5 Ways To Save Your Game From An Early Grave

Struggling to finish a game? You aren’t alone. Many GameMaker users suffer from motivational issues that stem from a number of simple causes.

It’s not unusual for a game developer to have a stockpile of unfinished projects. It can be frustrating and demoralizing when you realize you haven’t finished a game in a long time. It may be you’ve never finished a game.

The solution could be as simple as making a few changes.

Finding The Skill Set

Being an indie developer isn’t as easy as just having the right tools. Making a game requires a broad skill set. It isn’t likely you will be able to perfectly craft every aspect of your game from determination alone. For most people, it is usually the graphical work which can be a challenge.

If you want an at-home solution, don’t be averse to learning something new online or using material from a local library. Be it drawing, voice acting, level design, or simply marketing your game – many sites, including the ever popular YouTube, can serve as great educational tools. Written guides, forums, and blogs can be a great source of help too.

If you are ready to try something more substantial, you could see if there are any nearby video game design schools. Committing to a course at any educational institute to better your skills can be very worthwhile.

Keeping It Secret

A huge mistake people make is releasing information about their game too early. It could be a screenshot and a synopsis, or playable demo. It can be all too tempting to share a game half way through the development process.

This can be an instant kiss of death. Getting your game finished is the moment you can release it to the world, and getting feedback can be very rewarding. If you spoil it and get that feedback when the game isn’t done (which increases the risk of a negative reception) you may lose your motivation in a single hit.

At the time of this article, only 45% of all GameMaker game topics are labelled as finished creations. This means it is statistically possible that more than half of all games in the last couple of years that were released as WIP (work in progress) never saw a finished copy.

Hold back until you are in the final weeks of development (unless you have a specific marketing plan in place that requires exposure). Don’t share videos, screenshots, or demos. You will only hurt your motivation. Until your game is done, you don’t really have a game at all.

Commit To An Idea

According to a recent GameMaker Community forum topic, another common failing by indie developers is to be easily sidetracked by a new game idea.

Once you have started a game, you can’t be wasting your mental efforts by dreaming up other game ideas. Allow yourself to be absorbed in your project. Think about exciting new features you can add to your existing game. If you have any new game ideas by chance, write them down and forget about them for the time being.

It doesn’t matter how many great ideas you think you have if you never see them to the end. What good is it to have all of these ideas if you never thoroughly act upon any of them? Equally, if you find yourself immediately bored with your game idea, perhaps it’s not as good as you first thought.

Never be hasty about what new project you dedicate your time to. Ultimately, if you don’t enjoy your game, and aren’t excited about it, then how can you expect others to be? You should be enthusiastic even after a hundred tests and beyond.

Avoid Burning Out

It is very easy to kill motivation by working on your new game for too long. If you find that in the past, you’ve come up with an idea, worked on it rigorously for a week, and then hit a wall, that means you’ve burned yourself out.

Finding a consistent time to work on your game may be crucial. Keeping a “to do” list is also very helpful so you can appropriately spread out the work load over a certain time. Don’t turn your game development into a scheduled chore, but allow yourself to sensibly allocate time. If you do too much too quickly, you’ll have no energy or drive to work on it any further. It happens very often to a lot of people.

In the event of accidentally burning out, take a break from GameMaker for a month. Don’t work on other projects during this time, or you’ll break that commitment as discussed above.

Have A Battle Plan

Being an indie game developer means more than just making the game. You must have an idea of how you are going to distribute it.

If you are a non-budget hobbyist, or you’re looking to simply luck out, consider making YouTube videos, posting your game on an appropriate game forum (do not spam websites) and sharing your work with friends.

Connecting with other game developers using Facebook or Twitter will also allow you to build a small following who you can share your game debut with. Social media is great way to reach out to other indies. Don’t underestimate your fellow developer; they are gamers too, and chances are they’ll be more than happy to see what you’re up to.

Also know what audience you are targeting. If you are going down the commercial route (which even hobbyists should give a shot) and you are choosing to sell on a digital store, then you may be more motivated knowing you have an immediate platform to distribute your game on. The promise of making a few dollars or getting instant exposure can make even the most apathetic of indies excited.

Some utterly rubbish apps have made lots of money. Some very good apps have made millions. Some have managed to make big money simply selling their concepts onto larger companies. Can you score it big too?

Be open to learning new skills. Keep your game to yourself until it’s nearly done, and work on it at a healthy pace. Have an early plan in place before releasing it, and keep your radar clear of other projects and distractions that might steal your time and your motivation.

Adopting these guidelines as your own will add significant structure to your game development experience. Though it sounds simple, many indie developers using GameMaker don’t abide by these basic concepts (some people even seem to agree with them but never actually put them in place). There is no better time to change your ways than right now.

What do you think?

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  1. I see your points and I agree with many things, I think you should be careful and keep the calm mind, and this goes for non-game maker users too, your text is well written, you show a pretty neutral side, and I like how you refer to avoid showing your game unless you have a marketing plan.

    One thing I felt the need to point out, is that once I saw a indie developer (not a GM user by what I know so far), that could make some kinda popular games in his community, but he let out a opportunity to try work with/for Square Enix because he didn’t want them to have his code. I don’t know much about his server, but the gameplay itself was pretty much like pokémon, if he didn’t want to sell his rights, he could just make another game with similar concepts and gain popularity and plan a future for when he not worked with Square anymore.

    Point is, an encouraging fact I see in small GM communities is this lack of fear, the lack of fear to share some ideas of classic gameplay, and how fast you get help from others, and how you can use it for things like you said and a really useful help from experienced programmers (I’ve been meeting people that bring their java skills to GML doing amazing things), and this help and publicity has free cost, and those bonds are one of the greatest points you can benefit from being an indie, or someone willing to have fun, and eager to learn.

    I’ll read more about your blog, as I really found your writing interesting, and maybe one day, when my game is ready, you shall make a review about mine =)

  2. A bit late for commenting bur anyway. For the burnout, hitting the wall part, based on my own experience I find that it gets less often as you are get used to develop more games. I think the burnout is caused (mostly for me) by not understanding how much effort or resource is required to finish a project, which forces you to work more than expected and exhaust you before finish line. By more developing games and practice you will know better and can avoid it better.

  3. Joshua “Loaf” L. :
    I disagree with your point about hype. I have never seen a game benefit from being released early as far as “building momentum” is concerned. As I write, if you have a proper marketing plan in place, then go ahead and spread the word. But very, very few GM users ever do.

    I guess Minecraft would be a good example, as they released the game in its alpha phase and got a lot of attention selling thousands of copies of an unfinished game. This might not be the norm, but it shows that it could work.
    But my whole point is that I don’t think it is a good idea to wait until the game is finished to release screenshots or other appetizers. Marketing a game can become a lot easier when there are actually people waiting for it. This can be a huge motivation, too.


  4. Indeed keeping it secret is a very tricky point. It is crutial to have some feedback as soon as possible to get the difficulty right. However, it can very tough on the psychological aspect when your target audience don’t like it or don’t vizualise the final product the same way you do. I myself killed some projects this way, so as Kinta said it’s important to find the right balance between not spoiling the surprise and getting the most important feedback. I guess it’s important to get the experience and confidence before taking that risk, but it ain’t better to get the bad news too late.

  5. Nice article, although I cannot agree with your second point. Giving away too much information very early in the game development can be kinda demotivating, but the other extreme also prevents your game from getting momentum or hype. I think it’s important to strike a balance between those two options. Additionally feedback can be very motivational if given right. You as a developer can influence the way you get feedback by asking specific questions or asking at the right place (e.g. a developers forum).


    • I appreciate your point, and certainly not everyone is the same when it comes to what will motivate or demotivate. But this piece of advice has been crucially helpful to me (a long time coder suggested it a couple of years a go during a discussion about getting over apathy) and I’ve seen many cases where someone has been negatively impacted by sharing their work.

      I disagree with your point about hype. I have never seen a game benefit from being released early as far as “building momentum” is concerned. As I write, if you have a proper marketing plan in place, then go ahead and spread the word. But very, very few GM users ever do.

      In addition to that, I’ve also had people suggest game sharing is important for beta testing. Sure, getting feedback and beta testing can be important– but do this in a closed environment. The world doesn’t need to see your half baked creation.

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