This is a story about how our game went from idea to market.
This is not a short story and not a story meant to inspire people to make games. It is meant to show the hard truth that is game making and the roller coaster of emotion that goes into it. The idea for our game(ACME Planetary Defense) came to us while at work one day. The idea was simple, take missile commend and put a 360 degree rotation to it. That is what the game originally was but over the course of its life span the idea would change probably over 100 times. So once we had the idea in place we made a simple prototype of the game to see if it was fun.
Within a couple of hours we had the 360 degree rotation and was able to spin around and shoot stuff from the center of the planet. We even were able to get enemies to crash into the planet. The prototype was done. After about 3 hours we had something that was playable and fun for the time being. That 3 hours would consume another year of our life's. How does a game that was made in 3 hours take another 11 1/2 months to make and sell. The biggest factor in our time frame was this was the first game we were making(there are 3 of us total). So there were a lot of hurdles that we had never faced that we would have to overcome to sell our game to the world. Once we had the prototype done we start designing out more for the game. We spent about a week just talking about new enemies, weapons, and talked about a crate pick up system. The more we added the more we thought how awesome the game was going to be. Once we all had a good idea of the game we wanted to make we started doing research to see if there was any other kind of game out there that was like it. We only found 1 game that was similar but not enough to see the similarities. So we went full force into development.
Within a couple of days a lot of the ideas we had thought of were coming to life, granted there was little to no textures on anything, the functionality was there. Things were moving along very smoothly. New enemies were being added almost daily and the game play was starting to feel more and more like a game and less of a prototype. We got a lot of the game done in a 2 weeks. We were making excellent timing, our initial time frame we thought was about 3-4 months till we released it...oh how wrong we were. The more we developed and put new features in the more old things that once worked now didn't. Once we got about half way through the list of features we wanted we stopped and discussed if these features really needed to be in the game. Things like 6 different versions of each enemy and 15+ weapons and over 50 total upgrades. We were already coming close to our 3 month window and we still only had about 50% of our original game done and a ton of bugs that still needed to be fixed and each new feature created new problems on its own. So we had to think long and hard about what we could do and what we couldn't. Once we came up with an idea of what we needed to finish and what we needed to scrap our list of problems went down. We didn't plan on have so many upgrades and enemies but when one of us had a good idea we wrote it down and rather than from the beginning say this is a good idea and this idea would be cool but is going to take too much time to make would of saved us a huge headache. One of the features we had planned in the original version was these mega weapons that would destroy everything in their paths and the ability to combine weapons when you picked them up to form kind of a hybrid weapon. These ideas seemed awesome but once we start to develop them they would cause so many problems. Combining weapons is a sweet idea but with our 7 weapons and each weapons being able to be fused with any other type of weapon was a nightmare. We spent weeks trying to figure out how to properly get it to work correctly and then once we started to get it to work how the hell were we going to explain this to a new user. Anyways, once we decided to get rid of it our game was a lot less buggy and started to feel almost done.
6 months have now gone by and our game is still sitting around being worked on. Our initial thoughts of 4 months are gone and now we are mainly focused on making a great game. Now that the game is a good state we can start testing it and see what people think. Testing always comes toward the end of the development cycle but now I know NEVER save it for last. You will hate life if you do. Do testing frequently. Even if your game is only half done, test it. Give it to your friends, family, some guy just anyone who you know is willing to play it and get feedback. When your letting the person test your game always I repeat always watch them as they play. Don't help them just watch and see where they get hung up on, what they do and if the section of the game is to fast/slow/easy/ or hard. Never trust what they say if they like it. Chances are they aren't expert game testers and can't really tell you if your game is good or not. They will say it's fun or I like it but never think just because your mom likes it, that it is going to be hottest thing out there. This is why you watch them play. They may not like the game and them playing it will show their honest reaction to the game. If after a round they say, oh that was fun and hand it back this means they didn't really enjoy it. If they play a couple of rounds then hand it back to you chances are they think it's good but it's probably not for them. If you walk away and come back and they are still playing it, BOOOM you got yourself a hit or at least a game that will make some noise. As you watch them play you can see oh a new user doesn't understand that they need to shoot the enemies coming in at them, or I need to put a sign there to show the user to go over here to do this certain action. Testing early will help you catch these new user hang ups and help you get a system in place to guide new users through your game in the beginning so they understand what is going on and how to fully play your game.
That being said we were hit with hard by this because we had been looking so close at the game that everything seemed to make sense to us. Every new enemies we made fit into our theme and we understood who he was and why he was there, but a new user had no idea why. This was a problem because now we had a game we thought was awesome that no one understood what was going on. We had to figure something out to explain how to play the game and like many other games we did the easiest thing possible...we made a tutorial page. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER just make a tutorial page to explain to people how to play your game. People will never read it, and never understand your game and will most likely just delete your game because they don't get it. Your tutorial should be interactive and have instant response to the things you do in the game. So we made our tutorial screen and we thought, okay all good people now understand our game.
Polishing...Just the name haunts my dreams to this day. Polishing is just another word for redo everything to make it better. When you're making your first graphics chances are that by the time you made your first graphics to the time your testing is done you will have gotten better then you were in the beginning. Same goes with coding. We were just at 6 months of development so we were all pretty over the game and just wanted to be done with it. But we didn't want to put out some crappy unpolished game and we thought if we polish the game we could expect many more people to love the game rather than just like it(hate wasn't even a word we knew). So as we got into the polishing stage of the game a lot of things needed to be address as far as graphics and functionality went. So each graphics got a pretty good overhaul over the next 2-3 months and the programming changed a lot to fix certain bugs and to make ne aspects of the game. The more we worked on it the better it became. Each new graphics would spark some fuel into our blood and excite us about the riches we were going to get because our game was so awesome and amazing. Every time we thought we were done we would find something else to fix or to make better. You want to know why the word polish haunts me it's because it took us 5 months to "polish" our game. We did almost a complete overhaul on graphics and we kind of screwed ourselves by saying, "I don't like this graphics anymore, I can make it look better". After awhile we finally just said fuck it and said no more changes unless it needs to be changed. This phase of development took more time than the actual development since we were nit picking everything about the game other than that damn tutorial section.
As many games do audio isn't considered high priority until you need it. We had now been about 10 months into development and we still needed audio in our game. We had placeholder audio but nothing we really loved. We all thought this was going to be cake, just jump on freesounds.org and get some music and sound effects. How hard could it be...very! Each sound we found either didn't match our theme or just was terrible. We couldn't find any music that we liked or any sound effects that made the game better. The sounds effects were just making the game worse since it was all mixed and match(it's still all pretty bad imo). Since we are a small studio with a budget of zero dollars we couldn't afford to hire someone to make music. So we just found some stuff that fit and make it work.
Once the game was done we decided to start marketing the game. We thought man where do we even start...We said oh let's send it in to the biggest game networks to review...they did not review it. Then we started to post on forums...not many people responded. We made a Facebook page...not many people joined it. We all thought our game was awesome and was the next best thing but it seemed that no one else shaded our passion. We kept saying oh it's got to be because we're a small studio and people just don't know about the game...yeah that's it. Each day we would write on a new form too help spread the word of our game. Then at the end of the day we would go back to the forms and see no one had commented...at first it was very sad and frustrating to see no one take interest in your work. You get very mad when you feel like you just wasted a year of your life for nothing. When someone would comment you got so happy and just wanted to hug that person. I remember making fake accounts and commenting just to generate some buzz about it. Some people on the forums called us out on it but at least they were commenting on it. Overall the marketing we did was terrible and didn't really help us out to much.
Release day...the single greatest day in any video game makers life. We finally get to reap the rewards of a year's worth of work piled into a 72 hour money grab. How much were we going to make, should we quit or day jobs because will make enough to do it full time, will we be able to pay of our massive school debts(300k + total between the 3 of us). Was Apple going to feature us? So many question unanswered....then the sales numbers came in....168 downloads....our jaws hit the floor. We said that can't be right...only 168 downloads. We said maybe some people are waiting to get it this weekend...nope. A years worth of work, blood, sweat, tears pour into this game. Thoughts of working full time on games, money and tons of people who love our game...all vanished within a week. Week one sales...250 downloads.
After we had released the game we all were very sad and upset. A year gone and nothing to show for it. Yeah we had a game released but we could of taken a part time job at mcdonalds and made more money.(15-20 hours a week for a year at minimum wage = 5070-6760 each). I would of been happy to make 5k for the game but we all walked away with about 150 bucks. We decided to take some time off and reflect on the game, read reviews and start to plan our next moves. It took around 6 months to finally accept our game had failed. Maybe it was the marketing, maybe the game just sucked, maybe we released at a bad time. There is never an answer to this question when you wish there was. After about 6 months we got back together and said....."Fuck that, this game is awesome and we need to make it awesome". So we re-coded the whole game to be faster and smoother. Made new enemies, added in a story mode, made mini bosses and bosses and a shit ton of other new features. We said were better now than we were so the game will be better. It may be dumb to redo a game that made no money but at least now we know if it fails again it's because no one like the game and we will burn this game into the ground and never touch it again.
The New Game
The new game is a rerelease of the old one but it's on steroids. So many things added in and fixed that I won't explain here but get ready, the apocalypse is upon us, the most awesome mobile gaming experience is coming and it's going to come hard. Get ready to play a game that has had almost 2 years of development into it and is by far going to top the action charts on your ios.
Get Ready....Get Ready!