Last week I had lunch with some friends who enjoy their new-indie game developer status. We discussed game ideas, concepts, some mechanics… And right after the first beer, they told me: “We don’t have anything playable yet but I’m working on the decal system.” This brought me back to my own troubles working on .the rush//. I tried to make them understand that if when you don’t have something playable within the first week of development, even if you spend the next 10 years in production, you won’t have a good game….or even just a game. With my humble experience I’ve made an Indie GameDev Roadmap.

It doesn’t guaranty you will make a good game but not following those simple rules will decrease your chances to release something worthy.

Step 1 : The first hour/the first night.

The universe, Minecraft or your game, all started with a big ambition.

Take the best ideas, concepts, mechanics, games you like. Blend it. You should have what you would like to play. If you are a software developer, working on the technical aspects, you will want to code the same feature as in X or Y. It’s a major mistake. The technique is a way to get there and certainly not the way to make a good game. Take the game and the mechanics you like. If you like a game because its camera management is great or its fluid physic is top notch, then it’s not a good choice. The history, universe and theme are ashiny wrapping paper. Not focusing on this part will not prevent you from making a good game. Think of Mario. Its whole world only exists for the gameplay. If you have no inspiration, have a trip in Thailand. I know it helped a lot of indies :)

Step 2 : The first weekend/the first week.

Not everyone has the same vision of a great weekend.

As a newborn, it might be ugly but fun to play with for at least 5 minutes. This step and the 3rd one are the top most important ones to make a good game. It needs the 4th (production) to make an excellent game. Use those primary 2 to 5 days for the CCC (Control/Camera/Character), the main basic features (shoot, time management, NPC AI). Don’t give a shit about the software used. Use the one you are the most experienced with….or not. It can be refreshing to use something new. Numerous indie games find their root in Game Jams. It’s a good school. If your prototype is not that great, it’s ok. You might have learned a new framework and improved your skills. By the way, you are not the only judge. Look how your testers play through.

Step 3 : The first month.

You are the proud owner of a rough prototype. You also have a lot of ideas. This step is ├╝ber important. Without it, no game! Now, juice your mechanics. Try any of them. Test small levels. Iterate on CCC and make some FX and emphasis effects. Some examples of important FX/Emphasis :
- screen shaking for explosions
- small sounds that explain the player what’s happening

Those effects will make the game more engaging. They don’t have to be perfect but they have to be clear. Think of Mario’s jump sound. Show your prototype! Once a week, go to the pub and show your progression. You’ll get a motivation boost and if you show them your prototype to your friends before they get drunk, their feedback will be valuable. That’s why the San Francisco indie scene is famous. In this microcosm, developers meet and share their ideas, prototypes,…

You will not have all the mechanics nor the complete game progression. But you should have enough material for 60 to 80%. Prototyping is learning. You learn how your game work. The more you learn, the more you’ll master it. The less troubles in production you’ll have. You are faster at making something when you already did it right? It’s the same for game design. Make your rough in a month. Then do it a second time during the production.

Find a pleasant home to make your game.

Step 4 : The production (12/18 months)

If you bypassed step 2, forget about a release date. You won’t make it and you won’t learn anything. Why only 12 to 18 months? First, you will lose your motivation. Making a game is exhausting. Enduring a burnout won’t help. Moreover, there is the last step (marketing your game). 12 months is a good duration IMHO. If it won’t fit, then remove features. Humans always want more than they can eat. It was useful in our primitive days.but now, it’s different. As we can have as much as we want, it’s time to reduce. Don’t be scared, you’ll end with enough features, believe me! Plan your features for the allocated time. Not the other way around. During the whole production, productivity must be your moto. If you do twice the same thing, the second time must take half the time. Buy a library/engine for $500 or make it? Buy it! Make or patch your tools to be more productive. Use open source data (free sound effects, …). Spend time improving your game value. You believe you can’t make a game without coding most parts? Then making games might not be the hobby you need. Try the demo scene. You must have a working build at any time. Use something like Hudson or Cruise Control if you’re experienced with. Use a .bat or do it manually if not, but you must have a game build every day. Don’t spend more than 2 days without a working one. Don’t lose your focus!

Show your game progress, fearing someone will steal your ideas is irrational:

  • Human nature makes us prefer our own ideas to others’.
  • Your ideas (at least 99%) have already been used somewhere else.
  • It’s the blend that makes a game. Think of Rock’n Roll.
  • Most of your ideas have limited meaning outside of your game.
  • A good idea is one that makes money.When you have enough assets make some short videos. Don’t worry; you’ll only have 1000 views. Nothing serious to lose the announcement effect. Just enough for some blog posts of nerdy game journalists. It also may be the perfect moment for a KickStarter. 1 year of production in “monk mode” + taxes + outsourcing cost around 50/60K$. The more you’ll ask the less chances you have to be successful. During your KickStarter you’ll have to communicate. It’s a month devoted to writing emails, to be kind with journalists, youtubers, … whoever will listen to you. It’s also one month you won’t work on your game. Don’t wait for someone to help you. Don’t wait any one to make you game. Most people don’t give a shit about it. If your game needs assets you can’t produce (or buy) then change the game. Do it yourself or buy it. This also applies when you are in a rock-solid team. Invest in technology with parsimony. You won’t sell more games if you coded your MP3 player by yourself. You are in production mode not in R&D mode. You are not doing a middleware either. You source code/assets exist for your sole game. They don’t have to be compliant with anything. You don’t ship your sources. A safe bet is that it’ll be crappy when the game will come out. Don’t bet on future features. Only code/model/paint/.. what you need. You are tired, exhausted, sleep deprived. You think you wasted your time making this pile of shit. Maybe
    deleting everything will make you feel better. Well, that’s possible but you did go a long way. Let’s get a bit further. You already are in the most advanced 1% of indie games. What’s next?

    It takes 42 days to change a man. Imagine how 2years of hard work can change you.

    Step 5 : Marketing and selling (3 to 6 months)

    The end is near and you decide to publish your game in a rush on the Appstore or on your website. With a fast GreenLight approval as a bonus! Your chances to make more than $200 of benefits are very small. If you are a hipster, your goal is completed. If you are more ambitious, maybe to the point of make it a living, perhaps you can be in the top 1%. Some statistics I remember; 50% of games on the Appstore make less than $200. 80% make less than $2000. It’s an obsessive hobby. Considering the hours, think of working for McDonalds.

  • Anyway, you started speaking about your game 6 months ago (you did it, right?) and your baby is born! Email, press communique, expos,… it’s now a full time PR job starting. A booth in an expo like PAX costs money. It’s an investment. If I remember well, the man behind Antichamber, invested in 17 exhibitions. Find the events around you. There are a lot and a lot compared to just a few years ago. More competition but more opportunities! Move your ass! Nobody care about your game. It’s sad but true. So find ways to make players enjoy your game more than 5 minutes. To make it a living is one thing. To see players enjoying your game is another one. If your game starts to sell well, you’ll face all the possible shits you probably didn’t think of. Troubles on some hardware, glitches, AI bugs, … PR the day, Mr FixIt by night. Tell your customers what you do. Don’t be stressed. They can understand you need 2 days to fix something but tell them! People usually don’t like when you hide them something. Humility and comprehensiveness will help. It’s a masochist job. You work hard and whatever you do, there is someone, somewhere who will blame your work. You and your work. Just because you did something. Nonsense. If you are still alive and not totally burned, you’ll want to start again. You’ll be better. But if you’re not an indie superstar, nothing guaranties your next game will be a success.