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Developing "low key" (A blog post)

I’m an old school gamer and back in the late 90’s early 2000’s I got really big into the modding scene with JK: DF2. None of that is relevant, but maybe it paints a picture of where I come from. These days I see a lot of “Early Access” games, half finished, charging people money to test their games, not knowing if the product will ever be finished (There is no guarantee). And I think just a few bad apples can really ruin Early Access for people that do deserve it. Kickstarter is just as bad (In My Humblest of Opinions).

To make a long story short when UE4 was released I purchased a licenses and got working on a couple ideas. The idea I settled on is a simple concept. I decided it was probably a good idea to keep everything simple if I actually planned to release a game (since I’m a 1 man army). I think this is very important for Indie developers to think about. If you bury yourself it’s likely it will never be completed. With my simple concept I’ve planned all features on a spreadsheet and every night I try to cross something off the list. By doing this, it is helping my motivation. All day while at work I just can’t wait to get home and cross another thing off the list. It’s almost got addicting. Of course not every night is productive and not every night I get to work on it. Personal life is another story, trying to juggle my full time job as an iOS developer, and my home life with my family and 2 babies, but I’m starting to get used to about 5 hours of sleep a night. The game development process just fuels me to keep going. UE4 is awesome for this because you get to see the results of your hard work instantly and is very gratifying.

What I mean by “developing low key” is keeping everything close to my chest until it’s ready for the public. I do not plan to offer Early Access, or even going to kickstarter. I will have a dev blog but I will not make that public until just close to the end. Just nose to the grindstone until it’s complete. I hope the hard work pays off because my plan is this will generate enough revenue for me to quit answering to the man and start my own game studio. And if that doesn’t work, it will be my resume to land a job at Epic :wink: Or Valve, or EA (JUST KIDDING!)

What are your guys thoughts on Early Access/Kickstarter vs. just developing and releasing?

If you can get it Kickstarted without early access then i would say go for it. I really dont like this early access stuff, to me it ruins the magic of the games. And as you pointed out there are tons of “early access” games nowadays, which are basically broken games and they make you pay for them, and then you get bored of the game before even it gets fixed and released. I miss the days when we used to have actually working game demos and then the full finished game after a couple of months…

I think Kickstarters is usually a good idea to garner attention around your game and get people excited about it - in addition to the benefit of getting paid to develop it. I feel developing and releasing a game is something some people would do anyway even if their game is not successfully funded to reach their goal on Kickstarters, unless to develop the game in a timely manner will really take however much they ask for (common for developers making games like this). Regardless of which method you go by, it is essential to have good publicity for your game among your circle and the intended audience for it to sale well.

Too many people count on Kickstarter as what’s going to fund them. For me, my project is something that I can do myself, at the very least if I complete it then it will be an excellent portfolio work, and if things go well then I can make some money off it.

Yeah I didn’t mean to come off like I was ******** on kickstarter or anything, I’ve definitely backed a few projects (no games however).

Funny story about a kickstarter game. A coworker and I decided to collaborate on a project together before UE4. We decided to use UDK and we even started doing some 3d models and environment building. A few weeks go by, and I come into work one morning and everyone is looking at me. “You’re going to be ******” they said… I’m like, wut…? They tell me to sit down and open this link. So I do, it’s for a kickstarter link for a game. In fact it is the exact same game we were going to make. Not only did they reach their goal but they got like $100k… “Bear Simulator” was the game. Though ours was going to be much more realistic :wink:

I am also debating the idea of Kickstarter. If I didn’t get the funding, I would still make my game. However, I can see the benefit in drawing attention to your game so people will know about it.

This example isn’t in the same field but it can somewhat apply. Long ago I made an instrumental album and I didn’t advertise anything. I went in by myself and had the mentality that I’m not gonna say anything until it’s finished. So I finish the album and I was like tada! Only problem is that, even if listeners would like it, nobody knew about it. I held this project so close that it didn’t get the attention it deserved whether it was bad or good. So this time around I want people to know what I’m doing. I want to share my art to others and hopefully gamers will enjoy it.

As for those projects that never finish, I’m sure they could have finished the game but some where a long the way the game got to big. I have to constantly check myself and say “is this within the scope of the project” so I feel what you are saying about keeping it simple.

I don’t think Early Access or Kickstarter is necessary but I would at least hint along the way as you develop to the public. Especially if you have goals to make it big. Big money equals big audience.

If you’re interested, I actually blogged along the lines of this not to long ago. Just some personal thoughts I saw within myself. http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/IsaacNichols/20140711/220856/Dont_Become_a_Hermit_Forever.php

Wish you the best on your project!

Isaac Nichols

I think the secrecy option can work fine, and it does give you that real big impact of “Wow! This looks really good!” right off the bat (assuming the game is polished).

The downside is that I think what happens then is most people forget about the game (unless it’s released shortly afterward - like a few days). Contrast this with Wolfire’s strategy for Overgrowth (early access from a REALLY early state, super-frequent blog posts and updates).

Wolfire has a huge following for the game, mostly grown by 1) interesting blog posts and 2) frequent, sometimes multiple times-per-week updates.

I’ve tried to go in stealth mode before, mostly because showing early progress doesn’t really feel good, whereas the theoretical ‘reveal-date’ version would obviously feel great. But the problem comes in the response. When you unveil a stealth mode game, unless you already have a community presence, the response will probably be about the same as if you’d unveiled a brand new project without any progress.

In addition to that, it presents a motivation problem. It’s easy to get hung up on blocking issues in game development. Quitting development, or working on something else is easiest in stealth-mode. You promise yourself you’ll get back to that one project eventually, after the new shiny project is done some time. But it never happens.

Being public early on means that you’re accountable (somewhat, at least more than if no one knows of the project) to those people looking forward to it who have followed your progress. Positive feedback on a project also goes a long way for motivation.

So personally I think stealth-mode ends up being a mistake, especially for an unknown developer. Building out a community of people who want your game before its out is super valuable.

Whatever works for you to keep developing is what’s right.

I’m using my project being public as part of the motivation to keep working on it. Give us a like on Facebook. :wink: It’s a 2 person dev team so only twice as big as your project, and we have the skills to complete it without funding. KickStarter has been discussed and to me it looks like you need to have a real plan around a campaign and you really need to spend some marketing money on it, including a good video.

A failed KickStarter campaign can be very detrimental.

Great point Issac! I had not considered that. That is definitely something I need to think about.