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Develop It or Drop It? 5 Ways to Make Sure Your Game Idea is Viable

Develop It or Drop It? 5 Ways to Make Sure Your Game Idea is Viable

Sadly, every year there’s a ton of small or indie game studios that simply don’t make it. What is it that separates the winning games from the losing ones? What has a good chance of selling? When is it time to scratch your idea and start over? None of these questions are easy, but trying to answer them is worth your time — or you risk sinking a lot of time and effort into something that won’t benefit you or your studio.

1. Get in the sweet spot

If you love to play games, you’re probably very excited to transfer that energy into making your own creation, and — who knows? — maybe even make a living off of it. You might have an endless list of really cool game ideas. RPGs, point-and-clicks, MMOs, puzzles, RTSs… Those ideas are all things you want to make. And that’s a great place to start! However, there’s another requirement: being able to make it. Not to crush any dreams, but straying too far from the sweet spot (where desire and ability overlap) won’t get your game delivered. So, keep generating ideas. The bigger your list is, the more chances you’ll have of finding a game that is both interesting and within your range of skill, time, and resources.

2. Define your ability

Let’s face it: your dad is not Will Wright or Hideo Kojima. You’re probably not a millionaire trust-fund baby with mad skills and industry connections. So it’s worth your time to sit down and set the “upper limit” for some parameters like budget, time, and technical limitations (like graphics, for example!) You don’t want to make the same mistake that even some of the biggest game studios continually make: underestimate the time needed for good game development. In fact, it’s best to err on the side of “I probably can’t do that yet” instead of “I can make it work!” and then check in as your game’s development progresses.

3. Consider your market

No offense to your 2-bit floor loom weaving simulator, but not every game will have an audience big enough to support it. Niche games are cool, but you need to think about whether you have access to a solid community for sales and marketing. The opposite is also true: if you decide you want to make, say, a medieval RPG… Well, you probably have some idea of how saturated that genre already is. This could be the hardest part of deciding whether to develop your game idea or not. What you need is something that is special, but not too special. Advertising and getting the word out about what you’ve made is hard across the board: it doesn’t matter if you’re peddling games, domain names, furniture, shoes — advertising is never easy.

4. Consider the apocalyptic scenarios

Maybe game development is only a hobby for you, and you’re taking your sweet time, and you’re not expecting any money in profits. But if you are sinking resources into your production, it’s worth it to do some back-of-the-napkin calculations before jumping right in. You should know how risky it would be to try to make your game idea happen. It’s time to sit down and come up with a number: how much will it cost? That’s the amount of money you’ll need to break even. If it’s feasible and you’re ready to jump in to developing your game, you need to have a backup plan for the following situations:

  • Developing your game takes longer than you expected
  • Developing your game costs more than you expected
  • Your game brings in less revenue than you expected

If any of these situations lead to total personal ruin, then your game might need to wait.

5. Do your research!

This is where research comes in. Where do you even get a ballpark idea of the revenue your game could bring in? The best advice and insight comes from small studio and indie game developers themselves. Reach out! Although gamedev folks are a busy bunch, they’re usually down to discuss their trade with perspective game makers. For researching stats, you can also check out sites like SteamSpy, which shows the numbers for games on Steam. In essence, just go over the market with a fine-toothed comb until you have a few examples of well-selling small-time games and their accompanying figures. The market can always shift, but being armed with knowledge will never be a waste.

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