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Learn Your Craft Before You Go Commercial

It’s never been easier to make your own game. However, ease is no substitute for experience. As young aspiring designers grow up seeing the rapid growth of indie games, I feel like I see more and more of them with dollar signs in their eyes wanting to hurry up and get a game on the market while missing an important part of the process – the part where you get good at it.

When I first starting messing around on RPG Maker fifteen years ago, there was no indie game scene. The idea of selling the stuff I was making was absurd. Not to mention the fact that my first game was hardly a masterpiece and if I were to put it up on Steam Greenlight today, I’d be laughed off the site in minutes. By the time it became possible for me to work on something commercial, I had over a dozen years of game development experience under my belt. Even then, I was still nervous. Now I browse game-making forums and find people announcing their intent to create and sell a game only to find out quickly that they don’t know a whole lot about the nuts and bolts of the whole process.

I know, I’m old. Things have changed. But completing a quality game and getting it on the market is challenging and it takes experience to be able to meet the challenge successfully. Here are some specific examples.

Unprepared Kickstarters will die quicker than Sean Bean in a movie.

  • Funding: Money is always a tough issue for someone making their first commercial game. Even for a short, small-scale project, you would be surprised at how fast the cost adds up. Sometimes people just assume that they’ll run a successful Kickstarter to take care of that problem. Not that easy. People are much more skeptical of Kickstarter now than they were a few years ago. That doesn’t mean you can’t pull it off, but you really have to impress potential donors and one way to do that is to demonstrate your experience.
  • Collaborators: Some people are multi-talented enough to make a game from scratch on their own. I envy those people. But I think most people are more like me – good at some things, need help in others. It’s much easier to get people to join you if you have some previously completed work to show off. It gives them an idea of what you’re capable of and also inspires confidence that you’ll see the project through and it won’t become “vaporware.”
  • Skill: Writing, art, coding, game design, all of that stuff is hard to do well immediately. It takes practice and lots of it. Your first game is not going to be very good. Mine wasn’t. But what was important was how much I learned from the process of completing it. I never released it to the public (much harder to do in those days) but it was still a highly worthwhile effort. The indie game market is ruthless and it’s not worth putting yourself out there when you don’t have experience working in your favor.

My intent with this piece is not to discourage anyone. In fact, I’m hoping to save some of you guys from the huge discouragement of a disastrous commercial game launch. I’ve seen people go through it, it’s not pretty.

Like I said at the beginning, there are more tools out there than ever to make your own game. Take the time to get good at them. It will pay off.

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