allows you to create games using drag & drop interface. This tool may be great for graphic designers who are not familiar with coding. But because game development requires lots of decision making and logic, you will still be in knee deep creating all sorts of if-then statements. Having published two games on this platform, my only complaint is that the coding and condition capability is not that robust enough to create more complex games.
- There are other notable mentions such as Game Maker Studio and RPG Maker that are mainly focused in creating RPG games. Corona SDK allows simple unified scripts to create games that can be ported over to different platforms.
Prototype. Before diving deep, make sure to create prototype first and playtest it with your core players. Getting the framework for very game mechanics, and story progression right will not be easy. It needs to be tweaked, refined, and tested until it starts to generate “wow”, “cool”, “awesome” remarks from playtesters. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Gather the feedback and objectively understand the reasons behind the immediate player feedbacks. What were they expecting? Why did they see that game element that way, and not the way creator intended? How can you go beyond their expectation (minimal bar) and surprise them?
Market Your Game: If You Build It, Will They Come? No!
No is absolutely and undeniably right for gaming industry which is littered with millions of games. Perhaps, your family and friends may notice since they probably know that you were working on it for months of not a year. They might download and play and give 5 stars. You have 10 downloads. Great! You may have a compelling product but if no one knows about it, then no one will be able to enjoy.
So how do you go about getting a word out there? As discussed in this post, once you have that remarkable product, or the game, we need to use some of the magic of interruptive marketing to get the product in front of those niche audience that you’ve built your game for. It is those that would reap the most entertaining value from the game. In fact, if you have done the homework, they probably were waiting for such game to come into the existence for some time and would be thrilled to find out first hand.
There are many affordable digital marketing tools that allow hyper targeting. In my personal encounters, Facebook advertisement platform proved to be most effective and yielded most installs per dollar versus Google Adwords. Though Google Adwords is another incredible tool to get your game exposed to your audience. It is best to test different digital advertisement platforms to see what yields most bang for the bucks. Depending on the type of game, your audience may be more concentrated in one platform that the other. For example, if your game is targeting artists, then Tumblr or Instagram may be far better choice than Facebook or Google Adwords.
Another great way to get your product in front of your own audience is about starting a blog and steadily write about loves and hates, the pains and solutions that you share with them. This will not only allow leveraging search engine optimization (SEO) but it also allows communities to begin to form, and allows establishing authority in the game genre. One advice is that you should not wait until your game completes and ready to market. Instead, you should start the blog as soon as possible, and make your habit to share your learnings from building the game, reviewing other games of similar genre, tips and tricks, and make your blog valuable to others. Once you have small core following, you can not only leverage them for playtesting, brainstorming, and iterative enhancements, but they will be key part of word of mouth marketing (WOMM), an incredible resource, a goldmine for any successful games.
Iterate, Iterate, and Iterate
Now that your game has taken a solid but small foothold, you should focus on the features that would deliver most value for your fans. That may include personalization, recognition, multiplayer capability, social gaming, or more challenging levels. Continue to stay focused on creating unique entertaining values for your fans that align to your passion areas, get them tested, and be sure to suck early and suck often to get to nonsuck, and most of all, you are building games. If you don’t have fun, then the game you are building probably is not that fun either and that may be start of your own demise. The only way to avoid it is continue to be innovative and creative.
A Lesson from Pixar: Suck Early, Suck Often. Pixar’s incredible award winning animation films weren’t conjured up from some genius’s mind. In fact, it is incredibly far from it. A Fast Company article tells us that A Bug’s Life required 27,565 storyboards, 43,536 for Finding Nemo, 69,562 for Ratatouille, and 98,173 for WALL-E. It seems the magic is their willingness to start that their first version is usually hideously “suck”. Only through their incredibly honest, candid, but rigorous review process over many years, usually leaving grasp of original director’s original direction, with many comments, suggestions, tested in front of audiences, through many countless “suck early, and suck often” iterations, according to Andrew Stanton in a Dreamforce 2015 session, that the story start to truly glow magnificently.
Persist and Persevere. These are true virtues of video game designers and developers. You are not try to prove that you are the best and most awesome game designer and game developer out there. No. First, you love video games and working on them. Second, you love to make your passion into commercially viable product so that you can spend rest of your life doing something you enjoy the most. So much so that you are willing to persevere through agonizing slow growth in the beginning, but continue to iterate, just like how Howard Schultz tweaked Starbucks from initial concept of Italian cafe to more artsy third home for sophisticated American coffee drinkers.
During this prototyping phase, you will encounter numerous roadblocks and identify many areas of weakness. If you are a developer, you may be well on you way to coding the game, but you will be lacking graphics, and storytelling. If you are a great illustrator and be able to draw characters and images, but lack development skills. Same is true for storyteller. We are somewhat limited to our own strength. This is why it will be important to find a partner or two, having very different skillsets, but share similar passions, to form a team and develop the game together. This will speed up the time to market tremendously. But working with another person is not trivial. The book, Innovator’s Dilemma, illustrates very different views of partnership for startups.
Last but not least, once we gain a strong foothold, and has a good loyal following for the game, we need to focus on how to leverage the fanbase to monetize the sunken cost of building the game and use to build more features to the game. There are many advertising platforms that force feed the ads. This is the least encouraged form of advertisement because they are so intrusive and interruptive. As a gamer yourself, do you like those ads that constantly pop up on every retry of the game? Probably not.
Most successful forms of advertisements are advertisements that actually help users achieve what they want. For example, Google Adwords has been wildly successful, allowing Google to make 90% of its revenue from it. The idea is simple. People search to find answers or solutions to their questions. That is the nature of search. What Google does is bring the advertisements that are most likely solve searcher’s questions. The true advertising is about connecting affordable products and solutions to people who are seeking them quickly. The other successful advertisement platform is Facebook. Facebook is so unique, in that, since so many people use Facebook (1.5 billion monthly users), and Facebook by its design knows so much about their own users, it allows advertisers to hypertarget the exact matching audience to do the interruptive marketing. In addition to their hyper targeting capability, what Facebook is able to do is allowing businesses to host their own brand pages, and share useful content to their Facebook users, creating loyal fan base.
Long story short, advertisement must be presented in a way that helps gamers to solve problems they face, and not deter their gaming experience. Be creative and think of ways to leverage in-app purchases to enhance another level of gaming experience, not simply selling swords or hats, but something that will help players to gain the new level of gaming experience that will yield positive addictiveness.
Designing and developing games are indeed require monumental effort. Unlike movies, music, or books, gaming platform is so unique that can provide unprecedented interactive experiences for the players anywhere. When done right, it becomes an incredible learning platform that instills meaning and purpose, pleasure and thrill as one takes that journey throughout the game.
But none of this can happen without your unwieldy passion for creating useful, learning, fun, exciting, and unique gaming experience that can catch your and your fellow game players’ hearts and minds.