When is it a good time to let players start playing your game?
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot as I continue to build out the different parts of Milo’s Many Nightmares. How early of a build is too early to show off and how strong does a build need to be before you can let other people play it?
With Project Zeds I had a check-list of certain functionality I wanted in the game , but besides that the main rule of thumb was that the sooner I could have a playable build out there the better. Unfortunately Milo’s Many Nightmares is very different from project Zeds. For one it’s not a multiplayer game. The player’s enjoyment doesn’t come from trying to outwit their opponent it comes from atmosphere, puzzle solving and story. Those are three things I can’t just put in a check-list.
There are benefits to keeping a game under wraps till it’s ready.
The importance of a good first impression is a very real thing. There are a few games I bought on early access that I played for a little while in their incomplete state and got tired of. They’ve since been finished and released, but I haven’t gone back to play them, and the reason why is because I’m just not that interested any-more. I know that’s wrong, and I should go back and give these games another try. I feel pretty hypocritical saying it but it’s true. Despite that I know I should give these games another chance, subconsciously I’m not as excited as I would be if I’d never played the unfinished version. Maybe I’m alone that opinion. I hope I am. My game isn’t very impressive right now and I don’t want that to taint people’s impressions of what the game is going to hopefully one day become.
Aside from first impressions of the game there are other reasons not to show your work immediately. Once you share something about your game it’s difficult to change that aspect of the game. For instance the story line of my game is written down and I’m happy with it, but it’s still evolving as I work on the game. It’s nice to be able to take part of a story and say “this works, but wouldn’t it be better if it were like this?” and then actually change it. I worry that if people are familiar with the original way things went that it’ll be confusing as to what actually does and does not happen in the game. There are even certain elements of the game I know I can’t build out unless I get a good voice actor, so I have alternate plans for the story in case that’s not possible, which means those areas are likely to change.
There are benefits to showing off your work early and often.
On the other hand getting my game into people’s’ hands early after Ludum Dare was massively beneficial. People told me what worked, what didn’t, what they got stuck on, and showed me ways of interacting with the game I hadn’t even thought of. Being a development shop of only one person means I don’t have any play testers. Getting feedback from players may be an invaluable resource for me and I don’t think I can afford to not allow people to play this game as soon as it’s possible. I also really enjoy the idea of keeping an almost completely open development on my games, which you may have gathered from my game dev live streams, you tube channel or from the very blog that you are reading.
Worrying about what kind of reception my game will get if I put it up for download too early might also be a lot like worrying about my friends bugging me for money if I ever win the lottery. Honestly the most likely reception my game’s going to get when I put it up for download isn’t going to be good or bad, it’s going to be absent, and I should probably take whatever eyes I can get on my game as soon as I can.
So if I do release my game unfinished for download what can I do to make sure it doesn’t create a bad impression?
First of all my plan is to stop working on the later parts of the game and to really focus on the beginning of the game. Instead of working on the game laterally I’m going to start working on it in big vertical slices starting with the beginning. A vertical slice in game terms is like a well polished proof of concept that’s very content sparse. This will allow me to take an almost episodic approach to the game development. This will actually work pretty well for MMN, it just means that each vertical slice will be its own nightmare.
This means that there will be a little bit before I put the game out there because I really want to clean up the beginning parts of the game before I put them out there to be played. The game will still be pretty rough though. I hope you guys can separate the first impression from the final build better than I can. I plan to have my unfinished-bad-first-impression game in all of your hands as soon as I can though.