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A small product doesn’t mean a tiny production
Published a year ago
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Planning works wisely is always the key
When we started working on Unit 4, we have already planned it will have been a small product both for the development estimated (and achieved!) time and for the total amount of content. This doesn’t mean we underestimated the complexity of the project and/or the difficulties and the obstacles we will have obviously run into of course, as in every self-respecting videogame development process! But one thing the most of the existing small independent developers ignore or seem to is that one intangible thing called production. With production I will refer from now on in this paper, to all the activities and the resources that are necessarily connected with a successful videogame development path, release included. Let’s start from the point that if a videogame doesn’t arrive to see its own release date, the development process has not been successful. The same is if the release takes too long, which is the most common situation for the largest part of teams at work. Maybe someone will not agree with me on this fact but it is a fact. Many developers seem not to have a clear or a unique idea of what could be a success for their game. I think that people who love to make videogames always aim being able to survive with videogames, making them their job and consequently their first and principal source of income. So, following the reasoning, the first thing for a game to be successful is to repay itself. I’m absolutely sure that many of those who will eventually read this paper will start to get indignant for what I’ve just asserted. The reality, nevertheless, is real and is hard to face and to survive and even if the artistic part in making a game is without any doubt a big part of the entire process, it is not sufficient. I’m sorry guys but there isn’t any game in the known world that have made or will make a great success only being artistically perfect or beautiful. Never ever.
Just a very few, yes, but they aren't a benchmark for anything. And I say this having a strong creativity and artistic streak since I was a child, so I pretty know what I’m talking about. I’m pretty aware of what an artistic beauty is or could be. The fact is that even the most beautiful game in the world won’t sell more than a thousand copy (sometimes even less) if:
  • nobody knows about it and so nobody cares about it (good and wisely time planned marketing, PRs, community, socials)
  • it is not fun (design, gameplay, audio, everything enough well mixed to turn out into something well balanced)
  • it takes too long to be finished and released (hype has an expiring date, if you’re not working on The Witcher 4, especially, and work = money so more time = less money)
And there are so many other reasons that must be taken into consideration when making a game that is very easy to understand how an artistic-centric production could not be successful and how you will not bethe exception to the rule, because someone else will, eventually. That means that you really can’t count on the strong certainty that your game will be the next Minecraft or Angry Birds. Do you know how many games have been made by Rovio guys before their best seller? Yes you know: something like 34 more or less and they were going bankrupt before spending the last energies and money on developing the little last concept that become their fortune. But this is not the normality. Going to the (right!) fair and come back with a signed contract is not automatic. Going out on the most important game outlets is not normal. There is a lot of work to achieve these results in the 99% of the cases and planning and scheduling and organize everything with the right timeline (and a good buffer) is a key point for a good development.
With Unit 4 we did all the above mentioned stuff quite well and I don’t want to seem arrogant saying that but it’s correct to say that a great job has been done on this project on the production side. Raising profiles is part of the job indeed. We went out on IGN and on Xbox Wire when the game has been announced and this happened also because someone did a very hard job on the marketing and PR side, not because the game has the more innovative concept in the videogames history, although it has a very cool style and a funny gameplay. On the other side, it’s also correct to recognize that many things could have been planned better and a very important factor can’t be underestimated: the human factor. Studios make games but a studio is made by people and people are not infallible or always self-controlled but this is something you will always have to deal with. During the development of Unit 4 a very assorted bunch of crazy situations punched us in the face. The outsourcer that calls the CEO in the middle of the night after the big announce on IGN US shouting that “opportunities can’t be wasted this way” because Unit 4 website didn’t encounter his personal taste. The junior developer that didn’t like the company policies (deadlines mostly), doing his job with a very low level of enthusiasm, that didn’t help the entire team and the last months of work. Then we had the horrific Italian bureaucracy that add time (and money) to any tiny practical step and many other day by day problems. The biggest one? People that desn't even understand the Producer role and heavy work behind any task created to let the team work at its best or simply people that doesn't understand the roles that must be maintained in a workplace even if after the working day everybody could drink a beer together. Despite all of that, we arrived at the end of the development cycle of Unit 4 and of course we could have spent additional months or years to make it even more polished than it is (but i think 200+ hours QA could be enough for an indie game like this). And also, yes, we like to say that we make games for a living so we really need at some point to go on with other games to keep up the good work and the business. Plan your next game wisely. It's not about the game itself. It is about what comes before and after.
Giulia Zamboni, Producer, Gamera Interactive
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