If you start making games, probably your first product will fail in terms of making people like it and play it, and most important: show it to their (online-)friends and make the game ‘viral’ in some kind of way. Making games is one hell of a job, full of tears, blood, sweat and sleep deprivation. And in the end it’s all about carrots.
In addition to my activity in game development I’m also a private tutor for teenagers who want to make games. They all are gamers themselves and one should think that they know what they are talking about when they come up with an idea for a game. But that’s not the case at all. Beginners usually try to rebuild games they like a lot.
Such as Phil, 17 years old, who’s a big fan of japanese RPGs. When I told him to write down his ideas for the project he wants to build, he came up with a 4-page game design document. It had everything: the description of the game world and how the player can interact with it, a combat system that includes dices and playing cards, items, upgrades and a skill tree. And as a cream topping he wrote an epic story about an evil scientist that threatens the idyllic countryside the protagonists live in. He imagined a gang of friends, each with a name, background story and a special ability. And everything flows into an extraordinary climax of meta-physics and metamorphoses and basically the struggle between good and evil.
It’s a really good read!
But it’s also a perfect example how NOT to start making games.
Because it’s like being an architect student who travels to New York for the first time in his life, standing in front of the Empire State Building and saying: “Nice building, I want to create something like THAT!”
I suggest starting with a nice little treehouse. If that works out well enough, you can begin a more ambitious project, like a beautiful cottage. After that, a single-family home…
Generally, every artistic work is the result of a series of decisions, wich themselves are solutions for problems that came up in the course of realizing ideas. Solutions to problems very often generate new problems. If your ideas are big, your problems will also be big. And if the problems get bigger than you can handle – face the truth! – you will stop working on the project.
Take a look at some of the most successful games in the AppStore, like Doodle Jump and Tiny Wings. They both are following the common formula: “easy to understand but hard to master” – although this is a quite banal and over-used slogan, it should be the goal of every game developer to make a game that could be described like that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about complexity but usability – playability – and the fact that an idea the size of a pebble is often better than an idea the size of a planet. Did you ever try to pick up a planet?
You want more metaphors? Well, think of your game as a horse-drawn carriage:
The wagon is your game engine. Is it running smoothly? Or are the wheels wobbling and squeaking and get stuck in the mud? The player is in the role of the cabman. Let him sit comfortably. Create some good reins so the camban is able to control the horse. The horse is the avatar of your game. Make it friendly or at least interesting. Don’t make it a stubborn jughead but a character the player can relate to.
But the most important thing is: motivation. It’s the carrot and the rod of your game that keeps the horse walking. The carrot should be sweet and crispy. Make it desirable and tasty for the horse AND the cabman. Without a good carrot your game is worthless.
Actually, you can learn everything about programming, graphic- and sound-design to make a good looking “cab” or you don’t give a damn and produce the ugliest junk car ever — but the carrot is essential and if your game doesn’t have a good carrot, you don’t have a good game.
See? I told you it’s all about carrots!