I’d like to address something things I don’t care about and I think if you want to make games for a living you should also not care about. Please note that I’m generally referring to small indie devs here: trying to make the next Halo is going to run your face into some serious issues this post isn’t really trying to tackle.
First to Market
This was sparked because I recently read a game postmortem bemoaning missing the “local multiplayer train.” Ignoring for the moment the many other issues that make that comparison disingenuous, first to market for video games barely matters at all. The entire premise of an advantage for first to market involves being able to stay ahead of your competition; You’re not doing that in games barring some enormous technological advantage or something like a mountain of cash.
There are successful video game companies, big and small, that make a living polishing the heck out of their products and being good at customer service. I don’t want to say Blizzard never innovates, but they’re widely known for taking pre-existing ideas and polishing them to a mirror shine. They’re also known for taking their sweet, sweet time.
It’s Too Nichey!
Unlikely. You’ve just not managed to convince those players your game is worth paying for. You’ve got to be really, really narrow in focus in order to claim your potential market is just too niche. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that if both Firewatch and Papers, Please can do well so can your game, although perhaps not on that scale.
You use MMOFPSRPGRTSMOBA! It’s Super Saturated!
Your game is not getting priced out of the market because there are too many games in the same genre. Do you know why we have these large genres? Because they’re popular and people keep making things in those genres and people keep consuming them. I’ve never met a gamer who loved a particular game who would refuse to buy a game similar in genre and quality. There might be some friction due to pricing, but I think it’s fair to mention that gaming is increasing in popularity; there’s a whole lot of people willing to spend a whole lot of money on games they would enjoy.
Aside: There is something to be said about standing out, and being unique can make you stand out. But being in genre X is not going to be the primary factor in a game’s failure.
Visual Arms Race
Don’t care. Couldn’t care less.
I don’t mean visuals don’t matter – they do. But in an aesthetic sense. Not a photorealistic or graphical fidelity sense. Not a can-I-burn-your-latest-graphics-card-to-the-ground sense. There is a general expectation that games should look better as time goes on, and fair enough, but graphics are time consuming and expensive. As a small developer your advantage is not in competing with AAA or middle tier “AA” budgets. Your advantages are being nimble: you can pivot faster for cheaper, focus on details that those massive open world games can’t, and generally do a better job polishing your game because your scope is smaller and your marketing message tighter.
Aside: Ever notice that games aiming for photorealism don’t age well? Super Mario World still looks great. Just sayin’.
UE4 versus Unity versus C++/SFML versus…
Use. Whatever. Can. Make. Your. Game.
There are considerations regarding technology, your personal/team’s experience and so forth, but overall for the kind of your games small developers make it does not matter.
Aside: Someone’s going to get on my case about performance on a specific framework on a specific platform, and my response is I don’t care. Find a solution and use that. Don’t waste months debating.
I use Unity/C#. I think coding in C++ is significantly slower than C# and that’s a massive negative. My current game could be made in UE4. It could be made in the 3D version of the engine I used for my last game.
Did you make your game? Yes? Good, I don’t care what you made it in. You made it work so give yourself a pat on the back.
I know that this is traditionally a point of concern for game developers. I once ran a sale in the middle of a big game developer event and other developers were like, “Huh?” Sale did great.
Timing is important; Anyone who grew up on console platformers knows that. But overall I prefer a long, slow marketing burn. It’s great for four reasons:
- It provides you with a long time period to simultaneously develop and market.
- It reduces the overall impact of one specific launch date on your game sales.
- It gives you data on who your core users are and what they want, and how to retain those who are not.
- It gives you time to adjust your price.
Aside: Pricing is very important. VERY. IMPORTANT. Set up experiments and collect data. Perform your due diligence. Do not listen to people who tell you to just go lower because more people will buy and it will “obviously” result in more revenue. Also don’t let these ding dongs convince you they are not ding dongs:
In case it’s not abundantly clear, it makes no sense to let people who don’t like your product determine its price. Crocs are worth zero dollars to me; if you sell Crocs you should not price them at zero dollars because of that.
Similar to my last game I’ll be soft/alpha launching my current game. I don’t expect the initial months to be amazing, sales-wise. That’s fine since this is fact-finding and community building. The money will come, but later.
Aside: This may not be applicable to all types of games. Short games, or games not designed for replayability will most likely suffer from this marketing and development approach. In those cases your launch is significantly more important and you should not be taking this section’s advice. Uh, except that middle bit about pricing. Take that advice.
Thanks for reading,