The search for more money

The following is a post that I wrote in one my defunct blogs, back in 2014. I wanted to rescue it since the lessons it contains are still invaluable.

I bring forth three game development stories about doing things the wrong way.

The Quest for Money

The first story is about having your feet on the ground.

It begins with a group of people with a “great idea” [sic] for a game. They contact a software development company. In the meeting, the developers scout to see what the needs of the project will be. The meeting goes overall OK, but two things stood out and caused some disbelief on the developers.

First, although the idea for the game is not explicitly mentioned –mainly due to the nature of the meeting and the fact that NDAs are still needed– the idea party reveals two key elements: Candy Crush and Flappy Bird.

Second and most shockingly, at some point someone from the idea party asks:

[By the way] how much does it cost to make a game?

In and of itself, that's a fair question. The problem, however, was the context. The problem here is what I call the Candy Crush Syndrome, followed by a serious case of Flappybirdium.

Developers all over the world decided that it was time to get rich making games. Candy Crush and Flappy Bird being their messiah. People with these syndromes are so focused on hitting the jackpot that, in their delusions they forget that over 99% of the games released on the mobile market fail. For every successful game, there are thousands that just don't cut it.

But here they are, an inexperienced group of people, with no clue about game development, wanting to earn their first million with a product and they have no clue of how much it might cost.

Blank Check

This second story is about commitment and professionalism.

It's about another group of game developers making a game for an investor. Their game is near release and hasn’t had proper testing. "It’s too late," they say. "It's expensive," they say. Ultimately, play tests will be done as a mere formality and not as a fundamental part of the development cycle.

The investor, having no clue about game development, blindingly trusts the developers. Meanwhile, the lead designer reassures everyone that the project is doing great – it clearly isn't. A poisonous ego that doesn’t care for professionalism is no leader. Leadership is earned, it isn't just a role you fulfill.

In the end, the game launched and was soon forgotten.

For any investor it should be top priority to keep tabs on the current status of the project. Otherwise, it's the same as having granted a blank check.

Work means commitment: to be professional and to give the best out of ourselves. And I mean commitment not only to the development team but to the players as well.

When you mix this blindness with basically providing the developers with a blank check that lets them do whatever you want, you get disaster.

Pay to Win

The last story is about the quest for more money.

Two parties are developing a mobile game together. They have been working on their first commercial game for over a year and the release date keeps coming near.

There have been debates on what the business model should be. Retail? In-app purchases? There's nothing extraordinary yet; people have mouths to feed, after all.

The game is alright, specially by the market standards of the time. However, the desire to hit the jackpot feels are like horse blinders. The project is pretty much in a release candidate state; yet, there's been lots of talk of how will the game be monetised. The consensus is that there will be an in-game market, selling a variety of items that will help the player.

Let that sink in – the game is about to be launched and the item market has just began to be added.

There's this thing called game balance, where you need to tweak and test the game to give the best playable experience to the player. Do it wrong and you end up with something that could be too frustrating/easy, too messy, too disconnected or with unintended flaws that could be exploited by players. Each item added to the game must be thoroughly planned in early stages.

Added to the mix is the fact that the game is somewhat difficult, which in and of itself isn't bad. The best solution that upper management could come with was shipping the game one gameplay-related item. This item basically removes the timer out a level, letting the player solve it at their pace – perfect scores still being on the table.

When the fear of losing customers –I mean, players– is the reason for that in-app purchase to exist, there's something fundamentally wrong about the whole process.

There's also another problem that arises from this. With a handful of items being planned to be added in future releases, why would anyone spend money in them when there's already one that guarantees success in the game?

Their proposed solution for this conundrum:

"Let's make it [the first item] more expensive!"

You can't make this up.

The moral of these three posts is that there's a lot more than just shipping or wanting to make a game – or any kind of product, for that matter.

Game developers are not rock stars and humility is the first step towards a better industry. Furthermore, players must be treated as such, not as a source of revenue. They are not cattle meant to be milked.

I hope these stories serve as beacons to everyone out there. Do not repeat the mistakes from the past.