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Part II Book Review: ‘GameDev: 10 Steps To Making Your First Game Successful’ By Wlad Marhulets, Developer Of ‘DARQ’ – Forbes


Let’s continue where we left off from Part I. If you missed it, then you can go back and read it here. In the last section, we learned about ‘Marketing, ’Preproduction,’ and ‘Funding.’.  

In Part II, you will be covering ‘Development, ‘Business and Law,’ and ‘Marketing and PR.’.  

The popularity of video game development is booming, especially with COVID-19 spreading chaos. Despite that, there is no better time than ever to become an indie developer. Right now, you have more of an opportunity to learn game development, on your own time, when you want it and how you want it than ever before. Honestly- you don’t need to go to college. You can become a game developer by opening YouTube and a game engine and then building something simple. Everything is accessible these days thanks to YouTube and other free media outlets to teach you tutorials for the programs to design your characters, which engines to use, and how to use them. Honestly, you know what is so great about becoming an indie developer? You don’t need to go to college. Sure, it helps, but if you are like Wlad, who learned how to develop a successful game by himself, you can turn yours into reality. Take your idea or a concept for a game, from development, rendering, producing, testing, and more until you have a full-fledged game.  

Wlad’s guide will give you tips, tricks, tools, developing your game, and the basic knowledge of keeping your ideas, concept, and game legally yours then how to market it that you need to get your idea and concept off the ground and in the right direction. Let’s dive in. 

Development  

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Wlad gives his insights on the developmental stages of creating your new game. Don’t let the developmental stages frighten you; you are a newbie, after all, so don’t be so hard on yourself. Remember, just like Wlad, you are learning from scratch. You can make your first game successful and even win awards. Wlad did it, and you can do it too with his helpful insights that will show you how. He goes over the ‘Principles of Good Design,’ which is the game design process that is both artistic and technical, coming together to fulfill the designer’s vision. This is the step where you are excited about the game idea that’s been in your mind forever.   

The additional subchapters cover: ’Best Way to Learn,’ ‘Iterative design,’ ‘Accessibility.’, ‘Good Coding Practices,’ ‘Sound and Music,’ ‘The Process of Development,’ ‘Vertical Slice.’, ‘Quality Assurance,’’ Optimization.’, and ‘Last 10%.’. Let’s dive deeper into ‘Iterative Design’ and ‘Vertical Slice.’   

The iterative design process is a simple concept. Through user research, trial, and error, and some brutal comments from test players, you can identify users’ needs and generate new ideas to meet those needs. With this, you can develop a prototype. You then test the prototype to see whether it meets their needs in the best possible way. The process looks like this: begin a prototype, gain feedback, begin plans again, build prototype, feedback, begin the process all over again, and keep repeating until you are satisfied that you have reached the best possible product to release to the market. Implementing iterative design, in the beginning, is the most cost-effective strategy for the lifecycle of your product. Each idea provides the best feedback from the user to develop the best prototype. In this step, you are practically a UX/UI designer. One way to stay organized throughout this part of the process is to order different colored sticky notes based on your best to worst ideas; then pick the best ones and implement them.   

This is the creative process that makes me most excited. You’ll most likely be using a pencil and paper in the beginning to save yourself some money. Wlad created the first level he ever made for DARQ grayscale. The assets looked genetic, and there were no unique elements in the environment that would help direct the user to complete the level. “When I invited a few people to playtest the level, it became clear to make that my creation was simply terrible. My playtesters were confused. I kept hearing: ‘Wait – did I visit this location before?’ It will be a brutal process, and there will be more to learn, but it’s a wake-up call that everyone hears.” Nothing is ever perfect in the beginning. Once you are provided some feedback, then that is your time to experiment. “It’s important to approach each failure as an opportunity to learn and to get better. This attitude allowed me to stay equally excited and motivated throughout the hardships of development. The more iterative cycles the game went through, the better I got.”. Begin experimenting with the levels, adding color, distinct with points of interest, and unique details to your environment.    

Iterative design is a crucial step for finding an investor or a publisher to receive funding. After you have gone through the tedious and rigorous steps of creating your first few levels, then this is where vertical slice comes in. “A vertical slice is a small portion of the game that is as close to the final product as possible. In other words, it’s a demo that is not available to the general public.”. This is meant to show the custom art, mechanics, music, sound effects, written or recorded dialogs, etc. This is intended to show off to investors or just business-oriented consumers who may or may not be familiar with the iterative nature of game development. This is the portion of a game that acts as a proof of concept for stakeholders before they agree to fund the rest. It’s risky, so make sure it’s as polished and perfect as possible. Once the demo has been released, then this should begin a following for your game to build a community. “With a set of eye-catching marketing materials, you can start growing a following as your game is still in early development.”    

In the first subchapter, you’ll cover the following:     

  1. Focus on one core mechanic and develop the world around it.  
  2. Teach the player how to play your game  
  3. Make your game hard to master.   
  4. Give the player a clear goal  
  5. Reward your player often  
  6. Establish visual language  
  7. Use landmarks  
  8. Provide immediate feedback  
  9. Make randomization feel fair  
  10. Have a strong game loop   

Business and law   

Lacking a basic understanding of how to run a business puts you at a severe disadvantage, potentially leading to terrible legal repercussions. Wlad makes it known in this chapter that you should fill that gap in your mind with as much knowledge on this topic. “Please don’t mistake my words for legal advice.” Wlad warns. After all, this is a book on starting a studio and the many levels to growing it into a success. Wlad goes over basic business and law principles to better equip you while researching the essential and relevant topics to ask when consulting with an attorney on regulations. Regulations impact the video game industry differently depending on the state and country you’re in. 

Additionally, he makes it known that this chapter may not be relevant for you since his company was registered in California. In chapter 5, Wlad goes over the following subchapters: ‘Starting a Company,’ Intellectual Property,’ ‘Contracts,’ ‘End-User License Agreement,’ and ‘Privacy Policy.’ Let’s dive deeper into the ‘Intellectual property’ and ‘End-User License Agreement.’   

What is Intellectual property? Businessintexas.com defines Intellectual property (IP) as, “the term applied to intangible rights protecting the products of human intelligence and creation, including patents, trademarks/service marks, copyrights, and trade secrets.” Wlad gives examples of the different levels of intellectual property and defines them:    

  • Copyright“Copyright refers to the exclusive legal right given to a person to use their work or authorizes others to use it. There is no need to apply for copyright protection. The U.S. and Europe assign it by default once a work is created.” So, what does Copyright protect when creating your own game? Art, character and sound design, animation, text, music, code, and voice-overs. End-user agreements and privacy policies are also given copyright protection, so it is important not to copy these documents from other companies. No two video game companies are the same. If you end up thinking you will get away with copyrighting other companies’ documents, then think again. If you were to get caught, then you could be in a mess of legal trouble. What elements don’t get copyright protection? – Game genres, ideas, and game mechanics.  
  • Trademarks“A trademark is a sign, logo, symbol, word, or a series of words that distinguish your business or product from others. Trademarks play an important role in the video game industry, as they help protect both studio names and video game titles.”. What would have happened if Wlad didn’t trademark his game? I’ll tell you. You’ll be seeing a ton of generic Lloyd’s and similar topsy turvy gravity-defying games pop-up left and right. Developers would clone his ideas and perhaps even call it ‘DARQ’ or something similar. This is a situation that you would need to avoid at all costs. Filing for a trademark for both your game title and the studio is essential. “Check trademark databases before you file. Also, check if dot.com domains featuring your game title and studio name are available.”. It would be best to locate a trademark attorney with experience in the gaming industry for this step. 
  • Patents: “Patents are exclusive rights granted for an invention. It gives the patent owner the right to decide who gets to use his or her invention. In the video game industry, patents are rarely granted.”. This is because of how challenging it is to distinguish a game mechanic from an actual invention. Wlad gives the example of Crazy Taxi. Its developer, Saga, was able to patent the green arrow in the game that points the player to the drop off location. Overall, filing for patents is expensive, and getting them approved in the gaming industry is very low.    

Mentioned above is the end-user license agreement (EULA). This is another copyright that is a contract between you and your studio, and it is essential. Like most software we use, the end-user license agreement protects the company. Metaphorically, let’s pretend you have finished your game project and are now preparing to be on the appropriate sales platform. A EULA should be one of the first documents you prepare. “Depending on the game you’re making, your EULA will contain specific terms and conditions applicable to your game, and your game only. Unless your game shows no signs of popularity and you don’t expect it to sell more than a few copies, you should have an attorney write a EULA.” After all, if one of your players ends up having a seizure because of flashing lights in your game, you could be in a big mess. “There are various websites that allow you to generate a EULA based on data you provide.”    

 Marketing and PR  

In chapter 6, Wlad brings to light the marketing and public relations mistakes that cause most indie games to fail. ”If you underestimate the importance of marketing and public relations, your game will likely get lost among thousands of titles released every day.” Not all games require marketing to succeed in the same way DARQ did. But how many games are hits by an indie developer releasing his first game? Hardly any. Marketing involves engaging in activities to generate direct sales. However, it’s essential during this daunting task to promote and market successfully. ”The goal of marketing is to reach your potential customers who might be interested in your game and convince them to take action, such as purchasing or wishlisting your title.”   

There is an easy solution for not falling prey to releasing add-ons to the market. Yes, it will bring in money. However, in my opinion, this is a trap for half-ass work. Not everything is about money. Repour is vital. It is essential to put yourself in the customers’ shoes and view things as the audience. Prioritizing PR over marketing helps maintain a positive outlook on your studio and communication with your audience. This is true when it comes to Wlad’s strategies. I have never seen a developer comment on literally every post, good or bad, on social media. Wlad responded to every post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all of it. I see it daily. This increases media hits and raises consumer awareness; it draws in a massive crowd of enjoyment to interact with the CEO and principal developer of a game everyone has come to love. “I would try to communicate my studio’s core values: a customer-first approach, transparent, gratitude, fast customer support, immediate patching, direct and honest communication, and, most importantly, keeping promises given to customers.” Wlad has done a terrific job communicating his core values daily through actions and not just words. “Building a positive relationship with my customer base has been much more important to me than focusing on short-term marketing activities.”    

In chapter 6, Wlad covers: ‘Mission Statement,’ ‘Website,’ ‘Press Kit,’ ‘Community Management,’ ‘Social Media Guidelines,’ Marketing Materials,’ ‘Press Coverage,’ and ‘YouTubers and Streamers.’ Let’s dive deeper into the ‘Press Kit.’   

Journalists, bloggers, and streamers live a busy life. As a writer myself, I see firsthand the mass number of emails received every day about the newest game to review, but it’s challenging to get to all these promptly. Everyone who creates their first game wants their game to be considered for exposure, but it needs to grab our attention. This is where the press kit is required to help these content creators determine whether they’re interested in covering your game. Wlad gives the most important steps you can take in having your game covered by the press (Forbes, IGN, Gamespot, etc.) Usually, a press kit is just a single webpage that contains the most information in one place for a journalist to look at, decide, and go from there merely. “In a way, a press kit works like a business card for your game. It should be easily accessible by anyone looking for a concise representation of your project.”. Wlad gives his steps in what your press kit should have in the single website:  

  1. Game title & description: This is like a one-second elevator pitch that is short and engaging. You’ll only need a couple of sentences.   
  2. Fact Sheet: This is a bullet point that outlines the most important information about your game and your studio. “This covers your studio name, location, release date, platforms, price, languages, ESBR rating, your website, and storefront links.”  
  3. Banner Image: This one is a given for the majority. It is the artwork you use for your game’s cover.  
  4. Your studio: Include a paragraph about your studio and its key members. This would be the best place to put your mission statement as well.   
  5. Long description: Describe your game in a paragraph or two and provide relevant information, such as if your game as won awards, if it went viral on social media, or if it features any well-known voice actors. This could add credibility to your project.    
  6. Quotes: This is a straight-to-the-point area to cover. Was it covered by any well-known press companies such as IGN, Forbes, Gamespot, etc.? Then provide a list of quotes and article links.  
  7. Screenshots: This is exactly how it sounds. Provide gameplay screenshots as thumbnails and allow them to be viewed in full size with high resolution. Sell your game., make the journalist or your potential new customer wonder what is in store.   
  8. Logos, icons, and cover art: Display several variations of the logo, symbols, and cover art. Making your logo in PNG format and a transparent background is ideal.   
  9. Thumbnail art: “This is entirely optional, but the Youtube community will love you for it if you add this. The idea is to provide several characters renders on a transparent background. This allows YouTubers to create eye-catching thumbnails.”   
  10. Video: This is the area to display your game trailers and teasers. Adding the download link is ideal.   
  11. Links: Having relevant links to all press kit areas that cover games, interviews, or public speaking engagements adds credibility and will help tell your story to sell your game and add to your community.   
  12. Contact info: This is vital. Your social media handles and email are usually provided at the bottom of the press page. This is for any journalists who may have additional questions or set up an interview with you. To find the best examples of these. Go to www.DARQ.com and then click the ‘Press Kit’ tab.   

Wrapping up part 2 of 3 

Let’s look at some key takeaways from Part II that are essential for your game to sell from Wlad’s book and this article. 

  1. The best way to learn game development is simply by designating the time, going at it and having fun with it. There are plenty of tutorials on any topic, game engine, software design, etc., that are available online. 
  2. Iterative design is an effective way of making video games. It assumes the process of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining the project. 
  3. A vertical slice is a demo not available to the public. It’s used to showcase your game to investors and publishers.   
  4. Intellectual property is a blanket term for copyright, trademarks, and patents. 
  5. Have your attorney draft an end-user license agreement and privacy policy before you release your game.   
  6. Your success as an indie developer is mostly dependent on your ability to grow a community around your game. Delegate it to someone else if you are having issues being a good community manager.  
  7. Learn how to pitch your game to the press. Contact journalists for major releases like the reveal of your announcement trailer, or a demo release.   

Let’s continue you on to Part III, which will cover the following topics ‘Development’, ‘Business & Law’, and ‘Marketing & PR.’ of chapters 4 through 6

Part III will be released on 07/30/2020.

Moor Insights & Strategy’s video game and tech reviewer Zane Pickett lives in Austin, Texas. He is a lover of all things psychological horror and Star Wars based while possessing an unhealthy knowledge of serial killers and Kingdom Hearts. When not writing, he works as Moor Insights & Strategy’s Operation’s Manager. 

Follow me on Twitter: @Zanepickett37

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article. 

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