5 pitfalls indie games fall into, way too regularly

If you are an owner of a PC, chances are that you’ve heard of indie games. Actually chances are that you have played quite a few of them during your gaming adventures.

The smaller studios creating games with only a handful of people or flying solo completely. Unfortunately indie games has in many circles become almost synonymous with the dreaded shovel-ware category.

Quite frankly this is not where they belong, where the AAA companies bring us tried and tested concepts on a grand scale, the indie game scene brings us a whole world of very unique and different games with concepts that might just make you fall in love with the weird. The thing that I picked up while going through so many indie games that my eyes started to burn, is that some of the “shovel-ware” titles, could actually be good, they just fell into some, or all of the pitfalls I’m going to run through quickly.

#5 – Doing it for the ching

Making money isn’t a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, by no means am I saying if you have a viable product that you shouldn’t be making revenue of some sorts from it. My concern here is doing it for the sole purpose of making money. If you don’t have passion for the piece you are building, or for the industry at all, it is without a doubt, going to show somewhere in the game. Titles like these are often rushed and filled with shady characters and practices that has cast a shadow over the indie scene.

The get rich quick schemers take over like weeds in a garden here, making it difficult for actual people that are passionate to get the lime light they need and quite frankly deserve. The problem for someone making a game that is after cash alone, is that you fall into the weed category, meaning that your product will get dismissed with the rest of them.

The biggest issue here isn’t the flooding of the market or any of that, but, if your product has a few holes there isn’t any reason to fix it, because you already sold a few copies, filled a few gaps in your wallet and move on to the next thing. This doesn’t make for a good experience for the people actually supporting you, at all. This will hamper your name and your future work especially if you become renowned as a developer that doesn’t care.

#4 – The slippery slope that is planning

So there is a unique idea, a concept, the likes that the world has never seen before. Brilliant, that is what it is all about. The thing about ideas and concepts are that they are limited in nature, in the sense that when it comes down to building it into a universe it is a small piece in the grand scheme of a game. This is where the whole thing falls on its face.

So many games that I have played is only based around a concept or idea, there isn’t any planning outside or surrounding the concepts and ideas. Sure it is a cool idea, mechanic or concept, but stand-alone it isn’t a game, it is part of a game. When you have a stroke of sheer genius it isn’t the time to build and release it, this is the time where you need to start building a game that compliments or enhances your ideas.

Give your game a definitive start, middle and end section, build in plot lines, create characters and environments that are relatable and make your concept the star of the show. No actor can be an actor without their scenery and support actors, so your idea is your main role, there are still a lot of work to make it into a game that everyone wants to play.

#3 – The best thing since sliced blocks

Everyone that is building a game with passion wants their game to be the best game that there ever was. This ties in strongly with my previous point. If you have overshot your mark conceptually then the chances are that you won’t mechanically be able to implement the ideas. In your planning you will be able to identify if you have a feasible idea for what you are working with.

However, that is not the point to be made here. How many times have you seen development teams hang on to games like their lives depended on it, not a bad thing, but when the game that you have made is a solid piece and for all purposes can be labeled as complete, then any further “upgrades” to the game start to make the game lose cohesion in many different ways. There has been a few times where updates of games came out and it left me scratching my head with only one question, why?

It’s like trying to keep going in a mathematics equation, you can keep going with the formula, but you already had the answer two steps ago, all the additional steps are, well in the case of mathematics, wrong. In the case of gaming, weird. If you have a game that people love already, why stay in stasis when you could be working on your diamond.

Don’t hold yourself back from letting go of good and solid games, please don’t forget to maintain them, we love playing them and any additions that makes sense are always welcome, but don’t try and push products into something they are never going to be. As you gain experience and resources you will create your flagship.

#2 – Cohesion

As a small team it is natural to face certain constraints and they come in various forms for these smaller teams, ranging from coding, art, music, design, right down to writing. Luckily there are people and places out there that offer help in the form of free or purchasable merchandise in the form of, code snippets, artists selling models, level designs, composers that has music and a whole range of other wonderful things.

The thing about this is that it is a massive candy store, where you have so many options that it could leave you dazzled and amazed for hours on end in these storefronts. The problem comes in if you are just grabbing at random at everything that looks tasty you end up with a whole range of different nice things that just doesn’t work together. The same goes for these pre-built assets. I will always encourage original work over buying something that someone else made, but I realize that this isn’t always how things work.

My issue here is that you don’t have a sad moment in a game with drum and bass music in the background. You can’t have a realistic looking animal in a zoo that looks like it was built in Minecraft, it just doesn’t make sense. Cohesion is key for setting the atmosphere and tone of a game and actually has a direct impact on how you as a player experience a game.

It is vital that models and environments makes sense together to form a powerful visual experience that can be driven home by music that adds that extra kick to the moments. Make sure that if you sit back and think about it, that it makes sense. Why are there killer spider monsters in a place with no oxygen and why did I use a Mozart sounding track for when they attack? If you want to mix the bizarre with the weird, by all means go right ahead it’s your game, but make sure that you at least try to make a sensible plot-line for why the wacky is happening. If it feels like nonsense and there is no explanation as to why, then it will keep its status in the mind of the player, that this is nonsense.

#1 – Hate the player, love the game

So you poured your heart into a game, hours upon hours of tedious coding, many weeks, possibly months of hard work to create your game. In actual fact, many aspects of your life probably got put on the shelf while you were sweating and slowly pouring your soul into the title. You release your beautiful product and suddenly there is overwhelming negative backlash.

This is a possibility, how you handle yourself in these situations can make or break your game and leave a mark on all of your previous and future work. As a coder myself I realize that this can be highly upsetting, aggravating and frustrating. The thing is every so often you see developers categorizing constructive criticism as being a hater. Everyone that has a suggestion or points out a fault, is at fault. You have put too many hours of your life into this product and you will have none of this hating on your watch. This leads to someone saying something that could potentially improve your game, the developer lashing out at them and them retaliating. The news travels of the volatile developer and trolls appear. It becomes nothing short of a virtual fire fight.

Developers love their games, in some cases a bit too much. Love is blind and the developers loses sight of the flaws and loves it no matter what. I’m not saying don’t love your game to bits, no. Always love your games, but be open to the flaws it might have, small things you might have missed during your time testing it. Generally gamers want to see your game succeed, gamers want your game to be good, why? We want to have fun and experience what you have to offer. You love your game, so do we, we just want to see it be the best it can be and if there are flaws that can be worked out to make it better, then why not?

I’m not saying embrace absolute negativity and thank people for being trolls. Don’t even react to them and if you want to react then do it with professionalism or a tongue-in-cheek way. Embrace the people that want to help you make what you have the best it can be, by listening to feedback from the players, making plans and improving the game. It’s a tough journey, but when you get to the end of it you will have something everyone can be proud to be a part of.

#0 – Conclusion

With all that said, I hope that the indie scene continues to be this active and strive towards making ground breaking games. I wish all of them success and I hope that I might have touched on some points that could help someone out there that is feeling kind of stuck with a few things here and there. I hope that you enjoyed this article and as always have fun and game on.

And a quick shout out to all the people that contributed towards the images used at: https://pixabay.com/


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