The importance of focus in game development – what we have learned from making our games

TL;DR: Decide what your goal with making the game is, make a list that summaries that goal as a list of features and stick to it. You will save months and years of work.

The usual way for an indie developer to start the development of a game seems to be the following:

  1. Find/come up with an idea or a technique you want ty try
  2. Start creating assets and programming the parts
  3. Learn a bunch of new stuff which would fit perfectly with the old stuff
  4. Create something the new stuff you’ve learned
  5. Try to fit the new stuff into the game
  6. The old stuff suddenly feels old
  7. Remove/redo the old stuff
  8. Repeat the process

After a while and a few iterations one of two things happen: You loose focus for the game that never finishes or you decide which way to go and try to stick to it, this way you’ll only make a few small changes to the major stuff before starting polishing the game. An anyone who have gotten around to that polish phase knows that it feels like 80% of the work in total.

If you don’t recognise this behaviour for your current style of game development I’m sure the first serious game dev attempt you ever made went something like the process described above.

Of course this has been very true for me and my friends as well..

So what is a good practice to avoid it and be focused?

Two things:

1.  Decide what the goal of making the game is

It doesn’t have to be big or advanced just as the message to yourself and your team is clear.

Deciding why you make this particular game is the root of your focus and also your decision making.

If, for example, your focus is “to get as many downloads as possible” Then all decisions that you have to make can always be reduced to: “will this help us get more downloads?”. If you’re a team, people will more likely be able to make those decisions for themselves too when they know the purpose of why the game is being made.

2. Make an MVP (Minimum Viable Product)

An MVP is the minimum amount of features your game will need in order to be releasable. Every idea which is not covered by the MVP can then be put in a box of nice ideas which can be put into the game when there is time. This doesn’t mean that details and “nice stuff” isn’t important – the feel of the game makes the whole difference. What it does mean, though, is that it will help you focus on what is the core first.

The conclusion

If you want an efficient process to make your game. Follow these steps:

  1. Decide what the goal of making the game is
  2. Create a list of the stuff that has to be in the game and stick to it. Put the rest in a box of ideas
  3. Constantly remind each other of the goal of the game making

We’re far from mastering this ourselves but I’m very certain that this is the way to go. I’ve only been part of two games being made so far but we saved 21 months of development comparing the time it took to get our first game to market with the second one.

Fyi, this would’ve been the fourth point in the list above, had this game been about succeeding with your game: Talk about marketing constantly since it will make or break your game (see talks about the delicacy of releasing on steam, making a good press release)