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"Ok so, I've like got this idea for the next, biggest, greatest video game experience ever - so what do I do next...?"

posted 7 Apr 2010 05:35 by Jon Howard   [ updated 9 Apr 2010 01:32 ]
Sooner or later this question ALWAYS arises in every video game development, game creating, game development forum (in fact it usually arrives about 10 times a day if your really lucky) so with that in mind I want to try and answer this question once and for all

Firstly (here's the important bit - so read this carefully) ...

Ideas are great, we love ideas (personally I have about twenty every day, even more if I've had my Weetabix for breakfast) - everything starts with an idea, but here's the rub, without anything concrete to back them up an idea isn't even worth the paper it's not written down on!

So you've got an idea for a game, one which you think will be loved by everyone and make you and everybody involved multi-gazillionaires - who knows, it just might!
However on it's own the idea won't make you anything - IT'S WHAT YOU DO WITH THE IDEA THAT MATTERS!

(did you spot the important point or should I try and be a bit less subtle)

"So where do I begin" I hear you cry... (easy - just follow my patented 10 step plan to video game greatness)

1. Decide on WHY your doing this and WHAT you hope to get out of it!

2. Create a design document - Identify the core elements / gameplay mechanics / find the fun!

3. Identify the target market / platform - who is going to play (and why and how) and more importantly who is going to pay!

4. Refine the design with the target marktet / platform in mind / make sure you don't lose the fun!

5. Perform a resource / skills inventory - List ALL the resources / skills you need, don't have, have to aquire.

6. Create a prototype.

7. Work out a schedule, milestones, initial timescales, budgets etc.

8. Decide on a publishing model (how are you going to get your wonderous game out to the public).

9. Make appropriate enquires with potentially interested parties.

10. Begin development.

11. Work steadily and consistantly towards each milestone with a professional attitude, not forgetting to constantly review what you've created with regards to the target market (ie. don't loose the fun!, remember why your doing this, who your doing it for and most of all what you hope to get out of it when your finished).

If that lot sounds like a lot of hard work, it's because it is, if your still not put off by the reality of some hard work then roll up your sleeves and read on (if you want to stop now then that's fine as well - video game design, creation and production isn't for everyone, like any creative endeveour it involves a lot of blood, sweat and tears only for the vast majority of people to scoff at because they haven't realised the amount of work that is involved or shared your creative vision).

NOTE : Before you complain that there's more than 10 steps - correct, in fact there's a lot more, I just wanted to illustrate the point that if you arn't prepared to go that extra mile and do what needs to be done to get the project finished then this probably isn't the business for you!

But, before we start that there's something important you need to understand.  Development is NOT a linear process! By that I mean that whilst I would recommend that you do complete the following steps in order, you as the chief designer / developer / producer / big kahoona (or whatever you call yourself) have ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of a project and as such owe it to yourself to not be afraid to backup to an earlier step if you think that you've started to wander off track a little.  Likewise there may be times when you have to skip ahead to try and work out if what you want to achieve is technically possible (especially within a given timeframe).

However sticking (initially at first) to a logical sequence like this has another benefit, it act's like a natural filter.  As I said earlier ideas are ten-a-penny, some great, others good, most not so...  by following through the structure as listed what you are actually doing is testing your idea, presenting it with a series of challenges and seeing if it holds up to scrutiny.  What might start out as a good idea (and many do) might develop a few holes when put under the microscope, if these holes can't be fixed then it's much better to find out eariler rather than later and canning a project in the earlier stages is much less painful (and considerably cheaper) than waiting until late in the development when everyone's queing up to say "I told you so!".  

At the very least if you are aware of any "holes" or issues with your design you can account for them and work round them in the beginning rather than throwing away masses of work down the line.

That said let's begin...

1. The WHY and the WHAT.

Now all of this is really aimed at the person(s) who want to break into the biz. and be the next "big thing", the kind of people who want to set up their own studio designing, developing and creating their own projects,  it's a misunderstood fact that any hobbyist (with sufficient self disclipline and perserverance) CAN actually create their own video game and put it out on the internet for all to see and play (if not pay).

The key difference is that the true hobbyist is generally prepared to plough on for as long as it takes, isn't really that bothered about the commerical aspects and would just rather make fun games (in fact the process of making the games is often more important than the finished project and many projects never actually get finished in favour of some new more interesting project on the horizon).

Someone who want's to create games (or any software product) as a successful commericial venture is subject to a lot more outside pressure, the old business adage of "Time is money" applies.  All of this development takes time, can you afford the time?  Are you prepared to commit the time? 

A lot of indie developers actually start out as hobbyist's that have a dream of making it big, making a successful commericial game in their spare time (thus keeping financial development costs to a minimum) and this is okay - some developers actually make a pretty good living out it (or at least a reasonable second income that helps to offset the costs of their geeky gadget fueled lifestyles, the only downside is that they may have to make sacrifices in other areas (hand's up all the indie / hobbyist's who've had grief from significant others about lack of "quality time", yeah you at the back - you know what I mean!)

At the end of the day which ever category you fall into is fine, the key thing to understand (and here you have to be 100% honest with yourself) is understanding WHY are you starting this project and WHAT are you hoping (or going) to achieve when it's complete.  Keep these two answers firmly in your mind, stay focused on them during the dark times or when you start to have doubts and wonder if it's all worth it.

If your WHY and WHAT is commerical success then YOU have to be hyper critical of your idea (because you can bet your backside that everyone else will be) - that doesn't mean you should reject all forms of orginality in preference for yet another match 3 clone (far from it - the games industry is currently crying out for innovation, but if your just starting out a period of incremental innovation of current / past successes will at least allow you to "stand on the shoulders of giants") it just means that you have be damm sure you can make a go of it (especially if you've got a mortgage to pay and mouths to feed!).

From here on in it may look like I'm focusing more on the commercial success angle, but really I'm focusing on the plain old "success" angle - if you (hobbyist, indie or commerical) want to make your game a success then you owe it to yourself at least to make a concerted and dedicated effort.

2. The Design Document.

OK, first things first, do you actually need a design document?  To answer this you first need to understand what is meant by the term "design document".  When asked to imagine a design document most people will envisage a large and complex document containing detailed descriptions of levels, puzzles, characters, actions, tables of information, background story, level progression etc etc etc.

At this point in the game (pun intended) all of that information is irrelevant, a design document can (and probably should) be something as simple as a couple of notes scribbled on the back of a napkin or beermat (or fag packet for the more politically incorrect *grin*).  When you first come up with an idea you should try and express it in thirty words or less, if you can't express the game in terms of it's core mechanic or gameplay issue simply and effectively in a single paragraph or less then how do you think you will be able to express it well enough to get other people excited?

Don't get me wrong, a design is important - at this stage the design IS your idea, putting that idea down on paper (or typing it on the computer) forms the basis of the design document, a document which will (and should) grow in detail as the game is developed,  unless you are the most talented video games designer in the world (the kind of person that Shigeryu Miyamoto aspires to sit at the feet of) then there is no way you will be able to accurately predict the effects countless tables of attributes or minute data about powerup effects will have on the finsished game, likewise you can't know until you start to have something playable what effect movement characterisics, level of detail, advanced puzzle layouts will have either - so why bother?

At this stage in the process the design document is there simply to capture your thoughts, help with brainstorming process, describe generic elements, convey the overall concept of the game and help you "find the fun",  if you can't see the one appealing element of your game in a thirty word description then it's doubtful anyone else can either (probably because it doesn't exist!).

Setting aside a folder (either paper or electronic) to hold information about the game as it develops is a good idea, collect any and all reference material that will help you flesh out your creation later, just don't think that all progress has to stop until the design document is complete because it probably never will be (at least not until the game is on the shelves, and even then you might have a sequal planned!).  

Too many ideas fail at the design stage because the creators try and describe every last detail and then get swamped under the masses and masses of data they've generated and eventually loose sight of their target goal (the WHY and the WHAT).

Before we continue a note about "the fun!".  The following is the Wikipedia definition of a game (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game)

A game is a structured or semi-structured activity, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes also used as an educational tool. Games are generally distinct from work, which is usually carried out for remuneration, and from art, which is more concerned with the expression of ideas. However, the distinction is not clear-cut, and many games may also be considered work or art.

Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interactivity. Games generally involve mental or physical stimulation, and often both. Many games help develop practical skills, serve as a form of exercise, or otherwise perform an educational, simulational or psychological role.

From this we can see the main purpose of our game is enjoyment (or fun!), simply put if it's not fun people won't play it.  Right from the off you should always have an idea as to what makes your game fun to play - in fact this should ideally be forefront in your mind during the entire development process.

This leads us nicely on to the next section about who the game is for...

3. The Target Market (The WHO, the WHY, the HOW and the how much).

Creating the game you've always wanted to play is always a good reason to get started making games (and also a good incentive to get it finished) but just because you think a game idea is the "best thing since sliced bread" doesn't mean anyone else does, in fact making the game appeal to a wider audience means it stands a better chance of being commericially successful (ie. you might actually find some one willing to pay you for it!)

To make a game (or any product for that matter) appeal to a particular segment of the market it's pretty obvious that you should first find out about and get to understand that segment, there are many ways to achieve this (just ask anybody who works in market research / focus testing), however a simple way (to get started at least) is to try and answer the following questions (obviously if you can think up some more - great).

    • Who is going to (or who do I want to) play my game, Why ?
    • What kind of games do these people like, Why ?
    • How long (and how often) do these people play games for,
    • Does my game scenario fit in with what I know about these people (their likes, their dislikes)
    • Will my game appeal to these people (does it satisfy their needs / wants - how does it)?
    • How much would they be willing to pay to play my game (what value will the audience place on my game)
    • How will these people get to know about my game
    • How will I deliver my game to these people
    • How will these people actually play my game (controller / accessibility issues)
    • Will these people understand my game (it's concepts, controls, gameplay mechanics)
    • Will these people like my game, 
    • Will they find it fun and enjoyable.

Now, obviously this in itself can be a lot of work, especially if you are not intimate with your target market, so my advice (initally) would be it's probably best to "stick to what you know" - target people like yourself, maybe your own age-group, demographic, people with similar interests, hobbies etc - especially for your first couple of projects.

Being able to identify and empathise with your target market allows you to design for and tailor specific elements of the game to appeal to that market (with the obvious commercial benefits) and the use of feedback from any focus groups, beta testers you might have access to is invaluable.  

The key thing here is to remember WHO you are creating the game for and WHY (most often commericial success features quite highly in most peoples why), this may cause design descisions that go against your initial intentions - all of these must be weighed up and considered before deciding on a final course of action.

Once you've decided on your target market - hopefully this will make the choice of target platform easier.  In most cases (especially for hobbyist's and indies) this will be the standard option of a PC running some flavour of Microsoft operating system, however the good news is that a greater degree of choice finally becoming available and systems that were once considered closed to all but the elite-few are now becoming more accessible to the masses (I'm looking at you Mr Microsoft with your XBox Live community games, and you Mr Apple with your iPhone developer program, and you at the back there Mr Android - we haven't forgotten you either!).  

For now I would advise sticking with the humble PC, it's wide range and mass market appeal means that most people own or have regular access to one, targeting other platforms has it's own pro's and con's (worthy of a seperate topic in it's own right - and one which will hopefully I'll be writing next), although recent developments in SDKs (software development kits) and online marketplaces mean that the that iPhone / iPod Touch, and Android platforms should DEFINITELY be on your radar!

Again if you look through the list you can see that that old nugget about fun rears it's head again - remember the key element in everything you do - IS IT FUN!, WILL MY AUDIENCE FIND IT FUN!, if not how can you expect them to play, enjoy (and utlimately pay for) the experience that is your upcoming masterpiece.

When you understand the target market and the target platform you can now start to fill in the blanks in the design document, the choice of target platform may limit (or open up new possibilities for) player interaction. Understanding who is likely to play your game (and for what reason) will allow you to design an experience that best fits their needs, presenting them with a series of challenges that they will enjoy, and achievements that they will want to try and aim for...

4. Make sure it still makes sense!

Now that you know (or at least have a clue about) who is hopefully going to play your game (and why) and what your game is going to be about, and how it's meant to be played, what achievements / rewards are possible etc etc, it's time to go back to the drawing board and make sure that the original design still makes sense.  

Does the game follow a logical progression, is what you have to do in the game in-line with your target markets philosophy and beliefs.  Do any elements of the design deviate from the targets current world view (if so why? - are you deliberatly trying to push boundaries, models of thought?).

Now is also a perfect time to go back and work out any kinks in the design, start to flesh out the game world, fill in the back story (if appropriate), design the main characters (what they do, how they act, what is their reasoning etc etc), and set the scene and the style of the game.

Now I'm not saying ALL games have to have a complex back story, depending on the type and genre of the game all this extra effort may be counter productive (who want's to wade through a ten page intro just so they can play space invaders or pacman), but it is important that the game (and all of it's elements) should form a solid cohesive structure, if not for the sake of believability (or to help create a total suspension of disbelief) then at least so that the final build can be presented in a polished professional way where by the finished product can (and should) be greater than the sum of it's parts!

5. Work out what's required.

Now's the time to start to get serious...

By this stage in the game (pun intended) you should have a reasonably strong concept design, you know what the games about, what it does, what it's supposed to achieve, who the players are, what they're supposed to do, and what they're motivation is.  

You might even have put some thought in to what target hardware you intend to use or support, what you probably DON'T know at this stage is what's acutally required to deliver that finished product to the player (or if your even capable of delivering that finished product).

Fortunately working out what's required is a fairly straightforward (if somewhat laborious) process, you simply sit down with the current design in one hand and a blank sheet of paper in the other and make a list of everything your going to need for your game.

I would in fact suggest making several lists, so you can file items under specific categories which will help in managing the assests and making sure that things don't get forgotten (in fact things WILL get forgotten, lot's of them, but making lists like these will help you remember and probably discover many things you didn't realise you need!).

Examples of various categories can be sound effects, music, background art, level design, character art, etc etc but that's only half the story, you'll also need to make a list of the sorts of coding issues you'll face, tools you'll need as well - don't worry if your not 100% sure of the coding issues just try and make the list as complete as you can at the moment - if you find yourself lacking in this area then maybe it's time to bring onboard someone with coding experience (see point 9).

Once your got your assets covered (so to speak) then you need to do a skills (or asset) inventory, which is fancy talk for looking down the lists and seeing which of the items that you (or whatever team your currently part of) either already have access to, or are capable of producing yourself.  As for the rest you'll either have to recruit more team members to create the assets or arrange to buy them in (either for cash, a royalty stake, or some other form of remuneration) - if that is the case then these lists will be invaluable when negotiating with artists or assessing the suitability of a third party toolset.

It may also be the case that you'll have to learn some new skills, especially if your not willing (or able) to make deals with other people, that's okay, again the lists will help you by giving you some direction in this area and will allow you to focus your efforts lest you get lost in the vast amounts of information that's currently available via Google and other means.

For instance if you dream of coding the game yourself but don't fully understand your intended language / development environment, then it would be a wise investment to spend some time building up those skills, maybe doing some background reading or following some tutorials that will help you gather the experience you need.

6. The Prototype.

It's hard to decided whether this section should come before or after the schedule - it's really a matter of personal taste, you might want a degree of freedom to try and conceptualize an idea before working on a complete schedule or you may wish to work out a schedule first and allow a set time to try out new ideas.  Either way it's always a good idea to get a working prototype of the game idea complete as soon as possible (in fact after reading this entire article you might think it should be started even earlier!).

Whenever it's done (and regardless of the tools or system used to produce it) the primary focus of the prototype is to prove the viability of the core gameplay mechanic and to act as a testbed for any experimental technologies or concepts.

The prototype is the first time when the game design actually starts to come to life, when people can see (and hopefully) control elements on the screen and get a real feel for how the game is going to work.  

It might showcase a new method of control, or the core game concept, or even a new display routine, you might even decide to let different people build different prototypes to allow them to work on separate areas of the design.

Having a working prototype is also crucial to getting outside investors (or maybe potential new team members) interested in the project and it's also the first sign that your idea is not only viable but also realistically attainable (plus it serves as a great moral booster for you or your team to actually see something moving on screen).

The success or failure of the prototype should ideally determine the success or failure of the entire project, if you can't get people excited by the gameplay of the prototype then (in my humble opinion) no amount of polishing or flashy graphics will help and if you can't find the fun (remember that word) at this stage - it's probably because it doesn't exist.

By it's very nature prototyping involves experiementation and as any scientist / engineer will testify not everything works first time,  you might find (especially early on in your career) that a lot of the prototypes fail - don't get disheartened, just treat the experience as the lesson that it is and move on to your next project.  In the commericial world many many games / ideas never get past the prototype stage, it's far better to can a project in the early stages when you haven't invested too much time (and money) in it's development rather than being forced (often for financial reasons) to churn out a third rate game that no one's proud of and that destroys the moral of everyone involved.

Remember that this prototype will NOT be seen by the general public so don't worry (or waste too much time) about flashy final graphics, placeholder art is more than good enough - in fact flashy graphics at this stage may even hinder the project by hiding the core elements of what the games about.

7. The Schedule.

At no point so far have we talked about time-scales or deadlines, self financing hobbyist's or part timers looking for a second income boost can probably afford to take as long as they like to create their dream - however people with commerical interests (and bills to pay) cannot!

Regardless of your motivation a schedule is a good idea.  Some people use specialist project tools (like Microsoft Project) or spreadsheets (like Excel) a quick Google search will list hundreds of different ones ranging from free to expensive, very bad to very good - the choice is yours, simply find a tool your happy with (or can get used to) and go with it.  

Even a simple text editor will do (if you don't mind adding up the days spent yourself - in fact if you look on the sitemap to the left <--- you'll find a free app I put together for my own use called TimeLogger that will do just that kind of thing for you!).

The key thing with a schedule is simply to list all the tasks that need to be completed (you made this in step 5 - remember) in the order they need to be done and to "guess-timate" how long each one will take. If your working as part of a team then you can "assign" tasks to each team member (again making notes about the order in which tasks need to be completed so that different members arn't holding one another up) - tools such as gant / pert charts (google for more info) are perfect for this but might seem like overkill on small projects.  

Obviously the key issue here are the timescales assigned to each task - this is extremely hard to judge even for seasoned professionals (hence the term "guess-timate") although obviously experience does help - as a general rule of thumb allow a good 20%-50% more than you first thought giving you some breathing room to iron out bugs and to rework things (it's not uncommon for that figure to rise to 100% - 150% more than you first thought - overestimating your abilities can lead to lot's of sleepless nights bashing away at best or wildly missed deadlines at worst).

Missing deadlines on tasks can be disheartening - don't sweat it too much, it might be that your time-scale was wildly inaccurate or you underestimated the time it would take, simply learn from the experience and move on (there's always the possibility to make up for lost time on other tasks) however take note - charting your progress on your schedule can help you to remain focused and keep you on track.  If you find yourself missing all or most of them then you might need to re-evaluate the project or think about getting some extra help on board.

A useful addition to the schedule is the concept of "milestones" or set points along the projects development where you can realisticaly map progress and see things starting to develop - not only are these good for the overal moral of the team (long development times with little "apparent" progress are notorious for killing enthusiasm) but often they will be used by outside investors to judge the progress of the project and be a pre-requisite for staged payments.

If you find yourself unduly procrastinating over the tasks it's probably a good idea to sit down, take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself some serious questions, like "Do I actually want to do this?", "Why do I want to do this?", "What's stopping me doing this?", "What will be the outcome if I do, do this?" and most importantly "What will be the outcome if I DON'T do this?" - take the time to answer the questions honestly (especially the last one) and you should find no excuses to stop you reaching your target - there's a LOT more useful information and advice on avoiding procrastination and achieving your goals on Steve Pavlina's website.  Steve actually started off as a game developer before moving into the personal development field and has been rather successful in both - his site www.StevePavlina.com is certainly well worth a visit.

8. The route to market.    (or how do I get this game off my PC and onto yours!)

Retail distribution via the highstreet is probably still the main outlet for mass market videogames - especially for consoles but it's plain to see that thanks to the internet that's starting to change (in fact many analysts are predicting the death of the highstreet for electronic content). 

The internet has opened up more opportunities for people to communicate with one another, distribute goods and services, advertise and generally make themselves available than anything else in history.  

We are still only just beginning to explore the many diverse ways we can deliver content to (paying) customers.  Blogs, social networks and dedicated portals are fantastic (and cheap) ways to reach a massive audience, their really is no limit to the number of customers you can reach and unlike highstreet shops that demand a high turnover of products on a regular basis, there is an almost unlimted amount of shelf space and products can have an almost limitless shelf life.

The potential returns from the dedicated portals / appStores / market places etc, can be huge, but never forget your going to be competing with the best of the best for an ever decreasing slice of an ever more discerning market. Having a new or novel slant on the "route to market" can really make the difference and catapult a product up beyond your wildest dreams (however the inverse is also true, and you might just sink without a trace).

However "fortune favours the brave" (apparently) so don't be afraid to experiement and try out new ideas, exploit new niches, you never know what (or who) you might find.

Trying to forcast profitability (especially on an untested or unproven idea) is at best wildly inaccurate and no one (with any sense) is going to pay too much attention to what ammounts to pure speculation - however if you have a realistic (and achieveable) schedule you should be able to forcast what the game is going to cost (in terms of resources required and man hours to deliver), dividing that total by your intended saleprice (less any commisions, charges, payments, taxes etc) should give you a rough idea of the number of copies you need to sell to at least break even,  obviously once your past that figure then ideally your home clear.

It should go without saying (but often doesn't) "If you dont understand the business side of your business you'd be well advised to speak to a professional who does!"

One last point which probably needs to be mentioned - no one is ever going to buy your game if they don't know it exists!  Marketing and PR are VITAL to any products success (and your game is no different), there are many many ways to get a buzz going and get people talking about your game, and thanks to the internet a lot of them are very low cost (if not free!)

9. Time to network.

Before we go on let's have a little recap as to what we've got so far...

  • A knowledege of who the game is designed for and what makes it fun!
  • A solid design that reflects all of the elements discussed so far
  • A (semi) complete list of all resources required across all areas of the project
  • Proof of concept protototypes including (but not limited to) technology demos, storyboards,  concept artwork, character and level designs, background story etc etc
  • A schedule forcasting a (hopefully realistic) completion date
  • A business model detailing route to market and profitability forecasts
If you wrap all this lot together, you'll find that you've actually got quite a complete presentation that you could pitch to any of the major publishers.  Obviously getting them to answer your calls or let you set foot in their offices is another matter altogether.

The easiest way to get your foot in the door is to have a proven track record of commerical success (but if that's the case then you probably wouldn't be reading this anyway).  

Following on from that, presenting yourself and your product in a professional light is a must.  Remember publishers are in business to make money, and everyone is always on the lookout for the next big money spinner, the next market to exploit. 

However video game publishers (like any profit-centric business) also tend to be very conservative and don't like to take risks (especially with their shareholders money).

The more information you can provide, the more proof you can provide that not only does your design have the potential to make them millions but also you (as a team or company) can bring that design to fruition, the more likely they are to take you seriously and want to do business with you.

Ok, so the next question has to be - HOW do you get the chance to make your pitch.  All businesses are (or at least should be) in the market of establishing relationships with likeminded firms, all of the major publishers actually do a lot of the hard work for you - attend the trade shows, make appointments (in advance) to meet with people and discuss your pitch, attend E3, ECTS, IGDC etc etc, subscribe to trade magazines, arrange contacts via websites, ring them up, email them, send them a pitch in the post - be creative (but most importantly remember to NOT be pushy and if need be take no for an answer (at least for now) - there's always another company round the corner)

"But what about publishers ripping off my idea"

Ok from time to time it happens (although not as often as you fear), I would doubt that these days many would do it intentionally (maybe your idea was geninuely similar to one they already had in pre-production), besides you've got copies of all the source and reference materials you used to create your design (which can be used to help prove ownership). 

If you feel you have been ripped off, react and respond in a professional manner, talk to a lawyer (acquaintances on internet forums often don't provide realistic legal advice) or your local citizens advice bureau (or whatever passes for that in your locale),  state your case (most people / companies tend to be reasonable if approached in a reasonable / professional fashion).

For what it's worth, most countries don't allow you to copyright or patent ideas, but any work that is created has automatic protection under copyright law (although it never hurts to put "(C) 20??, Your name here, All Rights Reserved" at the bottom of the page!).

Even if you don't plan to go down the traditional route and decide instead to self publish, going through the networking process and making contact with people is never a bad thing - nothing is ever created in a vaccum, establishing yourself and your company gives you credibility, get's you noticed, allows people to find you if your game is ever up for an industry award... If you want to make a name in the games industry, then you have to be a part of the games industry.

10. Full Steam Ahead...

"talk is cheap - but money buys whisky!"

In other words all the above is great but now that you've got your design, a working prototype, a deliverable schedule and people on board who will pay you real money - it's time to start delivering...

This section is quite easy - just follow your schedule, hit the milestones (as close as possible) and keep ploughing on till the job is done, and as Winston Churchill often said "Never give up, Never never give up!"

One word of advice about milestones, schedules and publishers.  Publishers generally like to be kept in the loop especially where deadlines are concerned and everyone slips and misses a deadline from time to time.  The key thing is to let your investors know as soon as possible that your going to slip, don't try and hide the fact or cover it up (they'll find out sooner or later anyway) and they'll apreciate your honesty, especially if they can see your working extra hard to make up for lost time and getting the project back on schedule.  Obviously some deadlines are unmissable (often the run up to events like E3) - make sure you plan for these well in advance so any potential problems can be recognised as soon as possible or else you'll risk burnout through excessive "crunch time".

11. Time to get professional.

It seems these days that everyone and their aunties are out to make the next-best videogame (and some of them probably will) however the ones that really stand out are the teams that go that extra 10%.  Despite what you may have heard the games business IS a professional industry and you should strive to uphold professional values in everything you do;

  • Aspire to deliver milestones on time
  • Make every element of the product the best that it can be
  • Aim to be consistent in your approach and design
  • Learn to take constructive criticism
  • Listen (and take on board) customer feedback
  • Leave "no stone" unpolished

And most important of all 

  • Don't skimp on the testing! 

Nothing say's amatuer more than a game that only works 10% of the time and the excuse "well it worked on my machine just fine!" will just not wash with paying customers.  

In fact make room for bug testing, playability testing, compatiability testing, module testing and any other types of testing you can think off (and lot's of it) in the schedule right from the beginning, make sure it's spread throughout the development process so that any issues that arise can be dealt with properly rather than just being bodged or covered up at the end.

For every rule there is an exception - and here's mine...

So far you've (hopefully) stuck with this and read it all the way through - as I said at the beginning this document was written to help anwser the regularly posted question of "I've got the next greatest killer game design, what do I do next!".  If after reading this and deciding that your WHY is simply that you just want to make games that YOU'd love to play, then feel free to disregard anything and everything I've said.  However from personal experience I can tell you (and so will anyother published software designer / developer) that a design IS important, a schedule IS important, a goal IS important - but what's most important is that you are doing this for all the right reasons and that you never forget to have some FUN! yourself because without that you wont get past the starting line.

Remember these are just my thoughts - it's how I currently work and how I plan to keep on working, feel free to adapt these ideas and find your own "best practice", however I would respectfully request than anyone wishing to copy or repost this information for use on other websites or in other forms of publication please contact me first (permission will almost always be granted).

Feel free to add your comments and thoughts below...

Cheers and thanks for reading

Jon... / aka Techdojo.
(techdojo AT gmail DOT com)
(C) 2010, Jon Howard / WhiteTree Games, All Rights Reserved.