1 released game, 5 mistakes- 13 mins
Disclaimer: This blog post is quite long because it’s originally a video. If you prefer to see the video, click the link below. I thought it would good to also have it as text, as it’s quite an important subject for me, and I believe it can be one for you too.
1 released game, 5 mistakes
I made a mistake working on my first commercial game for more than a year. Actually I made more than one and I want to go over them with you. That way maybe you can avoid them and it might be kinda therapeutic for me. Even if you don’t find it useful you can at least laugh at me, so it’s a win-win. It will also help me close a chapter, move on to the next projects and avoid repeating the same mistakes.
I worked too long on it
I worked on the game for 456 days exactly and it was too long. The goal with Dashpong was to release my first commercial game. I wanted to go from the idea to a finished product that people pay for. I talked about it in more details in my latest video. I’m successful in that sense. I released the game 3 weeks ago and some people are paying for it.
I can’t help to think that it took way to long for such a game. I knew from the start that the game was not going to make a lot of money. First because it’s a local multiplayer game, but also because it’s my first game and I didn’t want to have high expectations. Because of that, the game should have taken few months maximum.
I believe that when starting with gamedev, especially when you don’t have a lot of experience, you should aim for little games. You’ll still get the whole experience of creating a game from start to finish, but you reduce the cost associated to not making a lot of money. And you never know, maybe your game will be great and generate more revenue that you imagined. The longer your game takes, the harder it is for it to become viable.
Small games allow you to focus on a cool concept. You don’t have much time to create it fo you have to avoid feature creep. We often see beginners do the opposite and start their gamedev journey with an RPG with a complex story, lots of enemies, weapons, etc.. Small scope but very well polished is the way to go in my opinion. How long do you think your first game should take? Tell me in the comments.
To come back to financial aspect, in the case of Dashpong, I would need to make 29208€ before Steam and taxes cut, to generate the minimal French income for one year of work. And Dashpong took longer that one year, so the real number is higher. Here’s the full calculation:
15948 = (x*0.7)*0.78
x = 29208.8$
Note that the minimal salary in france is around 1300€ after taxes. And this is without taking into account the expanses for the game such as capsules art and music.
I don’t know exactly how much Dashpong will make, but I can tell you it won’t be that much.
If you’re interested about the financial aspect, I’ll do a video in a few months to go in details about how much the game made.
Local multiplayer was a mistake
A second mistake I made, is to go with a local multiplayer game. I don’t think that these type of games can’t be successful, but in retrospect it was more a pain than anything.
First off, without online multiplayer, it’s hard to sell. Playing online is so common nowadays that people are reluctant of paying for a local only multiplayer game. Even with Steam Remote Play, the experience is not the same and I totally get that. I decided to not do online multi, because I knew it would add months of development to the game and I was not ready for such a commitment.
Second, it’s just hard to test. You make a game solo, that requires at least 2 people to play. So I spent a lot of time playing against myself, controlling both players. It seemed okay when I was doing it, but now I understand that it probably made me focus on the wrong thing. Of course you can play-test with other people, but it’s not easy..
Third point, play-testing is hard. You need to gather people to play with them, and it needs to be local because your game is not online. When creating a game, I think you want to test often especially with people that may not be super familiar with your game. With Dashpong, this part was really hard, even with a free demo.
And final point, the local aspect makes it difficult to promote. It’s hard to create promotional material because you’re working on it solo and you need people to record gameplay. It’s hard for streamers or youtubers to try because they need to be many players in the same room.
None of these problems are huge, but all of them combined make it just hard enough to be discouraging sometimes. It’s throwing a spanner in the works before you even start working on the game.
Dashpong should have been different
A big mistake I’ve made is with the direction of the game or should I say lack of.
I talked about it many times in my devlogs, but I was quite lost with the visuals of Dashpong at some point. When I think about it now, the visuals were just one aspect of my lack of direction. In reality, the core gameplay of Dashpong was lacking. The main mechanic of dashing and creating paddles at the same time is good and a great way to revisit the pong idea. But it’s not enough. Now that I think about it, I should have went full on arcade mode. Dashpong is using physics and thus is too realistic in a way. I’m now certain it would have been much better with crazy ball path, power-ups, hit-stops and cool visuals. You could easily imagine having a special ability that would charge or maybe after X paddles created you create a bigger stronger paddle or something.
I think it should have been closer to games like these (show games on screen). By going with something more arcady you can tune the feel of everything, like how the ball could react depending on how you hit it. The base game would probably be a bit harder to grasp, but it would feel more satisfying and enjoyable imo. Also by making it not relying on physics it would have been easier to make it online eventually.
Of course it doesn’t mean I couldn’t achieve some of that using physics, it’s just that I didn’t go that route and I stuck with a more “realistic” approach.
What I’m trying to say is that the basic idea of Dashpong is simple, so I should have gone all in to make it amazing to play. The core of Dashpong is gameplay, so I could have made it with more nuances to learn and more things happening as you play.
Dashpong, to me, feels like a great idea that was not completely explored.
I took to long to pay / get help
Because Dashpong was my first game, I wanted to have control over everything. Not really in a bad way, but because I wanted to get experience with that game. This means I wasn’t seeking any publishing deals for example and I did the art and lots of sound effects alone for example. But it comes a point where you have to realize what you can and cannot do. For example, I can’t do music, so of course I could take the time to learn, but it would be very inefficient and my music would probably be meh at best. Same for the steam capsules. I initially did them myself, but they were a bit too generic.
My mistake was to wait until the very end to accept the idea of putting some money into the game to get professional help. Even though I knew Steam capsules were super important and everyone everywhere was telling gamedevs to get real artists to do it, I still waited until the very end.
I understand why I did that. Knowing that Dashpong was probably not going to bring in a lot of money, I pushed back as much as I could spending money on it. But this was not a great idea.
This is something I’ll keep in mind and tackle very quickly in my next games. As soon as I’m working on something seriously, I’ll get in touch with pros to help me where I need.
This is a small mistake for now, but it could be a much bigger problem in the future, especially with bigger and more ambitious projects. As an indie dev, I’m a business and spending money to get good services is unavoidable.
The game is too expensive
At 9.99$ I think the game is too expensive for a lot of people. The reason behind this price was that when you create a local multiplayer game, you sell less games because in a group of friend, only one needs to buy it. It’s the opposite with online multi, where one friend can make the whole group buy a game. So with that in mind and with the content that was supposed to be in Dashpong I thought it was fair. I still think it’s fair to be honest, but I think players or potential buyers see it differently.
The thing is Dashpong is hard to play in a way. To play it, you have to be with at least a friend, and in the same room if you don’t want to use Steam Remote Play. Compare that to a single player game and you see how difficult it is.
If we take This is hell for example, a game made by WattDesign in 1 month, the game is sold at 6.66$, which can feel a little high for a short rage game, but from the perspective of a player, I think it feels more interesting than 10$ for Dashpong. With his game, you know you’re getting some playtime because it’s a rage game, so you probably won’t finish in 1 hour. Because it’s a solo game, you can pick it up, play a bit and stop Even when it’s finished, there’s a coop mode with which you can extend the lifetime of the game. Dashpong on the other end, requires that you have someone with you. You won’t launch the game for a quick play very often. And even if I believe you can get way more playtime out of it, you’ll feel like you won’t play a lot. Not having a solo mode or AI makes it even harder to play more often, meaning that you can easily end up buying the game and never play or very rarely.
I talked about that in my “gamedev is hard” video. Nowadays players have so many games that we are fighting for their playtime more than their money. Players know their time is limited so they might not buy the game because it doesn’t feel worth it for the time they’ll spend on it.
I’m not totally sure the price is a real problem for now, but seeing my conversion rate which is pretty low I suspect people might be waiting for sales. If you have thoughts on that please tell me in the comments below.
I started the game on a whim
All these mistakes are connected in a way. I started working on Dashpong on a whim. This is probably the real mistake behind all of what I said previously.
I didn’t take the time to explore the idea, to construct a whole product around the mechanic. I found the mechanic cool, I had the feeling it could be interesting, and I jumped on it. This was a big mistake because I lacked direction for so long during development. By taking the time to plan more and really think about what the game should be, I would have probably taken a different route. All of the mistakes I talked about were avoidable. By understanding that local multiplayer was a big “problem” I could have thought from the beginning of a real solution like integrating a solo mode from the get go or working on AI as a first priority.
By having a clearer idea of what I wanted I would have needed less time to finish the game. Especially since I’ve lost so much time thinking about a direction or loosing the energy to work on the game because I didn’t exactly know where I was going.
If you think I’m too harsh on the game, that’s the point of the video, being critical. If you’re doing gamedev for fun, you don’t have to be too harsh, but I’m trying to make a living out of it, so I have to be critical. This doesn’t mean I don’t like the game and I’m not proud of it, more that I know what are the flaws and I want to do better next time. I also think that showing you how I critique my game can be helpful for you. No matter what you do, if you want to be better at it, you have to be critical. It’s immensely helpful to cultivate that skill. Being able to take distance from your work, understanding that what you create is not you, and that you can critique it without attacking who you are is fundamental to progress.
If you made mistakes during your game’s development, share them with me in the comments below, byyyye ;)