If you're working on a video game the time leading up to a public release is both stressful and exciting. At this stage, fuelled by adrenaline and coffee you might feel a bit overwhelmed when you pull out your list of "to do's". We've been there, many times actually, so as a team we've put together a list of our own learnings based both on releasing Super Code Strike, and our individual past experiences. Whether you're approaching the finish line on a project or just beginning to test out concepts, we've got some tips that are sure to make the process just a little bit easier.
1. Aiming for perfection prior to release is a bit of a fool’s errand. The question you should be asking yourself is not how you get your product perfect, but rather do you have the right systems in place to perform rapid experimentation and react to feedback? Because once you release your game you'll get feedback from players and it'll bring up new challenges and issues that you didn't tackle during beta. Ultimately this will lead to ongoing learnings and overall game improvements even after release.
2. Have a clear perspective on your target audience and map out a core user journey through your game, with specification of user motivations at each step (screen and/or tap). Look at this journey as a funnel and each step as a conversion. Once you have clarified the expected journey, test it relentlessly until you have either optimized it or you have concluded that the journey needs to be adjusted. At a fundamental level, the user journey should be based on the core objective of the game/ app. If it is supposed to be “fun” then with this exercise, you should be able to answer the core question, is this game actually fun?
3. Start simple. If you are doing a mobile app, this means developing on one platform (i.e. iOS or Android but not both.) Limit as many other variables as you can during this critical stage. Once you have a more stable and predictable model, you can expand to other platforms and/or extend your model in other ways.
4. Prior to release, aim to test every feature and mechanic in the game on different devices of different ages for quality control. Conduct stress tests in an attempt to “break” the game, as well as “fun factor” tests to see if the game is too hard or too easy. This process will inevitably result in major / minor bug identification and resolutions.
5. Review your product to ensure use of cohesive themes, language and branding. This means taking a close look at the language used both within your game, and publicly to describe your game. Check for consistency, ex. are you using the Canadian or American spelling? Is that appropriate for your audience? Are you consistent in your tone and how you describe different aspects of gameplay?
6. When it comes to the art and visuals, is the look of your game consistent across the board? Ex. Are all of your buttons to confirm the same? In an irritative process there will be some aspects of your game that are older than others and it’s easy for your design style to evolve over time. Now is a good time to go through your graphics with a fine toothed comb to check for consistency. Are your animations polished? Does your game feel alive?
7. Polish your SFX! Do you have enough sound effects for everything and do they work well together? Have you balanced the sound effects with the in-game music? Do the sounds that you've chosen align well with the theme of the game or are they jarring and unexpected?
8. Get “in the wild” but on a limited basis. It's essential to get real “disinterested” feedback as soon as possible to identify fundamental issues. There's no substitute for real and live human feedback from users who are not family members or friends and have zero personal investment in your success or failure. The best way to do this is to be live and “in the wild”. However, you also don’t want to risk going through this important learning in your most important strategic markets and/or be overwhelmed with a volume of input that is too large to handle effectively. So start “in the wild” in a limited fashion in one manageable market before opening up more broadly to a global market.
9. Have a clear perspective on how you will make money. Ultimately your company is a business and leaving the business model as an afterthought leaves you open to the significant risk of having to fit a business model into something that may not be designed to naturally incorporate it. A “clear perspective” does not necessarily mean that the entire model is fully worked out.
10. Plan for success. This means having a viewpoint on a product and business roadmap that extends at least several months into the future. And a clear understanding of what resources (human and otherwise) will be required if you start to grow in line with (or above and beyond) your projections. You don’t want to get onto a “success” trajectory and be caught completely flat footed and unable to seize the opportunity.