So you’ve decided to make your first video game. By now you would have probably already Googled up something like ‘getting started making my first video game’, ‘getting started making games’ or ‘how to make video games’.
The typical advise on getting started goes something like this:
- Start with a small idea with minimal game mechanics so you can quickly complete it.
- Start learning C++ because thats what the pros use.
- Choose a good framework that is easy to pick up and speed up your game development process.
- Use game maker software like GameMaker, Game Salad, Stencyl, Construct, or Unity 3D to make your first game.
- Just make a game.
These are all well meaning advice.
But how do you really get started? Is a good idea all you need? Is it easy to learn C++ to make a game with no prior programming knowledge and experience? How do you choose the right game framework or game maker software that helps speed up your game development process?
Over the next several articles, you’ll discover some of the answers these questions. The way I approach game development is to consider the results I want to achieve in the long run before I actually start building a game. It involves being methodical and deliberate about what I’m going to create.
First, it’s going to hard. There are no shortcuts to becoming a successful game developer. There is just so much to learn and do in making a quality game. What I’m sharing with you here is just a general overview of what I teach my students.
So here’s the road map of what you’ll learn over this series.
- Creating your game plan
- Identifying who your players are
- Building your game
- Launching your game
Let’s get started with creating your game plan.
1) Why do you need a game plan?
I live in Malaysia and in May 2014, I took a 3-week vacation with my family the United States. We were going to attend my sister’s graduation ceremony in Louisville and then head off to Las Vegas, San Diego and Los Angeles. My son Jacob was really excited (think Disneyland) and there were so many things we wanted to do.
When we decided on the trip, what do you think we did next? Hop right on the next plane for the US? No, of course not. We had to plan our trip, decide what clothes to pack, prepare emergency medication in case our son got sick, plan our flights to balance our budget while ensuring the time spent traveling was as short as possible. We couldn’t anticipate every possible situation but we planned things as best as we could so we wouldn’t waste time figuring things out during the trip. Plus when you’re traveling with family, things can get stressful without a clear plan and especially when things don’t go according to plan.
The purpose of all this planning is simple. To maximise our enjoyment while minimising the possibility of problems occurring.
Likewise in game development, having a clear plan of action is important because:
- It reduces your risk of creating something that nobody plays
- It helps you see your progress in the development cycle and stay on track.
- It keeps you motivated when you get stuck or things take longer than expected to complete.
- It reminds you of things you may have forgotten or decisions you have made so you can keep moving forward confidently.
- It removes the “what do I do now?” problem at any point during development.
How often have you been stressed out, confused and uncertain in the middle of a project because you planned poorly or didn’t plan anything before you started?
So once you realise that you need a clear game plan, you must know:
2) What to expect
Let’s start off right:
Your first game won’t be a hit or massive success.
It will be far from perfect. It will probably fail and not earn you a single cent. But that’s perfectly normal.
It seems to me that many first time game developers expect their first game to be an instant hit bringing in $50,000 daily. Fact is it rarely happens and those expectations are unrealistic. Unfortunately it seems that most new developers get easily discouraged and end up giving up early on.
If your goal is to build a sustainable long term business, you must realise that a real business takes time to build. Think in terms of years; not weeks or months.
It’s also common that several of your early games will not do well. I would say the first five to ten games often don’t do well. Just focus on building your game without any expectation of being financially rewarded.
Knowing you wont make it big early on and removing all expectations of earning anything is like letting go of this huge burden and letting it roll right off your back.
Now relax, have fun and just focus on:
3) Your game idea
If you don’t have any ideas yet, ask yourself these questions:
- What are some games I already play?
- What are the most fun parts in these games?
- What makes those parts fun?
- What do I wish these games had that would make it better?
These questions are only suggestions and you probably have other ways of coming up with ideas. Having about 10 ideas or so would be a great start.
Here are two possible ways to validate your ideas and get a sense of whether players would enjoy your game.
Look at existing games.
It’s common to look at other games that have done something similar to what you’re trying to build. Keep an eye out for comments, reviews and player feedback to identify ways you can improve on an existing idea.
Also, there is a bigger world of games beyond the digital realm. Don’t just look at video games. Look at board games, card games, miniature games, dice games, educational games, etc.
Take notes and think about how you can build a better or different game.
Look at what people find fun.
Different activities appeal to different people. Some like to be involved in creating, collecting, destroying, managing, role playing, assembling, decorating, etc. I’m sure you have more ideas to add to that list. If your game already has an enjoyable behaviour that others find fun, your idea may just work out.
Armed with a brilliant idea or ten, you may now have some:
Concerns about your ideas.
Here are a few common concerns I hear:
“I wanted to make a game like this but there already other similar games.”
Go to a book store and look at any category of books. You’ll find a number of books written on the same topics. The same is true with popular songs. You’ll find the same songs are sung over and over again by different artists. Likewise with games. Play the popular flash game ‘Crush the castle’ and look at ‘Angry birds’.
There are probably many versions of the same idea you may have. Take the time to think how you can add on to your idea and make your own unique version.
“I don’t want to share my idea because someone may steal it.”
This seems to be the number one fear most new game developers have that prevents them from sharing their ideas.
Yes, you’ve probably read a number of stories about games being copied or stolen. It happens but there’s really nothing to worry about. Look at popular games you find in any app store. You’ll find there are many clones of popular and hit games.
Your game idea is only the starting point. It still has a long way to go before finally becoming a complete game. It will go through production, testing, tweaking, changes and may be completely different than the idea you started with. Your idea will change and evolve over time.
Try giving your initial idea to 10 different game developers and each will change it so that all 10 games that come out unique. I’ve seen this happen when I give my university a very specific idea to work on. Everyone comes up with something different.
Just focus on building really fun and quality games.
Are you really passionate about your game idea?
Can you see yourself working on your idea over the next few weeks or months?
If it’s a yes, great! Move on to the next step. If it’s a no, well you still have plenty of ideas to choose from and start over.
Once you’ve decided on your idea, plan out:
4) Your minimum viable product
What are the bare absolute essentials that your game must have to be considered complete and playable?
The goal here is to take the time to plan and build a minimum viable product or MVP. A MVP is the most basic version of your game that is playable with as few game mechanics and elements as possible. The purpose is to test your idea with real players and get feedback as early as possible. This helps you validate your game idea so you know if it’s worth investing your time and effort to complete it.
So how do you decide whether an element or feature should be included in your MVP? A question that I always ask my students is, “If your game didn’t include this feature, would it still be playable and fun?”.
If yes, then you know it’s a feature you shouldn’t be spending time and effort building.
Document your idea and take notes on the decisions you’ve made. This will give you a reference point to get back to if you get lost along the way while in the midst of building your game.
Okay, so now you have a simple outline that you can use to plan out your own MVP.
Now, I’m just curious:
If you have a brilliant idea that you’re passionate about but haven’t already built your MVP, what’s holding you back?
Leave a comment and let me know.