When to show material to public?

Discussion in 'Indie Basics' started by Dogma, Jun 11, 2011.

  1. Dogma

    Dogma New Member

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    Hi all,

    I am developing a game (surprising huh), we are now 5 months in, the game will take another 7-10 months to complete. We are now at a point where the game systems all fall into place, the world is grayboxed, and we are adding more and finetuning the gameplay.

    I am trying to figure out when I should start releasing material to the public. I am worried that if I release material too early, it will look unpolished and people might judge the game early. On the other hand there are two things I really want to start with:

    1) Have unbiased people playing the game early and often, so we still have time to adjust the gameplay to meet player expectations.

    2) Build a community of supporters, make some people aware that we are working on a game, some early marketing.

    Money is not an issue, I don't need to do pre-orders, but I could if you recommend it. In my mind, I tackle both in the same way, by releasing material and getting attention. But maybe I am wrong, maybe I should approach testers and marketing in a different way.

    I really don't want to build the game in a bubble, and I think that by testing early I will have a far better final result. What are your experiences?
    Should I get private testers first before releasing material to the public?
    Should I just take the Wolfire approach and tell the public about every little thing I have produced this week?
    Is there a private group of game developers that can give feedback on the game before I go public with anything?

    Thanks!
     
  2. Desktop Gaming

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    They will, and what's worse, they'll probably not bother again in future.

    It helps to know what your player's expectations will be before you write a single line of code.

    Unless your game is exceptional at this stage, it isn't going to have a community of supporters.

    I'm not getting personal here and I'm sorry if it sounds that way, but, I've never heard of you. You seem to be in the mindset that you're making a AAA game - is that the case? If you aren't a massive well-known corporation, or you don't have a large band of followers already, then pre-orders just won't work.

    Build it in a bubble. Why? Because if you let too many folks look at it early-on you'll get people going "it'd be better if this.... it'd be better if that...", with other people claiming that those aspects are fine as they are. In doing this you'll dig yourself into a hole trying to please everybody, and that will never ever happen. Trust me - I've been there, done that, have many t-shirts.

    Yes. Definitely.
    Probably not. Blogging about development is one thing. Reporting every inane little detail is something entirely different and most people won't care so in that respect I wouldn't waste my time doing it.
    Developers in the majority of cases are the absolute worst people to ask for feedback. Every developer has their own ideals and methodologies and you'll always end up getting criticism for even the tiniest things - things which might not be a problem to most everyone else.
     
  3. zoombapup

    Moderator Original Member

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    You can definitely save yourself a lot of trouble and figure out serious flaws early in development by testing with real players. It teaches you so much and you should do this as early as you can when you consider the game "playable". My experience is that there are so many things you can spot that are obviously wrong when you put a game in the hands of someone who doesnt know it already. That said, I'm not sure someone without a reputation/following would really get much out of open development like wolfire. Unless you really have a newsworthy game, or something unique about its development or you, then I would concentrate on finding local testers who can help test your usability as much as anything.
     
  4. Dogma

    Dogma New Member

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    First let me respond to this, don't worry I am not easily bruised. I am new to the indie scene, but I have worked on commercial game projects before in various roles as a freelancer. I am pretty well-rounded, can create both 3d and 2d art, and I can program AI, graphics, gameplay, well educated, etc. So yes, no followers, not well-known, I am really at the start of being an independent game developer, but I am not inexperienced and my goals are realistic.

    The game is not AAA, but it is also not small, I think it has a higher level of graphical polish than many indie games out there, because my background is in art and programming so I use my strong points. Game design, storytelling and marketing will probably be my weakest spots, but I believe that great games can be created by polishing a game until it is incredibly rewarding and fun to play, I don't really go for mind-boggling originality at this point.

    Yes, I guess I will go this route. Yes, I don't have a reputation or following like wolfire and most importantly I am not really cut out to go that route. I don't want to spend most of my time on posting youtube video's, etc. I don't think I could keep up with the update frequency either.

    But I do think that you need to create a place for fans to talk about a game, a place where the developer will give his opinion and show what he is working on, but I could very well be overestimating the value of doing so.

    Good to know. Still, I will probably show the game on this forum first for some feedback or PM harass some people, hahaha :).
     
  5. lightassassin

    lightassassin New Member

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    One thing, you failed to mention which I believe affects your marketing the most.... What type of game is it and who are your target audience?

    Unless this is somewhere I missed of course =)
     
  6. dopeman

    dopeman New Member

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    Hey Dogma.
    Yes, I agree with DesktopGaming on most of his points.
    You probably won't get much of a community by releasing a public version of your game in progress (unless it's a really impressive game or you're targetting a very specific niche).
    Doesn't hurt to try though.
    Personally, I find it easier to let a few non-developers play the game and provide feedback about the gameplay.
    Unbiased players (usually non-developers) seem to give the best feedback I think.
     
  7. Grey Alien

    Indie Author

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    When it beings to look good you should start posting screenshots and build hype, then later videos and tell the indie press. At some point you might be able to get some pre-orders if you've built a good enough following with the hype.
     
  8. Jack Norton

    Indie Author

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    I'm using this approach with my latest games, I think is the best in term of marketing, unless you have some really good idea that don't want stolen (in my case I do story-based games so I'm safe)
     
  9. papillon

    Indie Author

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    I got preorder people into my latest game fairly early for two main reasons. One, it was taking a long time to finish and I wanted to keep my most fervent forumites aware that yes, I REALLY WAS making progress on this game they were all begging to play. More importantly, it's stupidly complicated in some respects and really really really needed a large pool of testers.

    Testers, not suggesters. Suggestions were generally not really paid attention to unless they lined up with something I wanted to do already. After all, especially while the game wasn't all the way done, the testers were in the dark about all kinds of things I had planned for later. I knew where I was going and they didn't. That helps keep you from being derailed by a million helpful ideas of "it would be better if". :)
     
  10. Dogma

    Dogma New Member

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    It is a strategic game with RPG elements, targets males, about age 14-40. It has a high PvE focus, no PvP focus. I do plan to incorporate online features, this is how I plan to reduce piracy rates. I am planning to reduce piracy by providing players with carrots (rewards for registrations, etc), instead of hitting with sticks (DRM). For example, loot is important in the game, so I am planning to add a weekly free item to the game. The player won't actually get it he will still need to work for it, but it won't be in unregistered games.

    I guess it pretty much targets the most spoiled player group out there :). I can most easily identify with this group because it is the type of games I like to play and know most about. All elements separated are not unique, but as far as I am aware I am mixing things in a novel way.

    Great! I will be following your progress, very curious to see how it works out. My game concept can be stolen, but I am quite sure that noone will beat me to release if I wait a little longer.
     
  11. Game Producer

    Moderator Original Member

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    I'd say it depends about the game: if you try show adventure game early, then well, I doubt that works.

    If it's ... let's say RPG, then things change. Here's my thoughts on showing things early:

    When you have the very core gameplay in such shape that the game can be tested (even 1 good level, or if open world, then enuf stuff to explore & something to kill ;). Just something that people can test the gameplay. Art doesn't need to be finished: that's something you can update late. Sounds don't need to be finished (or started), in my humble opinion.

    If you plan to release early, be ready to provide frequent updates and stick to your releases: When I was doing releases for my Dead Wake game, I managed to bring new release every 30-60 days. (30 days is good if you can meet it, 45 is fine too, 60 starts to be quite long waiting time). This way I could create community anticipation (didn't even realize it was building!) - I even had counter saying "next release comes in 18 days, 19 minutes, 12 seconds" (yeh, that seconds was bit over, but it was nice to watch them decrease ;))

    And each release must bring improvements. After each release, I felt motivated to do more, and community appreciated new updates. In some cases, there was more bug fixes or not major changes, and people were thinking "this goes slow", but when something radical was seen they were "this is starting to look great!" and were giving more and more ideas.

    Anyway... After you've worked enuf to show gameplay (anything from 0-6 calendar months), and if you then can keep updating frequently (bi-weekly, monthly, bi-monthly) I'm quite certain that you can build community & get people to play, test & give ideas.

    Word of warning though: if you do want to host your community forums, then be prepared that it'll require time.

    And last but not least, having closed alpha/closed beta is an option too. Get 100 people (or whatever) to give their thoughts and play the game before anyone else. That could bring best of the both worlds.
     
  12. Chris England

    Chris England New Member

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    Personally I don't agree with this at all. My opinion is that pre-orderers should be the lifeblood of an indie developer, and having them on board will allow you to do all sorts of things you wouldn't be able to otherwise.

    Also, I'll say that you don't need a large band of followers to get pre-orders - you'll just get more pre-orders if you have more followers! The point might sound a bit trite, but even have half a dozen pre-orderers of your game would make life much easier than having zero, even though it represents negligable income.

    As far as I'm concerned, a pre-orderer is a very valuable person. The dangers you mention about people pre-judging your game and you getting bad press for it are totally valid if you just deal it out to any old joe who passes by. But someone who is willing to put their money down and buy into your vision before it is complete isn't any old joe - they'll be the people who understand much better where you're trying to go, and are thus much less likely to make snap judgements and tell everyone how terrible your game is (not to mention that they'll be a much better source of feedback than randomers too).

    It lets you have the best of both worlds. You can build the game inside the 'bubble' that has been referred to above, as you are insulated from journalists and the sort of people who would pre-judge you, but you also get the detailed feedback and impromtu bugtesting that comes from having public releases (and honestly, don't underestimate the value of the latter!) at the same time.

    It's worked really, really well for my own project. We've got quite a lot for the pre-orderers to see now, but it was pretty thin on the ground when we first started. The early contributors have been with us for a long time now and have really helped us shape the direction we're taking Xenonauts, as well as their money letting us expand the scope and quality of the final game quite dramatically. And the best bit? We've had loads of pre-orders and our builds are completely unencrypted, but I've never found a leaked copy anywhere on the net. I've found that if people have to pay to get hold of something, they attribute a lot more value to it than if they're given it free.

    Plus, Minecraft and Terraria might never have taken off the way they had if people couldn't pre-order them while they were still unfinished...
     
  13. Jack Norton

    Indie Author

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    I agree, pre-orders are really useful if you're making a certain kind of game (RPG, strategy, simulation, etc). You get very useful comments, I got some for Planet Stronghold that GREATLY improved the gameplay. About the fact that won't work, while I am not a famous indie and I didn't get 1000 pre-orders for it, was nice because showed there where at least a few hundred people interested in a sci-fi JRPG/VN :)
     
  14. Purplefacegames

    Purplefacegames New Member

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    I believe pre orders are a great way to secure ideas to increase marketing, thus making sure enough hype and Razmataz is attacthed to your IP.
     
  15. loki

    loki Guest

    preorders do work, the question is completing the game. you dont wanna end up like all those people wasting years making a game and in the end failing.
     
  16. etali

    Original Member

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    Personally, I wouldn't open up the game to the public until it's done. The problem with "the public" is that these days every thinks that they're a games critic, the best lore writer ever, a talented artist, and a programmer. Right now I'm sat in the IRC of one indie developer listening to people trying to "teach" the devs how to fix a particularly tricky networking issue because they they know better than the devs - after all, they're programmers too they did VB at school. Unless you're willing to spend hours sifting through that kind of noise, it's just not worth it IMHO.

    If you need feedback / sanity checks, then I'd recruit a SMALL number of play testers. I've had success with pairing up with one other developer - I look at their stuff, they look at mine, and we give each other a little survey where we ask about the bits we're interested in improving.

    I've no experience with pre-orders, but I would say that if you're thinking of doing them, make sure you do lots of research and get everything set in stone regarding refund policies, etc. I'm no lawyer or accountant, but I can think of a few things that could go wrong.
     
  17. EpicInventor

    EpicInventor New Member

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    We're working on our first game right now (epicinventor.com) and I decided that we would show stuff very early (we're only about 6 weeks in but have had the forums up for a few weeks). Obviously we are new, so there isn't a huge crowd clambering for more info or anything, but we do have some active people eager to see more and I don't worry about showing it.

    We're also developing the game pretty quickly, so we understood we would have things to show people. Another consideration is that our primary goal is to simply make a game - we aren't even thinking about money (yet) so, there are probably things we are not as concerned about as others.

    I've always wanted to see as much info as I could when I was on the other end, so I figured we would provide that. Some people may get burned out on it, but I figure they would get burned out regardless - it's just a matter of when.

    Anyway, this is my first post and figured this was a great topic to get started on!
     
  18. meds

    meds New Member

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    What if you make clear it's in alpha and there will be a lot of improvements? It could be a good way to get early feedback surely?

    Hmm, I tend to take the opinions of developers more seriously than 'gamers' (otherwise every game would be an open world zombie killing fest, somet ime ago every game would have been a WW2 FPS game, etc, etc).

    can you give any examples of how a developers opinion would be worse than a 'civilian' (let's call them :p)?
     
  19. Digital Entanglement

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    I would avoid game reviewers until you are well into beta, or have a very playable game that needs balance tweaking. I've had a number of developers come to me looking for reviews but I'd had to turn some of them down because their game just wasn't complete.

    As a gamer myself as well, even if you make it clear the game is in Alpha, unless your idea of Alpha is a fully playable game with missing content and levels, then it's going to cause a negative reaction and people will write it off as a practice project. At most you'll get some other new game developers in the young and inexperienced age range who really just want to latch on early to be part of something big, or hope to get free input/games. You need to get your game in a VERY workable state before releasing it, however if you have some excellent non-doctored screenshots those can sometimes help, but only if you're doing a developers blog tracking progress at least week by week.
     
  20. NinaR

    NinaR New Member

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    Just a personal experience of mine... Since I'm only a recent graduate and part of a summer internship, I was asked to display what I'm working on at a launch event for one of the new buildings. Now obviously this was not an event to do with games, and mainly had people turn up who were interested in education and local business people and such. I was NOT comfortable showing the game in its current state, with crappy placeholder art, no tutorial, and no level design. But I took the plunge and quickly "patched" 2 bugs which I hadn't fixed yet (so they would give an error message and throw the game back to main menu rather than crash) and made 5 levels of the game (in literally 30 minutes time) just before the event was about to open. I looked at the game and I cringed at the state it was in. Why on Earth would I want ANYONE to play the game like this? (I hadn't even shown it to my friends yet.) I was just happy that it wasn't a games event, so no fear of any "bad press". The game's a match-3 game by the way, so a bit of a different audience to Dogma's.

    Okay. So as the event went on, a couple of people gave my game a go, and I talked them through it. The first level was set to like a 2 minute timer and REALLY EASY to complete. Or so I thought. No one used the powerups (almost like they didn't see them). People kept click-dragging rather than click-clicking, which frustrated them because the game didn't respond as they thought it should. And hardly anyone completed the level quick enough to get a "win". (I adjusted the timer in a break inbetween things, this helped!) In the end only about 6-10 people played the game. But I was mortified. I realised I had taken A LOT of shortcuts and thought "oh, no one does this kind of thing, I don't really need to take that into account". The experience put me firmly back on the "user first" track. Interestingly, no one reviewed the game or gave me critique. (Didn't ask for it, I suppose.)

    But my game is targeted at "everyone", even people who have never played a game before, not a group of experienced gamers who like viceral gameplay and are probably more likely to have preconceived expectations about games. However, you don't know what you don't know. And if something basic like your controls doesn't feel right, or if there is not enough information about certain aspects of the game, these sorts of things can affect a lot of your code and your assets. What if you invest time/money into a GUI that then will need redoing because people want to see their speed stat but you thought it was obvious that it relates to how much stamina you have and whether there's a red glow or not. Or something. But to find this kind of stuff out you really have to see people playing your game, it's not good enough to put a survey in front of them. Because by the time they get to the survey, they might have forgotten how awkward the controls felt, or tell you that they think there should be a big dragon in it, rather than "how do I know what my speed is?".

    Another illuminating experience was watching my mother try to complete the tutorial for League of Legends. She did NOT know where to look, and using left and right mouse buttons confused her a lot. Now I'm not saying League should immediately change everything to take into account the total newbie, but it does show really well what level of "game literacy" is required to play a game... and in what way the game would render itself inaccessible to people.

    As for "releasing it to the public", by which I assume you mean displaying it online or making it available for download... I don't have any experience with that, but my gut feeling would be along the lines of what previous posters have said... probably best not to until the game is ready. The "most spoiled player group out there" "males, about age 14-40" target audience seems to me to have a tendency to have (sometimes unrealistically) high expectations if you allow a hype to grow (they might use their imagination). If they expect AAA and you give them B... they might be disappointed to a point where they will no longer like the game?

    ~*Nina
     

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