Saturday, October 12, 2013

Getting Noticed and Hired in the Video Game Industry


I WANT TO MAKE GAMES! WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Everyone seems to want to get into the game industry one way or another. People ask me how to do it, what tools they should use, and all sorts of other details.


Today, the barrier to entry is so low that you can not only find a free game engine and free art, you can launch your game for free on a number of platforms that already have distribution completely under control. You can create your own webpage for free. You can run a social media campaign for free. 

So why aren't you already making a game? Exactly. 

My advice to you if you're serious about getting started: go make a game. Figure it out on your own. There's plenty of information out there. Do some searches, ask people, download free engines, go take a programming class. Just go do it already!

REAL WORLD ADVICE

I work as a consultant in the video game industry providing guidance on products, helping build products, and jumping into the fray at any point in development. One of my developers asked for advice the other day, and since he's at the beginning of his career, we discussed some fundamentals. 

Look at me!

Getting Noticed

This developer wants to land a job, so he has made a few demos to get the attention of some hiring managers. 


As a hiring manager myself, I often see demos that potential employees have created and, while they are oftentimes amazing game nuggets, they are far from ready to ship. 

If you want to get my attention, LAUNCH A PRODUCT! Completing games and getting them "live" is the thing that matters at the end of the day. 

Be an Entrepreneur

Everyone that I hire has to have some type of entrepreneurial streak. When someone comes in and can explain what they did on a product that they launched by themselves and what worked and what didn't work... they immediately have my FULL attention.

A RECENT REAL WORLD CONSULTATION

Throughout a few discussions with some younger developers, I have come up with a few ideas I'd like to share with you. Perhaps some of these notes might be of use on your game or app project. 

The Last 10% Takes 90% of the Effort

The phrase is trite, but it still feels that way to me after all these years. All of the little details that must be nailed down: the gameplay tweaks that are absolutely vital, the last bits of art that need to be polished, marketing, advertising, tracking users, and all of the "other" stuff that has nothing to do with making a "game" are all integral parts of making a product that will ultimately MAKE MONEY. 

They call it the video game industry for a reason. You need to make a living from it. 

Seriously

1 Game to Market > 100 Prototypes

"FINISHING" is not just a step in the process, it's an actual skillThe skill of finishing a project is the most valuable skill to an employer at the end of the day. For me, the more times you have shipped product, the more valuable you are on my team and at my company.

If you can't close a project, you're actually a long term detriment to a company or team.

Focus Your Effort

Make, Market, Measure
To get your project launched, it's time to get to the real work. Here are three of the areas you need to focus upon.
  • Finish and publish the game
  • Marketing / Community Management
  • Data Tracking (Google analytics)
Each of these are major events that require a lot of work. And they are all vital. Divide your efforts between them as you move through development. You'll likely avoid burnout and start seeing ways that they are all part of the same experience for the players.

Design Eddies

A "design eddy" is some sort of block; a place where users are getting stuck because they can't figure out what to do. 

Eddies are bad for stickiness
Imagine your game as a sort of river or funnel, where players start in one part, eventually make it to the next part, and so on. Each group moves to the next "funnel." Your job as a game maker is to move as many people as possible through those funnels. 

To find these, think of a linear path for someone to find, choose to buy, install, learn to play, and eventually become a regular user. 

With good data tracking, and use of tools like Google Analytics, "design eddys" can be found and ELIMINATED.

Don't wait too long to ship!

Over the years I have listened to a lot of product pitches. Recently a pitch spent 50% of the time talking about business and monetization strategies BEFORE WE EVEN TALKED ABOUT THE GAME!

Now, he has spent all the time building all of that as well as the game itself. He's in a great place, and the game is beautiful, but he wants to add more features first. But... he's running out of money and time. 

My advice to him was: stop adding new stuff and release what he has ready. Now. Because no matter how genius, an unreleased game isn't worth shit.

Consider this mechanic: Coin Dozer

Certain games have figured out how to get you to come back and re-engage with them. One example that really got me to come back was Coin Dozer. Here are some of the things I noticed about them. Maybe some of these would make sense in your game?
I have to wait?!?
  • Coins always accumulating during play and when the game 
  • Accumulate FASTER when the app is open
  • Player constantly checks to see how many coins they might have, then they keep the app open for a bit to get them at a faster rate.
  • Because you are always getting coins, the attraction to the game actually goes UP as you are away from it longer, making it near-impossible to stay away. Stay away from a week and you suddenly think "Oh man, how many coins must I have NOW?!" 
There are a lot of people that will argue that this is a Skinner Box. Yep, it's pretty much true. But you should know that these mechanics are out there and you can use them whenever you want. And they do work.


Time to harvest!

Another good mechanic: Appointment Gaming

Finding a way to incorporate appointment gaming into your product is something worth your time. 

By scheduling out times (ex: this plant will bloom in 4 hours, these tanks will be repaired in 12 hours, etc.), the user has a reason to come back and PLANS to come back before the game even ends. 

Player expectations can be managed based upon their decisions of what they want to "plant" / "grow" / "heal" before they wish to re-engage.

"Breadcrumbs" instead of "arrows"

Leave crumbs for players to find
Breadcrumbs are used to provide users with visual clues and goals that lead the players where they want to go, instead of explicitly pushing them. 

These could be coins, food, or some other token that has some value in the game system itself. Some games use arrows to direct people to the right places to go, but arrows are not really well-integrated into most games. 

If breadcrumbs make sense, consider them. 

Publicizing a game

Half of the effort of making a game is getting people to find it. Really. In fact it may take even more than half of the effort. Without marketing, you may never have your game seen outside your friends and family. Consider these:
It'll sell itself! Not.
  • The app store is a mess, you can't find anything. There are over 150,000 games there as of this writing. Here's where I got the number. Maybe they update it over time. 
  • You have to get people to find your game in all of that mess.
  • Word-of-mouth is the NUMBER ONE way to publicize a game, so:
    • Give them something to TALK about (a good story)
    • Give them a way to talk to each other (social media)


Ship it. NOW!

When you are at a point where you have the basics of the game complete and players can experience the whole thing... It's time to launch. Too much fussing around is the death of a product in this fast paced world. Get ready to turn your game into a service business

Should I do another blog on gaming as a service business? Let me know!

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