The Strategy of Playtesting

Hey all, just a short update on recent goings-on, plus a special a peek behind the curtain regarding how developers decide when to pull back said curtain. I know many of you are very eager to get your hands on the game, and we’ll be kicking the alpha off in a few weeks. So what have we been up to, and why the wait?

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Growing a Game Company

We’re down to the last few days everyone! I’ll be posting an update every day this week as a thank you for your amazing support.

 

 

If you haven’t done so already, I ask that you check out the At the Gates Kickstarter page. Our goal is to innovate and take strategy gaming to the next level, but this campaign will be our sole source of funding for development. And hint, hint: the more successful ATG is the more articles you’ll have to read in the future!

To those of you who have already contributed and helped us reach our funding goal, I offer my most sincere thanks!

Many people have thought about starting their own company. Pretty much every 2am infomercial tells you to do it (all you need is their book!). But what does this actually involve? Today I’ll be shedding some light on how I built my own little indie studio.

I should note ahead of time that a few months ago the tally of companies I’ve founded was a big fat zero. So if you happen to be a legal/financial/something else expert, I apologize in advance if something I say that makes you cringe.

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Trials & Tribulations of Kickstarter

 

If you haven’t done so already, I ask that you check out the At the Gates Kickstarter page. Our goal is to innovate and take strategy gaming to the next level, but this campaign will be our sole source of funding for development. And hint, hint: the more successful ATG is the more articles you’ll have to read in the future!

To those of you who have already contributed and helped us reach our funding goal, I offer my most sincere thanks!

This post originally began its life as a humble comment on our Kickstarter page, but after writing for a bit I realized it would be even better as a full-blown article!

 

What Do You Have to Consider With a Kickstarter Campaign?

Many people don’t realize creators ultimately end up with a fairly small slice of the Kickstarter pie. You can immediately cut 20% off the top due to processing fees and failed transactions. Then there’s the cost of fulfilling rewards, marketing (yes, it’s important), both planned and unplanned contract work, licensing multiple software packages – the list goes on and on.

Oh, and as with everything in life, the taxman always wants his share. It’s particularly rough if you make a large amount of money from your campaign, and then nothing for the next two years, as you’ll be taxed at a much higher bracket than you would if the same amount of revenue had been spread out. Suddenly that amazing $1,000,000 Kickstarter haul starts to look a lot more like 300 or 400 thousand. Yikes!

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Respect Your Players

While no one would argue that respecting the people who play your game isn’t a nice, commendable thing to do, there are also tangible benefits to taking this approach – which over the long haul result in better sales and stronger brands.

If you treat the people who buy your games as nothing more than consumers they’ll catch on quickly. Once that happens they’ll stop giving you the benefit of the doubt and start looking for reasons to complain about you. If players continue to feel slighted they’ll just get fed up and leave unless you make really good games. And while putting out games that always get a 96 or above on Metacritic is a nice strategy… well… good luck with that one.

What you really want are true fans. People who know your work, are the first in line to buy the games you make and tell all their friends they have to play your latest release. If you make an effort it’s really not all that hard to build up a loyal following of this sort. Here’s a few tips.

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The Secret Sauce: Focus

People often wonder why a bad game is bad. Sure, there are always obvious clues… it might have poor pacing. Or be extremely repetitive. Maybe it’s just not fun and you can’t quite figure out why. These might all be very real issues, but they nearly always stem from a single problem: a lack of focus somewhere in the game development process. The failure to establish clear priorities is nearly always the core reason for a game’s failure.

It’s crucial that the designer or project lead sit down and spend as much time as necessary to establish what the goals are for a particular feature (or the entire game, as the case may be). Maybe you’re designing a combat system in a strategy game. Do you want it to feel fast and dynamic like the German blitzkrieg of World War II? Or more of a brutal defensive slog like the Western Front in World War I? Which side wins? The one with the best tactical skill? The one fielding the best-supplied army? The one who simply brings the right type of units to battle? How important are melee units compared with ranged units? What ratio of units should most players be fielding? Should it be possible to lean heavily on a single type of unit, or should a mixed force be required? These are just a few of the dozens of questions a designer should ask himself before fleshing out a single detail or writing one line of code. And as the design comes together, hundreds more questions should be asked and answered. When you’re lost in the woods several months or years later (and trust me, you WILL be), racking your brain for the best direction to go, looking back on the answers you came up with to these questions will be more helpful than you can imagine. Just as in war, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

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