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24 Nov 2014

Indie Dev Tip: Listen to Your Customers (But Not Always)

Some of the best advice you will ever have is to listen to your customers, and that’s true until it isn’t. Certainly, you need to listen to your customers when they tell you which aspects of your indie game needs to be improved (i.e. bug fixes and the like), but when they begin providing you with ideas for a new indie game? That’s where you need to draw the line (unless the idea is very, very good).

But why? Shouldn’t you be open to all ideas? Absolutely, but without sounding smug, your customers are just customers. Most of them are not taste makers or idea people: they have no idea what they truly want to play until you show it to them.

And it’s as simple as that.

Steve Jobs is famous for saying, “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” and he was 100% correct. It’s hard to imagine it now, but how many of us knew we needed a smartphone that was more computer than phone back in 2007? Most of us had no idea, but Jobs knew. Heck, I didn’t know I wanted to play a game where I was a border patrol officer until playing Lucas Pope’s Papers Please, but he knew there was an audience out there that would fall in love with the game the moment they played it, and he was right.

Speaking of Pope, tons of people want him to make a sequel to Papers Please, but it isn’t happening. Pope knows what his customers want, which is why he’s developing an adventure game called Obra Dinn – something completely different than his debut game. While making a sequel to a hit game is never a bad thing (it’s certainly a smart move), when you know what your customers want, you know what your next project needs to be.

If you think about it, it kind of makes sense. Those customers that want a certain type of game to be developed – that truly know what type of game they want to exist? Sometimes, they go on to develop the game themselves. This is how indie developers are born, and it’s perhaps why you’re in your chosen profession to begin with. For everyone else? They may think they know what type of game they want to play, but at the end of the day, they don’t really have a clue.

Thus, it’s important to differentiate ‘good advice’ from ‘advice that won’t do you any favors (sounds like a future blog post to me). The one person that says you should provide cloud support for your indie game so your data is backed up at all times is probably giving you great advice. The guy that says your next indie game should be a platformer starring cats dressed as ninjas? He’s probably giving you some advice you can’t really use (unless your audience has an infatuation with ninjas, cats, platformers, or a combination of the three).

And that’s really the difference: your customers can often give great advice on products that already exist, but when it comes to generating ideas? A lot of them have no idea what they’re talking about. Learn to differentiate solid advice from bad advice, and your projects will go smoothly as a result.


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