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Quick Tips for the Solo Game Developer

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There are lots of people out there who want to be game developers, they want to branch off and create their own games with complete creative freedom. What’s been stopping them? What can you do to maximize my success? Where do you even start? Today I will be going over a comprehensive list of what you should be mindful of in solo game dev, and how to maximize your success as a solo game developer.

Scope, Size, and Scale

The first thing to keep in mind when you are developing your own game is that you are a one-person team. Don’t expect to go and make the next hit AAA game by yourself. Shoot for more realistic goals, like a simple platformer, or possibly a small arcade game.

Plan a project that you can finish. Being able to keep motivated through a project is a must. If you are not feeling 100% about your project it’s going to suffer, having a smaller more manageable project can make it much easier to finish the game without losing motivation.

Keep in mind the K.I.S.S. principles as stated in previous articles. Don’t overwork yourself and spread out the development process so you are not cramming at the last minute.

Some tips for keeping a manageable project size include proper time management as well as a productive workflow. For time management, always overestimate the estimated project length by about 50%. Unexpected issues and bugs always crop up in unexpected places and it’s best to ensure you have ample time to deal with them as they come up.

One great way to keep a productive workflow going is to come up with a minimum viable product. A minimum viable product is the smallest and simplest version of the game that you can still ship. Work toward that as your goal, and properly polish it for publishing before you go back and add all the bells and whistles you initially dreamed of. This ensures that when publishing time comes, not only do you publish on time, but you have lots of extra features and unexpected recourses to surprise your audiences with.

Marketing

Remember, just because you are a one-person team does not mean that you can entirely ignore marketing. If anything, it makes it even more critical to the success of a project. Do your best to build a small following on social media through the development process, this can be as simple as making a Facebook page, and posting regular updates and other fun things about the game on social media as you build it.

Do your best to build up hype for your game so people are expecting it and looking forward to it. Even if you only get a few people looking forward to the game, they can give you just that little push you need to make a successful game.help you once you finally release it by promoting it for you for free.

Marketing a game can also help you stay motivated to finish a game. If you are the only person that knows about your new game, then it’s much easier to just scrap the project and start over from scratch.

Some good tips for good marketing include posting at least once a day to your various social media accounts about your game, this can be anything from concept art to a quick update on what features you are currently developing. The important thing is to be both reliable in your posts and to get people to start looking forward to seeing the release of your game. If you get people to wonder “Hmm, I wonder how that project is going” then you did your job, even if you had to bombard them with shameless self-advertising to do it.

Also consider making a dedicated Facebook page, group, or Twitter account for anything bigger than a small online arcade game. This way people have a reliable place to go if they are interested in updates, progress, and later, things like bug fixes or possible a new version. In the case of the Facebook group, it also provides a place for people to ask questions and talk together about your game. Some other great marketing tips can be found in this article about how to best market your indie game.

Tools and Engines

When making your own game, remember that you are only one person and can’t possibly do everything yourself. This is where tools like game engines come into play. Don’t go and attempt to build your game from the ground up, because that is extremely unlikely to happen. Instead, familiarize yourself with various different game engines, physics engines, and other tools, so when you build a game you know the best one to pick for the job. This does not mean that you should remain ignorant of game engines inner workings, you should still learn how they work on the underside so that you can fix minor bugs or add some features you need if you have to.

Some ways I determine the perfect game engine for the job include looking at how recently it was last updated, general popularity, features list, and usability. I have found that these are often the most important points when considering a game engine.

This might sound obvious, but the more recently a game engine was updated, the more current it is. I will almost never use one that has not had at least a minor update in the last six months. Be sure that the game engine you choose to use has been updated recently, or is in active development. You might see a great price on a professional engine, but if it is more than a year old you might as well ignore it.

Also look for how popular an engine currently is, the more popular it is the more people you can ask when you run into a problem, and often the more documentation, tutorials, and examples it will contain. The more people that use any specific engine, often the easier it is to learn.

As for features list and usability, be sure that it has the features you need to be supported. Very little is more frustrating than when you are nearly done with a game and you find it lacks some critical feature you might need. This also translates into usability, while more features are always better, they do absolutely no good locked behind obscure GUI and bad layouts. Find something that is easy to use, and makes sense to you because you will likely spend weeks or months using it.

Some cases, however, it is easier to build your game from scratch, these reasons can include the need to control the workflow extremely accurately in your code, to have a much smaller file size. Whatever your reason, be sure to weigh the pros and cons carefully, you will likely be stuck with the consequences of this choice throughout the rest of development. Check this interview of a personal graphics engine developer to learn more about when and when not to develop your own tools.

Expectations

I know I have said this multiple times throughout this article, but it is still extremely important to remember that you are a one-man team. Keep your expectations low, especially for your first few projects. This does not mean that you should settle for lower quality games, you should still do your best to develop quality games. It just means that you should have realistic expectations in mind for your experience level, and how much work you are willing to devote to your game.

It is also important to be proud of your work, there will be lots of haters, critics, and naysayers throughout the development process. While it is important to improve your game through constructive criticism, don’t let all the negativity get you down, and remember to focus on the positive feedback you receive as well.

Final Product

When it comes time to release your game, there are several things that you should be sure you do. The first one is to be sure that it is actually publishable quality. Make sure that it is fully rounded, the assets all match each other and the game sticks to a universal theme.

The second thing that you should be sure of, is your cover art. Cover art is critical for your game when you release it, you need to have icons ready for your game, banner ads, page backgrounds, and anything else you might need to get your game featured on different websites.

Finally, publish! Sometimes you may not want to publish a game because there is just one more feature you could add, or possibly one last thing you improve. It is important to remember to set a deadline and publish by then, people like punctuality and if you are constantly delaying then your game will start to lose support.

 

Tell us what you think are the most important tips for solo game developers in the comments section below! And don’t forget to share this article on social media to help out other solo game devs in need!
~Andrew Stavast
Firenibbler Studios

6 Comments

  1. Btw, there are instances where making a game from scratch is beneficial (granted that you’ve done it before. Learnt this the hard way last month. It isn’t easy to make an html game without the canvas). I’m currently working on an endless runner game (adding a few features so that my younger brother can enjoy the game whilst he tests it) using PhaserJS as the engine. But there’s so much stuff phaser does (spaghetti code for everone!) that it really affects performance.
    I used a pool of 9 sprites (10 plus player sprite) and the game would still drop frames occasionally.
    And from what I see, it would be best to create the game from scratch, concentrating on making sure it runs at 60 fps on a very slow device each time.

    • Firenibbler

      March 29, 2017 at 8:05 am

      I agree, however for most people custom coding a game is just not realistic. I have however, made a few games with pure JS and the performance of a game with no engine, if done right, is often much better performance than anything an engine can pump out.

  2. Thank you for great post and advices! I’m currently working on little platformer game, same as Kitanga Nday I using Phaser. For sure, I will follow your tips to make my game even better! 😉

  3. Really nice advices!,

    I would add the “do a list”.

    It is always important that, when you have time to develop your game, you have a list of thinks you want to add and in wich order (i often do the fun part first and end with lots of boring things that.. well… i never do :P).

    • Firenibbler

      April 4, 2017 at 4:58 pm

      Good advice, it’s always a good idea to make a todo list, but the trick is sticking to it!

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