What could go wrong in game design

Original author: Josh Bycer
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An article recently appeared on the Hamasutra where the author shares his thoughts on what mistakes can be made when creating a game and what to do about it. Moreover, the author argues as a game reviewer, he himself is not a game designer. It is interesting to read the "view from the side." Only the request not to be taken as a personal point of view, I just decided to translate and share, so that there is an understanding of how outsiders perceive the work of game companies. Under the cut translation.

One of the most difficult things for me to run the channel is to do reviews on games that don't meet my expectations. I played amazing games from which I could not tear myself away for hours, and games with which I lost interest in a few minutes. It’s very simple to make a review of a cool game, but try to write it on a game that hasn’t completely entered you.

Many people do not need to shoot a video for YouTube in which they slop any game and its developers, but I can’t just attack someone like that. After all, none of the developers specifically set themselves the goal of making a bad game, and trying to give a definition of what a really bad game is is not a simple process.

Three types of disasters

When it comes to video games, there are three types that are considered bad. The first ones are intentionally copied titles collected from free assets in the image and likeness of another famous game, or even its direct clone. Such clones were never created to become hits, but were conceived to quickly draw money out of people, after which they either disappear from Steam or slide down in the store. Such games are easy to distinguish and I never play them.

The second is the one that I call The Great Shows. These are games that have risen due to hype, the hype around them and the well-known “pedigree”, but still received a ton of negative in their favor, and in some cases, in the direction of the development company. For an example, these are games such as Mass Effect Andromeda, X-Men Destiny, Dead Space 3 and Godus.
It is difficult to do reviews about them, discussing such titles and their shortcomings, since usually these unfortunate sides are quite specific. Sometimes they are connected with the publisher’s problem or some backstage drama, and such cases are difficult to perceive as mistakes that a novice developer could learn from.

And the third type is games that fail quietly. As has been said a lot, for every game that has achieved success, there are hundreds of those that could not. Such games can be considered when you need to understand game design and how it feels to be a developer.

Death from a thousand problems

Once upon a time I wrote on the differences between AAA and indie games in terms of development and quality. AAA games may not be super unique, but they can offer a polished quality product, thanks to their many years of experience (and, of course, all this money). And in the indie segment, we can stumble on titles that you will not find anywhere else, but they usually lack that level of polishing.

Even if you are an industry veteran from a company’s game dev, it’s quite difficult to control all aspects of game development yourself when working on your own project. Nowadays, it is becoming increasingly difficult for indie studios to break through and stand out among competitors, and any problems in game design can eventually become a metaphorical nail in the cover of the coffin of the game.

The point is not only that there is only one chance to make a good impression, but also that the quality level in games has risen markedly. I have already lost count of games in which I encountered problems with game design and a crude unfinished product in the very first 10 minutes of the game.

The sad thing is that such problems are the reason for me that I stop playing such a game, no matter how wonderful this game could become for me after a few hours of playing it. That is why one of the key elements of game design is playtests.

In the process of developing a game, the moment never comes when you can stop showing your game to people. So, referring to all the developers who are probably reading this article now, I want to say that you have no serious reasons and excuses not to conduct playtests of your game. It doesn’t matter if it takes 2 hours to complete your game, or 20, or more than 100 - you must show other people your game in the development process.

Hundreds of hours are not needed to notice problems with the interface, quality and gameplay in general, such things are usually noticeable within a few minutes of the game. That is why I am so critical of games with such obvious problems and shortcomings.

Market analysis

Sometimes it happens that you finish the development of the game, making it as perfect as you could do it, but it still is not for sale. There are no guarantees when it comes to releasing video games at the expense of which one will ignite. You cannot plan in advance that your game will be the next PubG or Undertale.

Another trap that novice developers fall into is that they don’t investigate what is going on in the field of games or game design outside their circle. One of the hardest lessons that you will have to learn is that the game that you want to create is not necessarily the one that can be successful.

This is a continuation of the topic raised above about the importance of iterations and playtests. The ability to receive and work out feedback is one of the key components of your growth as a game designer. It’s worth analyzing the market if only to understand what your game is like in comparison with its closest competitors, or with the games most similar to it.

So it is very important not to do game design, closing in your personal bubble of perception, but to do it, analyzing how other representatives of the genre grew and evolved. This is not about copying someone’s game, but about observing how their game was perceived by the public, and what aspects the players liked the most. Game genres have grown, as have consumer expectations from them.

If you are going to present your game as “ARPG” or “Souls-Like”, or even “Battle Royale”, then you will need to understand what key elements are present in these games. Moreover, it is worth thinking about what points can be improved, and try to ensure that your game does not have already known shortcomings.

The genre and game design of the project may change as it is developed, from the very beginning to the very end. If you are trying to become competitive in the popular genre or compete with a very large title, then you will need to either develop something even cooler than that game, or move in another direction. The painful lesson that game designers have learned from the failure of many MMOs in the zeros is that you cannot chase the top leader of this genre and hope to overtake it.

Learn from mistakes

As I mentioned earlier, developers do not strive to create bad games, which is why I can not criticize the games, even those that I did not like.

Many games fail not miserably, but completely silently, which makes it difficult to determine the cause of failure. You can say things like: “Maybe I released the game at a bad time” or “Consumers did not understand my game,” but that will not help you grow.

The phrase "cream always rises to the surface" is also applicable when it comes to the best games of the year. However, even considering their high quality, their developers did much more than just created the game design of a good game. This research, and PR, and a lot of backstage work, all in order to be sure that their projects have every chance to influence the market.

So much can go wrong with your game that you may not even be aware of it before it is too late. In the end, if you still decide to take a step from a hobby to play video games to becoming a game designer, you will need to do a lot more than just make a game for 2-4 years of your life. Nothing is guaranteed in the gaming industry, but this does not mean that you can just gush with various ideas, hoping that some of them will take root.

If you are able to continue your journey after a failed project, then take everything that you learned in the process and move forward, because not everyone gets a second chance.

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