Before I explain, let’s start with some famous quotes:
“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” – Albert Einstein
“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw
I agree with them completely, and this applies to game development as well. What I am referring to, exactly?
The “indie freedom”
You probably hear around the net the story that indies means independent, so are free to do what they want. Well, yes as indie you’re free to do any game you want. However if you want to survive doing commercial games, you CAN’T do what you want 😉
I don’t mean that you need to do what some “developers” do, that is looking at the top selling games and cloning them (also because very often this system doesn’t work at all). But I mean listening to your customers’ feedback, and analyzing sales to understand what people want, and not just what maybe a “vocal minority” says.
For example after the past year I clearly understood that what made people love Loren wasn’t the RPG part, but the story/romances. I understood that while SOTW was my best RPG, it wasn’t my best game (or at least the most popular). And so on.
Changing your mind means changing direction, and create the future games adapting to the market and what (the majority of) people want. Obviously, you can also just follow your personal interest and do niche products, as long as they provide enough income to support you (sadly with SOTW wouldn’t have been the case).
Prototyping and testing
This is not really new, but worth repeating for the few people who don’t know about it: an essential process of developing a game is brainstorming, testing the ideas and keep the good ones (at least the one you think are good of course).
For example, I’ve recently resumed coding Queen Of Thieves, in particular the “robbery missions”.
As you can see in the screenshot above, I thought to use a very common stealth mechanic: each action would generate noise (even if in the game Joanne will use her magic to reduce it) and so it could increase by triggering traps, or fighting (guards, watchdogs, etc).
The only way to reduce it was to hide and wait, using time. Finally, you would have a certain amount of time to complete the robbery, before morning arrives.
The idea seemed fine: but when I asked for feedback in forums, I had the first doubts. People complained saying that it could lead to a luck-based gameplay, and as a consequence not really funny. I thought that since the mission are randomly generated, it wasn’t a big deal, but decided to make a few tests myself, and I discovered that indeed was a bad idea!
First because of what people said (good/bad luck would have too much weight) and also because the size / amount of rooms of those building won’t be really big. So the “hide and wait” mechanic was also a bit pointless if you could explore the buildings in 10-12 moves 😀
The result is that I’ve immediately discarded the idea, without even needing to do any public testing. Yes, I’ve changed my mind!
Making “tough business choices”
Somewhat related to the first point, I also realized in the course of the last two years, about certain choices that had to be done, despite I wasn’t really happy about it. The first one was to reduce the amount of complexity in games, a bit because they weren’t helping sales, but also because I was getting burned out while working on them.
It’s better to release a few more simpler games, than none at all for a year (like past year!). Also, even if you like a particular genre, but it’s hard to make and there’s the risk of getting you burned out, you need to take that into account. That’s why I’ve decided to keep making RPGs, but not so often as in the past.
Another “tough choice” I had to make was to treat people professionally and expect the same in exchange. If someone suddenly stopped responding, or delayed too much a project, in the past was chasing them, trying to understand what was going on, trying to motivate them, etc.
Thinking about it, I was a bit of a fool, and wasted of my own time. If someone that’s being paid to do something behaves that way, it’s his/her problem and not mine. This also led me to do some “selection process”, so the people I’m working with now are much more professional than what was happening in the past, and as a consequence more reliable 🙂