01 Apr Game Devs: Start. With. Research.
Game Devs: Pro or Hobbyist?
Video games. They’re fuckin’ awesome. They’re why I’m here today, and probably why you are, as well… What they mean to developers varies wildly from game dev to game dev. To some they are exclusively interactive art, made to express their innermost feelings. To some they are the embodiment of a lifetime of learning, a showcase of talent and knowledge. To others still, they are all of the above and a way to make a living doing what they love.
That last one – well… That’s me. I look at video games and I see a million beautiful things. In Challengers of Khalea I see the combined passion and skills of 6 programmers, and 7 artists and animators. But I also see the hard work of a CEO with a mind for management and the effort I put in as the CMO. Constant effort goes into market research, marketing tasks, public relations, business development, strategic partnerships, being the voice of our fans internally, and raising awareness directly of the people who will dig the stuff we make. Because to me, game development is art, and passion, and skill, but it is also the way I want to make my living.
Is Your Game For You, Or Your Player?
Some game devs believe the game they create should rigidly fit their precise creative vision, and not that of anyone else. That’s fine. You do you. However, some of those same game devs also believe that said game is for the player, and that said players should support it. Sorry, mate, but… it’s not, and they might not. If you want to create a game for the player, you need to first define which player you mean. Then you need to determine what they want from a title of the style you want to make.
If you want to make a game and sell it, and you’ve started production before conducting market research (this is a fancy term that can mean something as simple as “ask the players!”) , you’ve already fucked up. If that’s the case, you’re making a game for yourself, for your friends, or for your development team, and hoping other people like it enough to buy it. That’s awesome, and I hope they do! But it isn’t a business model that is going to pay for rent and food (and hopefully a few beers) for those 6 programmers and 7 artists and animators with any degree of reliability. It’s a shot in the dark. You may be the perfect combination of talented and lucky enough to hit a target in a dark room, but your odds are severely diminished.
Here’s how to fix that: conduct market research, or make extrapolations using someone else’s. Often. Conduct it during pre-production to make sure there is actually a market for your game, and to determine who those people are. Don’t “just know”. Back up your claim with data. Then continue to conduct research while creating game mechanics, while creating characters, while defining your art style, and every other way you possibly can.
If you don’t ensure your game is what is desired by your prospective fans, then you have no reasonable expectation of success (though it admittedly does happen). Basing your decisions on data doesn’t mean your game isn’t “true to you”, or your style. The choices you give your prospective fans (“red or blue button in UI” or “Sleek or scruffy looking main character”) should all be well within what you view as your style and creative direction. You are simply choosing what others believe is the best of the options you are able to create. Never test an option you would hate to put in your game. Therein lies the artistic integrity in for-profit art.
Our perceptions of our artistic endeavors are colored by a lifetime of experiences, a multitude of past projects, and a very clear bias. In an industry where development costs can ring high up into the hundreds of thousands of euros, one should simply not leave anything to chance or luck. The people who love your game as a result of your willingness to accept their input will appreciate the effort you have put into making a title that is truly for the players, and (research indicates) this will help pave the path to true success for your indie game.
TL;DR – Give Players What They Want.
About The Author:
Steve Stewart is the Co-Founder and CMO of Dreamloop Games. Raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, Steve is a proud U.S. Navy veteran, and a joke-telling, whiskey drinking, son of a gun, hell-bent on surviving the zombie apocalypse and making good games. Science Fiction keeps his gears turning when he steps away from the office, and a solid love of stand up comedy and laughter keeps him smiling. Heck, he’s probably laughing right now…