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  • How To Actually Finish Your First Game This Year

    - Chris Zukowski
  • It is the new year and that means it is resolution season. There is a good chance that you have decided, this year, finally, to finish a game.

    Great goal! You should definitely do this!

    You have probably already heard the same advice from hundreds of other people: keep your game simple. In a great article Edmund McMillen wrote "If you're just starting out, think small, then think smaller." In an equally good piece this sentiment was seconded by Tommy Refenes "Just make your game with whatever you can, start small and worry about other things later. " Extra credits has a good video about what a simple game means.

    But even though they say keep it "simple" that is not a standard unit. If you have never finished a game before, how are you supposed to know what a simple or easy game is? Does simple mean an MMO with ONLY 3 playable classes? Does an easy game mean making an open world game that has only 2 biomes and only 3 tech trees?

    I feel you.

    I have released a total of five games and for three of them I thought I was making a simple game. I was wrong in all three cases. The first game I ever finished took me over one and a half years to make. It was not simple.

    The most common problem I see with failed game projects is that would-be creators get mired in endless development, lose interest and motivation, and then put aside their dreams of being a game developer.

    It turns out game development is full of these secret sticky traps that at first glance seem simple but will ensnare you in months or even years of development until you abandon your project.

    The good news is that you can make a game that is fun yet doesn't't have any of those potentially development-halting snafus.

    Look at all those game designers who thought they would just make a quick open-world mmo with vehicle sections, PvP, and procedurally-generated dual-wieldable-craftable weapons.

    The purpose of this week's blog is to define what a simple game is so that you can accomplish your goal of actually making a game.

    Real Talk

    Wait a minute let me finish what I've got to say ...

    I am going to be very very reductionist in this piece about the types of games that should be considered as simple. The reason is that game development always expands to fill any vacuum and you should always be overly conservative when making a simple game so that you can actually finish it.

    Some of you will say that my examples are full of not very original game ideas. Or that a game made from this list will not stand out in this crowded marketplace! Or, why do you do you hate story so much!?!

    To which I reply, your first game is NOT going to stand out. Games are so damn hard to make that you need the most controlled environment in order to learn how to actually make them. You might be an awesome, experienced coder, you might have been an top-notch artist at a big studio, but actually making your own game on your own terms means you will have to juggle art, code, design, and marketing in ways that you never anticipated. There will be 1000 decisions to make each one will expand your scope. When you are just trying to get the balance right, you don't need the added burden of trying to make an original piece of art that will stand the test of time. So for a first attempt, just try and get a game released. Then go back and make your dream game that will bring new meaning to the open-world-horror-farming genre.

    Also note that this list applies to your first couple of games. Once you get the hang of actually releasing games, then go wild. Just to repeat, I am not saying don't EVER make these type of games, I am just recommending that you don't try to make them if you have never released anything before.

    One more thing, have the courage to release your game

    There is a world of difference between just coding a game and letting it sit on your hard drive versus actually releasing something on the internet and charging money for it.

    Be brave. Put this simple game that you make on sale for $1. Yes, some people will say it sucks and that they want their money back. They are probably right. Refund it. But you must put it on sale. There is a different mindset when you put your name to something and ask for real money for it that will make you try just a little harder to actually finish it.

    Even if you are doing this for the love of game making and not to make money, you should still charge for it. Players are more honest (both for good and bad) when you have some of their money. If someone doesn't like a free game they just close it and walk away and you will not learn as much as when you get feedback from a customer..

    Before I released my first game, I had a bunch of failed projects. The reason was in the back of my mind I told myself that this was just a learning exercise. This made it easier for me to abandon several projects before any of them were done.

    One of my first failed attempts was a Tetris clone. At one point I had only implemented 4 of the 7 tetrominoes and said to myself "ya I pretty much understand where this is going, I have learned enough here" and quit. I was wrong! I hadn't't learned anything.

    Even if you have coded a game that is playable and might even have a game over screen, it doesn't mean it is complete. That is about 10% done. There is so much more you have to do such as implementing the store's API, save states, marketing materials, options menu, and finally making the game polished enough that people will be willing to lay down their money. By releasing your game to a store and charging $1, there is an added social pressure to try harder. So even if this is just a hobby for you, sell your game.

    You also need to get right with the fact that this game will not be a hit. You are a new game developer that nobody has heard of. What do you expect? See this essay for more on this topic.

    The game's press loves to write glowing stories about first-time auteur developers who make millions of dollars on their first game. Well that is a very very rare case. And just because your first game isn't a perfect game doesn't disqualify you from one day making a masterpiece. It doesn't mean you are not a genius. Get over it and release. The majority of us just get back to work and keep releasing games.


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