Just watched a really good talk from Matt Gilgenbach of 24 Caret games about the struggles and mistakes he made during the development of his game Retro/Grade. It’s a really emotionally raw and honest talk about a series of bad decisions he and his partner made in terms of investing way too much time in things that didn’t ultimately result in the success of his game.
I think there are some really useful lessons for new developers here even if his is not a new developer story. Here are a few takeaways I got from it:
1) Play Where You Can Win: as a small indie studio trying to compete on things like 3D rendering quality against AAA studios is a losing battle. Choose an art style where you can do something expressive and polished within your resources.
2) Set a Deadline: Gilgenbach describes a circular loop they fell into of being afraid to ship since they’d spent so much time, which caused them to invest more time (and money). Choose a date or other trigger that will force you to call the product good enough, not keep tweaking and adding endlessly.
3) Focus on Saleable Features: This is a bit of a hard one but important I think. Technical features like frame rate and resolution help sell games but they are secondary. It’s more important to invest energy into features that are easy to communicate to the player like: “You can turn into a badass dragon and fly around burning stuff!” Not: “We created a modular re-usable game engine for all our future games!”
I highly recommend this talk and want to offer my thanks to Matt Gilgenbach for being so open, honest and vulnerable in sharing this valuable information. Talking about painful experiences like this takes courage, especially in such a public platform.