Have you ever heard a pitch from an indie developer that sounded so ridiculously bad that you found yourself scratching your head and thinking, “wait, what?”
“My new game is going to be like SimCity, but with a story starring a family from the Midwest.”
Here’s a pitch I actually heard a long time ago that sounds about as bad as the example I made up above:
“This game is going to be like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion with an emphasis on racing.”
These examples are all laughably bad, but we see developers do this sort of thing all the time. They take a concept that works and mimic it while piling on unnecessary gameplay elements that do nothing more than bring down the entire experience. Do racing elements belong in a game like Oblivion? Absolutely not!
There is nothing wrong with taking a concept, tweaking it and placing your own signature on it, and making it your own. There’s another word for that: inspiration. The best game developers know how to borrow the right elements to make a game that feels inspired yet fresh while eliminating other elements that simply do not work in their new game. They know what to keep, what to toss, and most importantly, they know that less is always more.
Don’t add for the sake of ‘adding’
We’ve all played games that try to do too many things at once. These games feel as if they have an identity crisis, and it’s easy to see that the developer couldn’t quite figure out what they wanted to focus on within the game. Don’t do this! If you are going to add a feature into your next indie game, make certain that the game not only belongs there, but also improves every facet of your indie game. If there is no reason for the feature to be implemented? Don’t add it.
Think of your indie game as a glass and the components of the indie game as water. At its best, the glass is calm and the water is not overflowing. Ice cubes are the features and the more ice cubes you place into the glass? The higher the water rises until it overflows, causing a mess. That will be your indie game if you add too many features (in other words, a mess).
Borrow only what’s needed
Discussing inspiration, you only need to borrow what you need. If a feature does not belong, do not include it. This is why prototyping is so important, as it will allow you to learn which features work and which features do not work in your indie game. This will allow you to use features that only work, and will ensure that you do not force features into your indie game.
If it doesn’t belong, don’t force it
It’s as simple as that. If you want to incorporate a feature into your indie game but it doesn’t make sense, don’t include it! The worst thing you can do when developing your game is to force a feature, because in the end (and just like including racing elements into a game like Oblivion) all it will do is hurt the overall quality of your game.