The Highs & Lows of Creating Games

The thing about game design, or any business for that matter is your own personal relationship with it. As game designers, we tend to believe that making a game and putting it into the market is generally a fun experience. We choose it because we love making games, playing games and socialising with people. What we don’t tend to realise until we’ve been on that path for a while is game development is like any of our other relationships, some days you’ll love it, some days you hate it and other days you’ll be indifferent.

The Difficulty in Being Creative

For creative people especially, going through the whole game development process is a difficult journey. You have to learn to love all of it, from marketing, sales and finances. You are running a business,  you can’t just be focused on making the coolest game out there and expecting it to do really well in the market. You set yourself up for failure when you think just by making a game entitles your game to sales and as I forewarned, that’s when those hard days will hit.

This is a regular feeling when you’re the one making things; “I’ve put my heart and soul into this, why don’t other people love it as much as me.” I’m going to give a general sweeping reasoning here, but the reason is because there’s a disconnect between your joy of creating an awesome game and with the people who will eventually buy it. I spoke about this in my interview with Girls Play Games and giving advice to new designers. You have to make a game based on your ideas and vision for it, but you also have to be willing to listen to hard feedback to make it better so that it works for your potential customers when it hits the market.

I’m never saying, listen to every single potential customer. I’m saying if different groups of people are suggesting the same thing over and over, then you’re missing it from your overall aim with the design and mechanics. It’s still got to be your game and something you’re proud of but it also has to be a game, your audience has no problem with picking up from the shelf because they really enjoy it too.

Emma, giving a talk on Brand Advocacy 

Your Highs and Lows

Being in this industry is full of highs and lows, it’s the same with any company or business you might run where you’re facing the public most of the time. Business to consumer is a harder business model to run because in the beginning there’s less money in it but if you can do it right and find where your product tips the scales it can become lucrative because of the high volumes but it’s not something I talk about lightly. Every creator I speak to, struggles with how to get their product to reprint so the model a lot of us face are short term product runs and making small amounts of money on each project.

That doesn’t need to be the case. First, we need to get rid of this thinking “If I make it, they will come”, “if I really enjoy it then they will too”, or “as soon as this hits Kickstarter, we’ll be looking at stretch goals immediately” because without preparation comes great disappointment.

We need an audience for our game before it hits any crowdfunding platform, that also means you’ll have to invest in your game well before Kickstarter is an option; by play testing, attending trade shows, social media updates, telling people and getting people to play in any opportunity that you can and taking on board their feedback for when you take it to market.

Following and unfollowing people on social media isn’t the way you build a real audience either. “We have 5000 followers on Twitter” will also not get you funded. You need to build relationships with your brand and that takes time and sometimes a little bit of heartache.

Emma on the main stage at UKGE 2018

Creator Fears

The problem we face as designers is a fear of putting ourselves out there, as creative people we can tend to think more and talk ourselves down or out of great ideas when it’s time to connect with people. Building an audience is scary and it is a lot of work because you have so many 'what if’s' and in reality you don’t want it to fail.

This is where you need to find reasons through your play testing where you find out what people love about the game and why they would want to buy it. These are your testimonials but also some core reasons why someone else would pick it up from the shelf because they are looking for what it can give them in their life, like improving their social life, giving them strategies to work out or an intense role playing game.

If you believe in those core concepts of your game, more than “It’s a cool game, look at the artwork”, you will sell more games in the market and also you'll believe in those core reasons too, which makes it easier for you to talk about your game. It’s an open and honest communication to the world and you're letting people know that by leaving it on the shelf, they could potentially miss out on a gem. 

Protecting Our Mental Health

I’m still not saying this journey will ever be emotionally easy, but you can do a lot more to ensure you’re set up better for your mental health. It doesn’t stop it stinging when you get a string of positive reviews and then receive one bad one, you still have to deal with it and sometimes that means wondering why you couldn’t be better or even, wanting to fight it because they don’t understand you and what you're trying to achieve. You have to take a step back in this moment and realise that you’ve done all you can and to take time to work through any emotional situations you come across.

7 Hours in a shop and no-one turned up to demo

Being a creator of games can be an isolated journey if you don’t have a team surrounding you, so make sure you have a wealth of amazing personal relationships supporting you. Some of the stuff you may deal with might be trivial but other times it might feel like a punch to the gut or the whole world is against you. The act of having someone who will listen and help you navigate tough times will improve your resilience to the bigger challenges that are just around the corner and help you operate at a higher level than before.

Make It About Your Own Journey

Everyone gets anxiety, everyone has to step outside their comfort zone and be prone to failing, publicly in this industry. We all feel the same way, we're all trying to achieve the same thing and the worst thing we can do is compare ourselves to each other. Your journey and development is totally unique to you and you will have many personal demons to face as you develop your game, but that's normal, we're all figuring out how to reach our goals with our unique concepts.

Don’t push negative feelings aside because you don’t want to deal with them either. They are an opportunity to learn, grow and develop new personal strategies. The beauty of these highs and lows are that they never last. The lows help you understand the highs and the highs don’t last long either so it forces us to enjoy every bit of it and keep moving forward. Believe me when I say, your hardest moments are the ones that actually define your success and make you better in the long term, you can take a read of how I failed with Quirk! in my last blog.

I wish you all the best in your journey and if you're ever in need of a place to talk, come and chat to us on Twitter. Our community is highly supportive and will help you progress with a better understanding of changes needed in your development and business strategies that you may be able to employ.

Emma May
Creator of Quirk!
CEO/Creative Director
Emmerse Studios

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