Nick Popovich Profile picture
May 3, 2018 21 tweets 5 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
Since it comes up again and again, especially with the rate at which games are released these days, here's a quick rundown on how to survive indie gamedev. At least, this is what I do and things have worked out ok. So strap yourself in and away we go... #gmaedev #indie #indiedev
You want to think in 3's:
3 days
3 weeks
3 months
3 years
Because time is the most important resource we have, both in gamedev and life. It rules all. So be very aware of your time. Now, 3's:
3 days to solve a problem. If you're spending more than 3 days to get something working or solve a bug, it's time to move on to something else. Come back to it after a refresh before it becomes a rabbit hole. Rabbit holes are death.
3 weeks to get major stuff off the ground and working. 3 weeks is usually enough time to make big, messy, broad strokes on something and know if it's fun. Aim to create prototypes in 3 weeks. We usually can blast through the major features in an SR release in 3w.
3 months for major milestones. Anything after that and you'll start getting lost and that can be a rabbit hole for the team. We try to get major SR releases out every 3mo. 3w to prove it, and the remaining for ALL the rest that comes with a release & running a studio. It's a lot.
More on 3 months: we take a hard look at where we're going as a company every 3 mo or so. Mike and I look at how things went over the last 3 and what we're doing in the medium and long term. Look at the market every 3, try to figure out where it's going. It changes very fast.
If you're not open to calling it all into question at regular intervals, you run the risk of emerging from a cave after years (because it will sneak up on you) only to discover the world has completely changed.
If you ever notice the Slime Rancher dev roadmap changing, it's because of these evaluations. We're not afraid to say 'we loved the idea of this, but since then we've learned it might be the best thing for us or the game.' You need to be willing to adapt.
3 years: It seems super far into the future and it is! But where are you in 3 years? If it's still working on your still in-development game, it's time to pivot. If it's 'i don't know' it's time to have some semblance of a plan. It will come so much faster than you think.
Next up, our formula for making a game. It's 3 things (see what I did there):
1. the inclusive stuff
2. the original stuff
3. the personal stuff
The inclusive stuff: this is everything that makes your game palatable by a larger market. This is you making concessions if need be to acknowledge that you're unlikely to make the next Katamari. This helps sell your game to the masses.
In Slime Rancher, this is the first person shooter quality to it and the farming. Both extremely popular features in games. You could play our weird game using your Halo muscle memory and you knew what you were doing because farming.
The original stuff: this is what sets your game apart form the rest. This is what gets you noticed and if you're working within a genre, what would make someone want to switch from their Coke to your Pepsi. It's the building element in Fortnite for the genre of BR games.
In Slime Rancher, this was hundreds of physic-y slimes that you interact with using a vacuum gun. There was nothing quite like it at the time and still isn't. The original stuff should sound crazy to some players and even devs.
The personal stuff: this makes your game real. It's the slice of you that you put into the game that no one else can. It's the indie part of indedev. It's your politics, your story, your thing no one else gets. And it makes the project worth doing for you.
In Slime Rancher, it was the Casey/Bea story and all that. To me it's about the long distance thing I had with my wife before we were married. It was hard. And the song at the end I wrote for her. Those bits didn't need to work for everyone because they were for us.
Lastly, go for broke. If it's your first indie game, put everything into it. Don't 'save' ideas for later. Merge games in your head into one super game of the BEST features you can come up with.
Once you've done that, shave it all the way down into something so lean that you can actually pull it off. Then, cut it in half because you can't actually pull it off and we always think we can. Make it leaner than lean so only the best bits are left. Cruft kills.
Go for broke in design and balance too. Any time we're devloping a new feature and finding the fun in it we never mess around when turning nobs. Was something not quite strong enough? Double it. Was the jump too weak? Double it. Sometimes going to extremes invents new fun.
And ACTUALLY lastly, have some business sense. You're going to be running a company after all. And if you're not into that, you shouldn't be in charge of it and you should hire someone who can do it. But give them the power to be able to do their job.
I think that's about it for now. phew. Good luck everyone. 👍

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