I recently came across a discussion on Reddit that raised an important question that most game developers must unfortunately face at some point in their career. That is, 'When and how did you realize you were working on a game that was about to flop?'
The different experiences may be unique and the answers varied, but they all seem to follow a particular theme.
Most devs said they realized it on their own, usually as a slow awareness that the game lacked proper direction and management, resulting in missed opportunities for game elements. Sadly, this neglect is sometimes triggered by the founder or publisher at the core concept level, eating away at the mission from the inside.
But no matter who is really at fault, when a game fails, it's a collective failing for the whole team. So how do you know when to fold your cards and run? Here are some dead giveaways that’ll tip you off that it’s time to hit the road:.
1. Plagiarizing or ripping off a successful game or genre
Let’s be honest. Most mobile indie developers got started like this. But they’ll never finish first in this way. Relying on the success of someone else's game is not only lazy, but it doesn’t even guarantee that you’ll replicate their success. Sure, we’ve all seen obvious knockoff games, especially on mobile; but this cannot be the sole purpose you got into the game-making business.
Besides, you won’t be the only one with that bright idea. Many other game developers are probably also looking for a quick win, trying to make their own rip-offs. This eventually just decreases the chances of anyone getting anywhere with such games.
Be unique; be creative. If your team isn’t interested in following suit, then it’s time to associate yourself with another team.
2. Extremely passionate team
When you're working at a studio, you can afford to build a varied team of people with different levels of expertise. That’s not a problem at all. But what if they’re not passionate about the same genre? Then you’re in the wrong place.
When you're an indie game studio, each person must have vast experience in making games and playing the games in the genre you're working for.
If one or two of your artists or developers hates or has no clue about the projects you're working on, you cannot expect outstanding results.
3. Team that does not follow a similar vision
As the leader of your team, it's important that you make sure your colleagues align themselves with your vision for the game. If your developer is expert in RPG but you're pushing him to work on a First Person Shooter game, you’re just going to slow down the process and dampen the quality of the game.
Listening frequently to feedback from your team helps you spot early on and eliminate bad things from happening. This gives you the focus to improve the elements that matter. It's important that each member of the game dev and design team shares the same goals and follows only one vision.
4. Developing for the wrong audience
Working on game development for players you don't know about is unforgivable. It’s utterly the most inexcusable failure you can face.
So figure this out early. This research should be done in the game design and early development cycle and not in pre-launch testing. If you realize during the game testing phase that some game controls or graphical choices are not the right fit for their target audience, it’s too late. Be proactive, or you may drastically increase your production time.
5. Making bad technical and design choices
Based on the concept of game and gameplay, you should know better than to commit the error of making generic choices, especially when it comes to the technology and visual appeal that power your game.
Another massive failure is select an engine for your game that is not capable of the game elements or effects that you need. This can be so damaging that if it’s realized by as late as mid-production, it’s quite likely to immediately block your development process.
Additionally, many game devs make the faux-pas of hiring and collaborating casually with their game designer. By doing so, they sell their project short. There are very few good designers out there, but it’s important to make sure that you find the best professional you can get your hands on if you want to succeed, especially if you’re creating something unique.
Most indies lack a person who can both research new technologies and update the game engine or plugins masterfully. But be on the lookout, because this one guy can save you massive amounts of production time, which will affording you adequate opportunities for polishing the game and bug fixing.
6. Lack of focus on the 'Business' side of things.
Indies often make this mistake as well. While they’ll passionately spend all their time making a great game, they either do not understand or choose to ignore the business side of things. Such wilful ignorance can lead to a failure in networking with the right people, or it may dampen marketing efforts that are essential to the success of any game.
This includes working hard towards better leadership and project management. If your team has a leader who isn’t accurately estimating deadlines, then perhaps they’re overestimating the scope of work your team can handle. These are terrible management decisions that can ultimately destroy a small team of game developers.
In a nutshell, it comes down to these red flags: bad budget allocation, terrible gameplay elements, lack of vision, lack of passion and a lack understanding the business side of things are the most serious indicators that a game is about to sink .
While we all know that the adage “fail often” is something to strive for, as an indie game studio you have to try to fail faster, so you can avoid disaster and learn to make better decisions over time. Success rates in the game development are low (considering it's an entertainment industry) and only the best of best will make it out there. So stay vigilant. You now have a barometer with which you can measure the things you know will lead to failure. So use this quick list of hard-earned lessons to keep yourself committed to making right choices.