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16 Oct 2013

Keeping Player’s Expectations Realistic During Development of Your Indie Game

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On the AAA side of gaming, Ubisoft announced yesterday that Watch_Dogs has been delayed from November 15 until Q2 2014 – a fairly sizeable five month delay for a game that was about to begin the printing process, shipped to retailers, and ready to be sold within one month. Of course, delays are something we have become accustomed to – in fact, it’s almost a given that our favorite upcoming games are probably going to be delayed at one point or another. Yet Watch_Dogs is different, in that a significant portion of gamers that are upgrading to next-gen consoles have purchased next-gen bundles that include Watch_Dogs, thus causing massive problem for retailers around the world.

This made me think: what are some of the screw-ups you should avoid when your indie game is in the ‘public eye’ of the media and gaming community? When delays are going to occur, how should you handle them, and how should you build up consumer interest in your game so when a delay does occur they are not left severely disappointed? In short, is there a proper way to keep your potential customers interested in your game while protecting your game against the threat of delay and overall disappointment? There certainly is, and by taking a few tips in mind, players are going to remain interested in your game and, like in the case of Watch_Dogs, if a delay does occur, it will lower potential customer morale as little as possible.


The dreaded delay

Put your fear of delays to rest, as it is eventually going to happen. Delays are a part of the business of developing games, so if you must delay a game, do it. Yet, when delaying your game, create a plan of action to ensure that all of the goals you need to accomplish are completed to perfection because of the delay so that you never have to delay your game a second time. That’s really the rule you need to follow as well: delay once, and only once.

Why? For starters, this will let down your fans considerably. Delay your game a second time and more, and you are going to disappoint your fans even more to the point where many of them may give up on your game ever releasing in the first place. Moreover, if you keep delaying your game, that is time wasted that you could be using to develop future projects, and as an indie developer, you do not want to waste any time on any project, ever.

If possible, do not announce a release date until your game is truly going to be ready for release. We always see cases of games being given a release date, only to be delayed. Gamers have become numb to the experience, but it doesn’t mean it is proper. Again, announce a release date if you are truly ready, and when the inevitable delay occurs on one of your projects? Announce the delay, get your game ready as quickly as possible, and release it without barely losing a beat in your plan to release your game in a timely manner.


Making too many promises

Do you remember when the original Fable was in development and how many promises Peter Molyneux made regarding the game? He promised that players would see buildings erode over time, people would age in-game, when you cut down a tree early in life the tree would grow back – literally, you would have a huge influence on the entire world you encompassed. Yet the game players received? It didn’t resemble anything close to what Molyneux had been promising over the years. While the game was decent on its own merits, the hype that had been built up surrounding Fable left a terrible taste in player’s mouths, and as a result, people hated the game.

Making too many promises regarding how awesome your game is going to be is only going to hurt the game as a whole. Those that are interested in your game will likely follow the development process, and when they play the finished product? They are going to feel angered, betrayed – basically, every negative feeling under the sun. And the worst part about it? You are probably going to lose a ton of customers – many of them for life – just because you hyped your game a little too much.

In my interview with Joe McDonagh two weeks ago, we discussed how it feels to play a game that you have been looking forward to for so long, only to find that it is disappointing. This is the last thing you want to happen to your players, in that you want them to truly believe that waiting for your game to be released was worth every second of waiting instead of them being disappointed and angry by the difference between what you promised and what you released.


Failing to share new information about your game

Every developer wants their game to gain some interest, and when it does, you need to release new information regarding your game on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean you need to release new information every week or even every month, but you do not need to keep your potential customers in the dark, either. Sure, if there are certain secrets you want to keep, that is perfectly fine as well. Yet in the end, do your potential customers a solid and provide them with the occasional information that they crave. This will provide a sense of trust between you and your followers, and they will appreciate every instance in which you take the time to tell them about your game.

Conduct AMA’s on Reddit, interviews with different podcasts and publications, and so on. By failing to keep churning out new information from time-to-time, you are missing the opportunity to craft a great relationship with your fanbase. If possible, always create a connection with your fanbase, as they will certainly appreciate it.


‘Okay, I’ve released the game. I’m done.’

No, you’re not – in fact, you’re just beginning. Essentially, you are creating a service for your fans instead of a game, and while it is simple for you to develop a game, place it on its respected platform, and move onto the next game, you cannot do this. Rather, you need to keep developing your game as time progresses via adding new content, new patches, and so on.

The content you have always wanted to implement into your game? You can implement it as time moves on when taking the approach of your game being a service versus a game. Players will continue to return to the game as you add new content and bug fixes, and in the end, they are going to be appreciative of your game and will likely purchase your future games because in their mind, when they purchase your game, they know they are going to get new content for the foreseeable future, making it worthy of their hard-earned money.

At the end of the day, you need to keep your expectations realistic while doing your part to always continue to improve your game. By approaching the development of your game from this angle, when gamers finally get to play your game, they are going to be impressed by what you have done (if the game is excellent, of course). Follow a few of the tips above, and you will be on your way to greatness!

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