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  • A Beginner's Guide To Making Your Own Games

    - Joey Heinze

  • 5. The pitfalls of game development

    In this section, you will learn about the most common problems taken from a survey that I have conducted together with indie devs. The results of the survey can be found in the appendix. For each problem, you can find a solution based on answers from the survey, research, and personal experience. Use this information as preparation for your production. It is not a promise for success, but it will greatly improve your chances of finishing your game. 

    5.1 Scope of the project was too big

    The number one reason for failed projects. Not only common amongst the participants but also an issue that can be found in postmortems of AAA games. You plan for too many features, the project gets too ambitious and as a result, there is either no end in sight or you will completely lose motivation to keep working. Or you underestimate the amount of work needed for certain tasks and you end up with unfinished features while your time is running out. 

    But what can you do about it? A lot of it comes down to experience. That is why a lot of beginners think they can tackle making a huge RPG or even an MMO. The more games you do, the more of a feeling you get for how much work it actually is. But doing proper planning is also a huge help. Especially if you plan your project in a way that you can easily scale the scope up or down. The MoSCoW list supports this by making you think about the features that need to end up in the game and the features that you would like to have but are not essential. This way you can focus on the important core gameplay while you still have the possibility to wrap up the project if needed or to keep adding new features to improve the game. Don't turn into a feature creep though. 

    "If you don't know if your scope is too wide, the answer is always yes it is."

    5.2 Losing motivation and start working on a new project

    Two different but very similar reasons for why projects get abandoned. Unfortunately, there is no real solution to these problems. Each project comes with phases in which you just want to jump onto a new project because everything new is exciting. You will also get many new ideas while working on your game and it is tempting to just start all over again. The outcome is that you will never finish anything. It takes a lot of willpower to fight through these phases of game development.

    Some advice taken from the survey:

    "Losing the expectation that development will always be fun/motivating and having a design doc that reminds you why you were inspired to begin with."

    "Game development is a very consuming endeavour. It may not seem worth it, but if you're able to persevere, the positive emotions upon completion and reaching players who enjoy the project is unrivaled."

    But planning again can make it a bit easier. As mentioned before, a project that is way too ambitious easily kills your motivation. If you are working on a smaller game it is easier to achieve progress which keeps up the motivation. Use this to your advantage. 

    "Cut a lot of content, try to find "small wins" (the super cliche 20% things bring 80% of value which is very true) and keep the scope small (you can always add everything later, if needed)."

    Sometimes it also helps to switch to other tasks, especially if you are stuck on one thing. But this again requires proper planning to make sure there is always something else that needs to be done and not only that one single feature on which the whole project is depending. 

    5.3 Underestimated the amount of work

    One simple solution: Experience! But to be serious, this is quite similar to the problem that the project scope is too ambitious. You think you can do feature x in one day but then it actually takes you one week. It is always a good practice to assume that a task takes more time than you think. Especially if you are not sure how easy or difficult it will be which is the case if you don't have a lot of experience. 

    5.4 Bad Planning

    Bad planning can be the reason for some of the previously mentioned problems. Because it has such a huge impact on the project, it is important to create a plan that matches the scope of your game. In chapter 4.1 Pre-Production you can read more about creating a project plan. Take it seriously and prepare your production as well as possible. Otherwise, you may run into problems that can ultimately kill your game. 

    5.5 Feature Creep

    The famous feature creep that I have already mentioned multiple times in these guidelines. A feature creep is someone who constantly wants to add new things to the game. You can probably imagine the outcome. The development of your game takes longer and longer. It is natural to get new ideas while working on your project. Or when you are playing other games you might think that this one feature would be cool to have as well. And yes, it probably would be, but if you keep adding more and more stuff to your game you will never come to an end. Another problem is that you can make your game worse. Maybe you already have a fun gameplay loop but you keep adding features that distract the player from it. 

    If you really want to add new features, that were not in the original planning, always think about if it really adds to the experience and if you can afford to work on it. 

    5.6 Project did not achieve the desired quality

    Shit happens. Sometimes you have a good idea, plan everything, start working and at some point, you notice that the game is not fun to play. Or you need a specific feature but you are not able to get it working in the way you need it for your project. Even with all the prototypes and planning, it is not possible to foresee everything. 

    If you find yourself in that situation you can try to find a solution. But sometimes it is also the better option to leave the project behind. There is no shame in doing that. Especially if there is no other sensible option. And don't let that discourage you. While the project might not be finished, you have still learned something and maybe you can reuse the work for another project. 

    5.7 Some more advice

    These are of course not all problems but now you should have a better idea of what can (and will) go wrong during game development. And these issues don't necessarily have to be the end of a project. Here is some more advice that I have received from the participants of the survey. Since I got more than expected, I will only show a few of them and attach the rest at the end of the guide.

    "Try as many things you want and try to fail as quickly as possible, learn, and move on to another. Don't spend more than 5-7 months on first projects."

    "Start and complete all your work. Abandoned work looks bad and isn't good for learning. Start with small projects (1 week), then work your way up to long term (1 year) high-quality projects. Assess what went well and what you can improve on each time. Show them to industry professionals and get their input, don't be afraid."

    "1) Keep it simple.
    2) Make a game only you can make.
    3) Shoot for appeal. Keep testing for appeal."

    "Start by making small games, game jams are really fun to start with and help you solve problems to work efficiently and fast. Look up tutorials and don't be afraid to google everything you need, even code."

    "Ignore everyone else's advice (even this!). Make what makes you happy."

    Don't ignore everyone's advice (especially if it helps you to do what makes you happy) but listen to your gut and decide for yourself if the support, that someone is offering you, is really useful in your situation. 

    And always keep in mind that you can reach out for help. There are a lot of communities out there that will try to help you if you get stuck or if you have any questions.


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