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EXECUTION Building a video games business from scratch

srodrigo

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Hi there, I decided to create a progress thread, so I'll have to feel ashamed if I don't make good progress :)

A bit of context: I'm a software developer. I quit my job a few months ago to work on personal projects and move back to my country, after saving enough money to survive for some time (I couldn't stand working on a day job any longer anyway). My original plan was to make a SaaS platform, but I did a better market research and my idea didn't look as good as I thought.

So I decided to go for making video games, which I also like a lot and was postponing it for very long.

The video games industry is huge (more than films + music combined), so there is money there, although at the moment it breaks the commandment of Entry (also Control, if you think about how distribution works, mainly through third-party stores). Professional tools are available for peanuts, and anyone taking a course on Udemy can make and publish sh*t games (many don't even qualify for "game"), so it's also a saturated market. It looks kind-of self-publishing books. A difference (after reading a few threads by authors here) is the amount of time it takes to make a good game in average, compared to a good book. But it's not impossible to succeed, there are independent developers making good money.

The important stuff:

Goals

Even if this is a potential Fastlane business, my first goal is just to make it a viable business. Ideally, it would remain as a one-man shop for a while until it gets traction. From there, I would see how to make it Fastlane, which might involve spending longer (a few years) or good money making something really great; a.k.a. shooting for a "hit". But that will come later. I'm aiming to make at least a minimum wage income within months 6-12, and a mid-class income within months 18-24. Not sure whether this sounds conservative or not, but given how long it takes to make this kind of products, it even sounds optimistic to me.

Current skills

I have no experience in shipping games, although I've made a few half-backed ones. Current skills more in detail:
  • Programming: good
  • Game Design: ok, and getting better
  • Music: have a background, although not in composition, but still better than nothing
  • Art/Graphics: this is the fun one. I've been working on it for a few hundreds of hours for a year already, but still far from looking great
  • Marketing: have some notions (read books and other stuff) but have only shipped one mobile app before, so still learning

These are the bared minimum skills required to make a video game that makes money. Quite a lot of things, and very different between them. It's been a few months learning the last 3 while working on a game, and felt really overwhelming, because things like art can take years and years to master and I'm quite behind. I can always outsource some stuff once the thing is making some revenue though.

Plan

I started making a game two months ago, and realised that it would take far longer than I was expecting (specially due to being slow making graphics). I'm parking this to start with the plan below, but probably reusing the tech I built, so it wasn't a waste of time.

1) Make a first game for free in less than one month: this should take me through the whole process of releasing a game, not just making it. I'll probably use free stock assets and music. It doesn't need to be a full game, just the bare minimum that you can ship for people to play.

2) Make a second -commercial- game in less than three months: this one should be small, but still a full game that I can charge for. Managing scope will be critical to reach this goal, 3 months is quite a short time to make something decent.

3) Make a third -proper- game in less than 12 months: this should be the one that starts making some money. Ideally, a 6 months project, but might take longer.

I don't want to make longer plans for now, there's a lot of work to do above, but as an idea each game from game 4 should ideally give more traction while trying for find out what can be a hit one at that time (trends change quite fast).

Freelancing (either in the same industry, or any other kind of programming stuff) will be considered if things don't work out as expected, or if I need to get money to pay freelancers.

Difficulties so far

I felt quite uncomfortable with taking long to ship stuff. This is the main reason to step back and do 2 small pieces of work first. This way, I'll get something done and iterate from there.

It can feel overwhelming as hell when you have to learn about so many different things (which I have to do anyway, learning at least a minimum about each is vital). I struggle with art, which means I'll have to either buy it (stock art) or outsource it at some point if I want to go fast, although I'll keep honing my skills here and in other areas.

Anyway, I've started 1) today, I'll post updates. :)
 

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srodrigo

srodrigo

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This post is to explain a bit more about my approach to treat this more like a business, not just "hey, I'd love to make X game, let's get started!", which can be a dangerous road.

About the kind of games I'm going to make, it was a mix of things that I like, things that players might like, and things that a single person can make in a reasonable time (e.g. don't make an RPG, you'll spend years). After a lot of thought and research I chose to make old-style arcade games, mostly "pixel" ones. There are a few reasons for this:

  • The genre should have its audience, as 30-45 years old people (even older) tend to like this kind of games they played in their young days. Nostalgia is a good seller.
  • It always depends on the game, but they tend to take far less time than, say, a 3D shooter.
  • I personally love this kind of games, which makes me feel excited about working on them.
  • Even if there are a lot of old-style games, I couldn't find many arcade ones. The idea is to make them different, not just clone them. Make them feel modern in some ways, and old in some others. This kind of combination has been used successfully by some people.

This might work or not. The way market research is done in this kind of projects doesn't really guarantee results, but it's better than nothing. At the end, is not "this app makes A, B and C features great to use and looks good", this is far more subjective.

Another special thing about video games is that soft-proof is tricky. You cannot just set up a landing page with a few made-up screenshots of a mobile/web app that sort-of show the key features of your app. Here, if you were to do that, you'd need to create almost final art first, which takes quite a while and tends to change (so ends up being a lot of wasted effort). Videos would be even worse, you'd need to code a prototype + make final graphics/music. And some third-party stores can be unhappy about people setting up mock pages. Usually, you need to either code a prototype that implements 80% of everything with placeholder assets, or make a vertical slice with 80% polish of a small chunk of the game.

So I'm going probably going to try to release a vertical slice for game 3 (maybe for game 2 as well), for free, then charge for the whole game when released separately. Let's say a game has 100 levels, I'd release 10-20 for free, with 80-90% polish, and then see what's people's reaction. If it's good, carry on. If it's not, see if there are things that can be addressed; or whether the kind of game is just not in the players' interest at this point (as I said, trends tend to change a lot, that's one of the reasons why releasing often is important), in which case it might be better to salvage some work and move on.

Some stores also offer the choice of something called "early access", which is an alpha of the game that you upload and people buy, with the promise that you'll finish it. This can be a great way to release early and make money early, but it needs to be done carefully; if you upload something that still needs a lot of work, players can leave bad reviews and hurt your future sales.

Marketing is difficult. Apart from the traditional ways of doing digital marketing, there are journalists and streamers out there, but there are so many games that they tend to be busy and it's difficult to get their attention. But if you make a good game, the chances increase.
 

raad182

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Hey, as you are from the gaming market may I ask you, How long would take for a newbie to develop an IOS basic game by himself? Can I do it for free?

I've thought about developing basic games for kids (Tetris esque). When I was a kid a used to create board games to play with my friends and played a bit with RPG Maker.

thanks
 
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srodrigo

srodrigo

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Hey, as you are from the gaming market may I ask you, How long would take for a newbie to develop an IOS basic game by himself? Can I do it for free?

I've thought about developing basic games for kids (Tetris esque). When I was a kid a used to create board games to play with my friends and played a bit with RPG Maker.

thanks
I'm quite a newbie as well in the video games industry, but I think I would try to spend less than a month for a first game that you can release. I made the mistake to start a game that would take me +6 months, and felt too long to start with. About how long would it take you, it depends on your skills, but if you learn something like Unity (which is quite good for mobile games, and the personal license is free), I'm sure you can make a basic game in a short time. Tetris is one of the recommended games to make for someone who is starting at this, so it suits a short schedule.
 

raad182

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I'm quite a newbie as well in the video games industry, but I think I would try to spend less than a month for a first game that you can release. I made the mistake to start a game that would take me +6 months, and felt too long to start with. About how long would it take you, it depends on your skills, but if you learn something like Unity (which is quite good for mobile games, and the personal license is free), I'm sure you can make a basic game in a short time. Tetris is one of the recommended games to make for someone who is starting at this, so it suits a short schedule.
Thanks, one more thing... Can I develop an IOS game on Windows using Unity? I don't have a Mac
 
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srodrigo

srodrigo

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Thanks, one more thing... Can I develop an IOS game on Windows using Unity? I don't have a Mac
You wouldn't be able to test the game. You need a Mac for developing for iOS.

Why don't you do it for Android? It's cheaper as well (the Apple developer license is around $100 annually, whereas you pay once for the Android developer license).
 
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srodrigo

srodrigo

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Routine

I've tried to come up with a proper daily routine, but it didn't work :) Some days just get messed up by unexpected things you can't control, and only makes you feel bad for not following the plan. This doesn't mean that I don't usually do the same every "work" day. I actually do, but if somehow it doesn't work out, I stick to weekly goals, which are more flexible and you can make up the time next day if you need, for the things you couldn't get done today.

Instead, I've set up a weekly work routine for a few months, and it's worked pretty well so far. I work 6 days a week (might need to be cut down to 5 for short periods when I feel too stressed):

  • Sun-Fri: Roughly, I do and average of 11 pomodoros (30+5 minutes, instead of the standard 25+5) of work on projects, and 2 of study. "Study" means that I spend time learning things related to making games (art, music) or business. Sometimes I do this when I get stuck on a task, but I like to schedule separate time for honing my skills, as there are so many areas to improve (game design, graphics, music & sound, and marketing). I usually end up doing more than this if I feel with energy, but I like to set up a minimum weekly average. I also try to limit it to 12/4 per day, otherwise the next day can suffer from low energy.
  • Sat: Day "off", which means that I don't usually work, but spend more time studying. I also do things like going outside for longer periods, which I don't do on the rest of the days.

I try to do as much work as I can in the mornings, when I'm far more productive, and leave the evenings for study and other things.

I'm quite strict about limit the amount of coding hours. Coding is a very brain intensive task, and you can really mess things up and waste next day's time if you do too much in a day. That's why I've got about a 11-12 pomodoros/day limit for coding, and it's worked very well so far, getting a lot done and not getting stuck too much. I'm fine with working for more than 11 pom's if I'm doing other stuff like music, graphics, or preparing some marketing stuff, though.

I also set up some "guilt-free time", specially on Saturdays, when I can do whatever I enjoy even if it's not productive. This is important to keep some sanity in the long-term. And I try to go for a 30-45 minutes walk at least every 2 days.

Things that have been working well so far

  • Pomodoros: I get so much more done than working until I feel exhausted and then waste time. Giving priority to *focused time*, instead of *many hours*, has boosted my productivity, while still keeping some energy for improving my skills in the evening. I can't recommend this technique enough.
  • I quite enjoy making games. It's hard work (and very challenging, both technically and artistically), but it's been quite rewarding. I can't imagine at the moment keeping this pace on a day job that I don't like as much.

Things that need improvement

Still need to set up daily time for:

  • Meditation
  • Exercise/Walks
  • Proper family time (5 minutes every 30 minutes doesn't qualify)

Also, try to keep my mind cool when I struggle with things that I'm less proficient with (specially art/graphics). I know it takes time and practice, but sometimes if feels a bit frustrating and can drop motivation.

And need to avoid wasting time in:

  • Reading too much. Sometimes I find interesting articles that I read and, when I realise, 30 minutes are gone. Not only that, but I've spent my mental energy on that instead of on work, which tends to suffer. I need to set up proper time for reading important stuff related to what I do, but be more strict about time.
  • Twitter. It's important to be both active and keep an eye on what other people in the video games industry say. But I really need to limit this to a couple of times a day. Checking Twitter in batches is far quicker. Better spend 30 minutes in a row 2 times a day, than do it during pomodoro breaks and get yet another thing in your brain background when something catches your attention. It's more about mental energy and loss of focus than time.
  • Planning too much. It's ok to plan, specially when you want to release stuff, but plans longer than 3 months tend to change enough to not waste too much time on this.



Apart from all of this, I try to write a blog post every few weeks. I'm not sure it's helping much to get attention, as I'm not focusing on proper/methodical blogging, but it helps me learn new things and get a few followers (a.k.a potential buyers) from time to time. I'd like to build a better blog website and do more focused blogging, but I can't cram in more things at the moment.
 

rpeck90

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Very interesting, the audience for indie games is relatively strong.

I am interested to know the following:
  1. What platform are you writing the games for? PC, web or mobile?
  2. Why would your games stand out?
  3. Do you have your own engine or using one off the shelf?
  4. How are you going to market said game? Gaming is a huge market, but has #1 seriously low attention span 2# lots of competition
In terms of the overall plan etc, I think you'd benefit from an accountability partner. With software, it's easy to fall down the rabbit hole of iteration & refactoring... neglecting to realize that - in the end - most people don't care about what went into the system's development. Creating a new Ori isn't something that happens every day.

I would put the following to you:
  1. What core "innovation" will your game have? Storyline? Graphics? Gameplay? With every successful game, the cornerstone of the success came from the next "level" the game took the audience.

  2. You need an accountability partner. As do I. Maybe we could talk about this.

  3. Maybe think hypothetically about the gaming thing. I've been working on this for a LONG time (and it still bugs the hell out of me) on integrating much of what make "games" so appealing into functional software.

    Things like HEAVY graphical fidelity, object oriented flow, the ability to create/manage objects in a virtual world, story-based context and a number of other things. The market is ripe for this type of thing, but it needs to be done properly.

  4. You need a cause. One of the big things I see from what you've written is you're more in the exploratory phase than having a shippable product idea. This isn't a criticism, but an observation. The best creative guys have a "cause" which they use to empower what they're doing.

  5. I specialize in marketing. It's not difficult if you understand how a market works, where value is derived, and what that means to the end user. I would strongly suggest that the "gaming" market is not going to be a pathway to riches (unless you're super interested in it) - but integrating game-level technology into other products/avenues is.

    What is difficult is creating an "offer" which resonates with an audience, portraying that offer in a way which gets them interested in buying said product, and then having the ability to do it again with other offers/products. The SOLE role of marketing is to curate demand. Don't try and sell your stuff with marketing; it's simply there to get footfall through the door.
 
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srodrigo

srodrigo

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Hi @rpeck90, thanks for your feedback. You make good points and questions.

What platform are you writing the games for? PC, web or mobile?
I'm focusing on PC at the moment. After exploring both PC and mobile, I decided against mobile, as it looks heavily focused on free-to-play and hooking (a few) users to spend money. That's not something I'm really interested in and I'd try to stay away for now, as you also need LOTS of users (1+ million) to make enough revenue to even make a low salary.

I haven't explored web games much to be honest, maybe I should. I read a recent article, talking about how web games might take over other platforms. It's something I'm keeping in mind for the future.

Why would your games stand out?
I want to focus on reinventing 2D old classics:
  • Changing and mixing mechanics to make them fresh and interesting, not "yet another bloody clone".
  • Making different/unique graphics. This is a bit vague and depends on each particular game, but as an idea. That's actually why I'm going the -painful- road of improving my art skills, I'd need them to create something interesting even if I decide to outsource this part, as you need to know what you envision and be able to talk the artists' language.
If after a few games I see this niche is not appealing enough to enough players, I'll revisit the whole thing.

Do you have your own engine or using one off the shelf?
I'm currently using MonoGame, which is a framework that abstracts away the lowest level stuff. I like to be in reasonable control of what's going on. So I'm adding my own engine on top. It didn't take me more than a few weeks to have something basic up and running, and I keep adding small bits as I need. I don't like spending a lot of time upfront to build something that I might not use.

I decided against full engines like Unity because of the reason above (lack of control, even lack of access to the source code) and how they can change the terms of service and give you troubles if they want. Game dev sounds like a risky enough thing per se, I'd try to stay away from closed/proprietary programming tools unless I need to do something in 3D. Unity brings a lot of stuff, which is good, but for 2D games that's not a big deal.

I also decided against going the C/C++/Rust + custom engine road, as it would take me longer and wouldn't focus on making any games, just tech. I will revisit this in the future if I build a sustainable business and have "spare" time, or just have a very specific need that no engine/framework offers.

So I picked something in between that works for me, and it's been a good choice so far.

How are you going to market said game? Gaming is a huge market, but has #1 seriously low attention span 2# lots of competition
That's a question that most people are still trying to figure out. I plan to build a following on social media, reach streamers and journalists, reach out players, etc. This is what most people do, and you are right saying it's difficult to get attention. My idea is to start marketing the games about 3-4 months before shipping, so the attention I (hopefully) gather doesn't vanish by the time the games are out, as it would starting marketing very early. This doesn't mean not trying to soft-prove the potential interest in the games first (which, as I said, looks tricky). I want to show prototypes to potential players before even investing months into a game that no one would play and not even the best marketing would make successful.

In terms of the overall plan etc, I think you'd benefit from an accountability partner. With software, it's easy to fall down the rabbit hole of iteration & refactoring... neglecting to realize that - in the end - most people don't care about what went into the system's development. Creating a new Ori isn't something that happens every day.
Possibly. The thing is, not everyone is as "lucky" (crazy?) as I am to be able to spend a good amount of time working on this full-time (years of day jobs and deliberately saving money first). Most people do it in their spare time. I've seen many problems with this when people just disappear (which can be understable given how long it can take to finish a game, and the limited amount of time you have if you have a day job), and I've personally suffered this multiple times, and I'm not willing to partner or rely on a partner for now (will revisit later). This might be a mistake or not, time will say.

Also, I can see two kinds of accountability: 1) the one that makes you not quit, which is the difficult one, and 2) the one that makes you work your butt off, which is always welcome. I'm a hard worker guy so 2) is covered so far.

I'm very careful about the "programming trap". I'm focusing on making games, not on writing the perfect code that adds an extra 5% of value (for me as a developer, not even for players) and takes forever to improve, so it's not worth the time. But, as a tech guy, I keep it in mind constantly, you never know when you can get sucked into the trap without even realising. As I track all the tasks and time spent, I can keep an eye on this with numbers.

You need a cause. One of the big things I see from what you've written is you're more in the exploratory phase than having a shippable product idea. This isn't a criticism, but an observation
You are right about this being exploratory at the moment. I'm actually making a first short game for free, and another one a bit longer, before I go for a "real" one that I would expect to make money from. Given how difficult is to earn money from the first few games, and that the game I was into looked like becoming bigger than I first planned to make it interesting enough, I decided going this "get my feet wet"/exploratory path for 3-4 months. Business wise, it might be wrong, but I'd rather make a few small things to learn the ropes of the whole process, than end up spending 1-2 years on my first game and making peanuts, trap that most indies fall into.

I would strongly suggest that the "gaming" market is not going to be a pathway to riches (unless you're super interested in it) - but integrating game-level technology into other products/avenues is.
I'm aware of this, and I've though about it a lot, believe me. Even to the point of not going into game dev at all and doing any other thing instead. I'm perfectly happy to park making games if I find any other product to build that solves game developers' needs, like making tools, or assets (I actually thought about making game music for developers to buy, as I have a background in music, but decided against for now). But I feel like making games is going to be more useful at the beginning, as I can learn in first person what are the pain points and what could be a good tool/other thing to make, if making games itself doesn't work out. So at the moment I'm joining the crowd, but I'm ok with moving on and serving the crowd instead when the time comes, which might be faaar wiser than making games in the long run, or at least it relies less on making a $200k+ game to give you a few years' buffer.
 
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srodrigo

srodrigo

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BTW I'll post weekly updates on Saturdays to keep track and make myself accountable/blameable.

This week's update (which started on Wednesday really):

  • Work: 11.3 pomodoros average (minimum achieved) - Got the basic idea up and running, although there is still one mechanic that needs to be implemented before I can ask "alpha testers" (family and friends) to try it out. This comes before looking for beta/idea testers out there, as I want to get feedback but not too early.
  • Study: 2 pomodoros average (minimum achieved) - Focused on pixel art (which is what the first couple of games will be made of) and palettes/colour theory (far more difficult than I thought, even having already spent some time in the past).

Spent some time on other related things, but they don't count for the first goal, which is Game 1. This will be an old classic with extra mechanics/rules, not very heavy/difficult on graphics, and very basic sounds (probably not even music for this first one).
 

Jeff Noel

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Can I develop an IOS game on Windows
iOS games can only be developed an tested on OSX. You also need to pay to publish on the App Store. IIRC that's ~$100/yr for the permission to publish. Apple is REALLY strict too, so you have to be ready to fix a ton of stuff on your app before it's accepted.
 

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splok

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You know this is a hard path, but it sounds like your head is in a far better space to tackle this than most people. I don't mean this to sound overly critical (I comment on this kind of thread as much to remind myself of these things as to help others), but your posts brought a few questions to mind that I thought you might benefit from thinking through.

My original plan was to make a SaaS platform, but I did a better market research and my idea didn't look as good as I thought. So I decided to go for making video games
So did you also do market research on games? and your research showed games to be a better option than saas? That sounds a bit like saying "Option A wasn't guaranteed to make me a billionaire, so instead, I decided that I hate money and will work really hard to not have any." Clearly there are people making money from games, but I would love to see the objective research process that shows games to be a better path.

minimum wage income within months 6-12, and a mid-class income within months 18-24.
1) Make a first game for free in less than one month
2) Make a second -commercial- game in less than three months
3) Make a third -proper- game in less than 12 months
This is probably a good, high-level, way to look at the goal, but the next step has to be looking at your expected earnings per product versus the time investment. From your release plan below, that means your 2nd game will need to make enough money to give you your desired income for the 1yr+ that you'll spend on your 3rd game. (Games never release early. If you give yourself a year, you're going to use every last second of it, and then probably a few months more too.)

end up spending 1-2 years on my first game and making peanuts, trap that most indies fall into.
So instead, you're just delaying the trap by 4 months?

Imo, the better path is to stick to small projects, but build them with every intention of making each one profitable. Can you find a way to build something in 1 month that would give you your desired ROI for 1 month of time?

The real business in the game industry is publishing. The big publishers make their money year after year, while great studios die. Their risk is spread over many, many titles. Their biggest title of the year essentially covers their losses on the rest of their portfolio. I know you can't release 100 AAA games this year, but I know you can release 10 of something.

Consider this: Is a game built in 12 months necessarily 12x better than a game built in 1? Is it going to earn 12x as much? I'm sure you've played 1 month games that were great and 5 year games that were terrible, right?

Now obviously, you'll argue that your 1 year game has a higher chance of success than your 1 month game. You'd (hopefully) be right, but is it 12x higher? That's FAR less obvious. That's also an easy trap to fall into. It mostly works in the real world... spend more time on something, it gets better, you sell it for more. Software (of any kind) doesn't work like that though. That's why it's such a great fastlane endeavor. Once you've solved the user's problem, throwing extra time at something doesn't necessarily make it more valuable (and can even make it less so).

Given how difficult is to earn money from the first few games
Are you sure it gets easier later? Conversely, are you sure you can't make your first game profitable?


So I'm going probably going to try to release a vertical slice for game 3 (maybe for game 2 as well), for free, then charge for the whole game when released separately
Does the demo model actually work now? (Now meaning in 2019, not 1 example 5 years ago or whatever) Are you sure? I'm not saying that it doesn't, but be sure that your business model doesn't hamstring you from the start.


I'm clipping the next few quotes up pretty badly, but I hope you see the point:
I'm very careful about the "programming trap". I'm focusing on making games, not on writing the perfect code that adds an extra 5% of value
you never know when you can get sucked into the trap without even realising.
  • These are the bared minimum skills required to make a video game that makes money.
  • I've been working on it for a few hundreds of hours
  • I'll keep honing my skills here and in other areas.
  • I'm adding my own engine on top. It didn't take me more than a few weeks to have something basic up and running
  • Game dev sounds like a risky enough thing per se, I'd try to stay away from closed/proprietary programming tools
Do you really need to master all of those skills to release a profitable game?

You're spending hundreds of hours getting good at art. That's great if you want to be an artist. If your goal is to release games, maybe those hours could be better spent? Next you'll be spending hundreds of hours getting good at music, then the next thing, etc, etc.

You're taking weeks to build your own basic engine before you release your first, 1-month game. How much risk is using Unity for a 1 month, or even a 1 year project?

You want to consider risk? Then actually consider it. How many indie studios never turn a profit because of over-reliance on proprietary tools? Compare that number (pretty close to 0%) to the number that fail because they never release anything worth buying (close to 100%).

This is exactly how games never get released and why indie studios die.
You can't do everything. You probably could, but there just isn't enough time.
 
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srodrigo

srodrigo

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Hi @splok Thanks for the detailed feedback. You raise fair concerns. I'll answer your questions separately, and I take good notes about your advice. I hope I haven't sliced your write-up too much.

So did you also do market research on games? and your research showed games to be a better option than saas? That sounds a bit like saying "Option A wasn't guaranteed to make me a billionaire, so instead, I decided that I hate money and will work really hard to not have any." Clearly there are people making money from games, but I would love to see the objective research process that shows games to be a better path.
It is as it sounds. I didn't have another idea at that point in the pipeline (well, I thought of building a trading bot for crypto-currencies for personal use to start with, but I'd like to avoid getting into something that might be falling apart right now). I've been postponing the games thing forever and even making career paths "for real money and job security" (e.g. writing business software). While I don't regret (had quite a successful career so far), I wanted to work as a game developer since I even started working. I know it's not an objective business decision and I'm biased, as 99% of indie developers.

I agree with you that making games is, objectively, probably far riskier than going for a SaaS (although, as in everything, it depends on the games and the SaaS's). It has a lot of potential, but I don't think it's a better path. I'm aware of this. There are other things that are kind of similar (like self-publishing books). Still, it's possible and I want to do my best to make it viable. Maybe I'll regret later, but better regret for trying than for not trying. I'll make sure I don't do stupid things like getting into debt or spending 10 years making little money. I'll review how it's going frequently, and whether it's getting traction or not. If it doesn't in a reasonable time span (2 years in my mind), I'll think about it. There are other options on the game industry apart from making games, and having made and release them can be useful going for other paths.

I'm not approaching this as "let's make my dream game that will take 4 years and hope for the best". I'm trying to figure out how to make it, at least, a business that makes a sustainable income (which, being honest, it's hard to figure out, most people are still trying to). That's my mid-term goal. I really understand your point though!

This is probably a good, high-level, way to look at the goal, but the next step has to be looking at your expected earnings per product versus the time investment. From your release plan below, that means your 2nd game will need to make enough money to give you your desired income for the 1yr+ that you'll spend on your 3rd game. (Games never release early. If you give yourself a year, you're going to use every last second of it, and then probably a few months more too.)
You are right. After reviewing it, the plan above doesn't really make sense unless the 3rd game is far less than 12 months. I put 12 months as a hard limit, but you are also right in that it usually takes longer. So I should probably reduce the limit at least by half. (More on this on the points you make later about more shorter games vs. one long game).

So instead, you're just delaying the trap by 4 months?
My idea was to ship smaller things to get experience and some exposure. The more games you make, the more traction you should get (in theory). But with the plan I include above, with game 3 could take up to 1 year, sounds like I'm delaying the trap :) I'll have to rethink that.

Imo, the better path is to stick to small projects, but build them with every intention of making each one profitable. Can you find a way to build something in 1 month that would give you your desired ROI for 1 month of time?
That's a great question. I doubt that will be the case for a while. The more name you have in the industry, the more coverage and other opportunities to reach your audience. I'm starting from scratch, so it's going to be challenging to make good money from 1 month games, at least at the beginning. At least, that's what's happened to most indies I know, some of them have been in this for many years, but they had a hard start.

After I stop being an yet another unknown indie dev, your question about whether it's possible to make games in 1 month that make the expected profit, is interesting. I'd say no for the PC market, maybe yes for the mobile (and web?) one(s), but outsourcing a fair amount (if not everything) at that point. I can't say this would work really, but that's what comes to my mind as a way to make it possible.

I bet that if some indies (the ones that like making games but are flexible with which ones to make and want to stay in business, not fail with their masterpiece) could ship profitable games every month, they'd do it. I'm sure that's what some companies in the mobile market do, but they probably have dozens of people working there and are an already established business. Most small studios or one-person shops can't release quality products so often. And some of them I talked to really share your view, they want to make and release games as frequently as possible, but I don't know of any of them that have managed to make it in less than 3 months (that's outsourcing many things, and usually still takes them 6+ months in average).

The real business in the game industry is publishing. The big publishers make their money year after year, while great studios die. Their risk is spread over many, many titles. Their biggest title of the year essentially covers their losses on the rest of their portfolio. I know you can't release 100 AAA games this year, but I know you can release 10 of something.
I didn't think of that. That's really sad, but still good to know and will take it into account.

Consider this: Is a game built in 12 months necessarily 12x better than a game built in 1? Is it going to earn 12x as much? I'm sure you've played 1 month games that were great and 5 year games that were terrible, right?

Now obviously, you'll argue that your 1 year game has a higher chance of success than your 1 month game. You'd (hopefully) be right, but is it 12x higher? That's FAR less obvious. That's also an easy trap to fall into. It mostly works in the real world... spend more time on something, it gets better, you sell it for more. Software (of any kind) doesn't work like that though. That's why it's such a great fastlane endeavor. Once you've solved the user's problem, throwing extra time at something doesn't necessarily make it more valuable (and can even make it less so).
That's a very valid point. Don't get me wrong, I'm not even thinking about the games I would really love to make, as they would take even more than 12 months :). So I keep in mind that I have to make smaller games. At the beginning, small enough ones that will make some money while start giving some "traction" would be perfect. I definitely agree with you with not spending extra effort that will get diminished returns.

One interesting thing here is the "user's problem", as this is more a "want" than a "need". Players are getting used to get good, or even great games for $10-20, and most of them take years to be made. I'm still trying to figure out a way of making money with 1 month games, but I'll give it a thought.

Are you sure it gets easier later? Conversely, are you sure you can't make your first game profitable?
I'd say it should get easier as you get more people to know your games and make a fan base. Most indies would not survive if it wasn't because of the fan base they build for years.

I can't say for sure that I can't make my first game profitable, but looking at the statistics, it's very unlikely. In a similar way, you could sell a $50k website to a client without a porfolio or any experience; is that likely? I don't think so.

Does the demo model actually work now? (Now meaning in 2019, not 1 example 5 years ago or whatever) Are you sure? I'm not saying that it doesn't, but be sure that your business model doesn't hamstring you from the start.
I'm not sure that it would work but, in order to try to iterate fast (if that really exists in this industry...) for games that take at least a few months, I can think of one way: release part of the game for free, gather feedback and fix whatever needs to be fixed before the final game comes out. There is this "early access" model where you sell an unfinished game, and the other option I can think of is the "demo" model. The first one sounds better, only if done properly, otherwise you can get bad reviews by angry players if your game is not ready for that model, and then better refund them all and move on, because you will probably have a hard time recovering from the bad reviews.

Do you really need to master all of those skills to release a profitable game?

You're spending hundreds of hours getting good at art. That's great if you want to be an artist. If your goal is to release games, maybe those hours could be better spent? Next you'll be spending hundreds of hours getting good at music, then the next thing, etc, etc.
I've just checked my reports and have spend around 130 hours in the last year to get a general overview and some basic skills on drawing and pixel art. It felt like much longer :) (That's why it's good to keep track of the time). Now, I'm focusing only on the next thing that I need, and that's taking into account that I'm thinking of games that don't require to be Picasso.

Music is much closer to where I'll need though, I can already make music for certain kind of games. For things like orchestral, I'd need more learning, of course.

My opinion is that you need at least a minimum knowledge of every area. I'm not aiming to master all this skills. If I have to outsource stuff, I'd need to know what I'm talking about, so I still think it's important. It's a matter of not getting sucked into it too much.

You're taking weeks to build your own basic engine before you release your first, 1-month game. How much risk is using Unity for a 1 month, or even a 1 year project?

You want to consider risk? Then actually consider it. How many indie studios never turn a profit because of over-reliance on proprietary tools? Compare that number (pretty close to 0%) to the number that fail because they never release anything worth buying (close to 100%).
I spent around 160 hours to build a basic engine and some mechanics of a game. I haven't split them up to measure just the time spent on the engine, but around 160 hours of initial investment and I'm now reusing it to build another game that has the basic mechanics and some basic graphics in 3 days, so it doesn't sound too risky to me (although time will say). Had I spent 3-6 months upfront, I'd have a different opinion.

Unity was a solid option, and probably not a big risk to begin with. I decided against it thinking in the mid-term, when I would rather not have such a strong dependency on a tool I can't decide on or even modify for my needs. In any case, Unity is not a simple engine to use and has some learning curve, so I'd say the amount of time saved compared to rolling a very basic engine and add just the new stuff needed next is not that much. Apart from the fact (this is a personal opinion) that Unity forces you to write your game in not a great way, and even some skills wouldn't be transferable if changing engines.

If I were to make 3D games (which I'm not because they take far longer), I'd go for an existing engine for sure. But, for the kind of games I'm making, it's not a big deal.

This is exactly how games never get released and why indie studios die.
You can't do everything. You probably could, but there just isn't enough time.
I'll keep that in mind and make sure I don't fall into the trap. There are some options to avoid making everything, such as buying stock assets (which are fine for some games, but not for some others, it depends), hire freelancers, etc.

That was long :eek: But it was valuable and I have new things to have a look at. Thanks again.
 

Ninjakid

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Thanks, one more thing... Can I develop an IOS game on Windows using Unity? I don't have a Mac
To build an iOS game you need to use Xcode (which is only available on Macs), and you must know Swift or Objective-C.

If getting a Mac is really is really out of the question could try making a Hackintosh, which is basically where you run a hacked macOS on a virtual machine. I wouldn't recommend because I ended up which a bunch of malware on my computer. Plus it won't run as fast and smooth as the real thing.

You can in some cases find used Macs for around $1000 that are in good shape. Might be a worthwhile investment
 
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srodrigo

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Funnily enough, doing some market research and trying to figure out what are good games to make, what you read is mainly "just don't go into making indie games" :)
 

James Klymus

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I really think the video game industry is RIPE for innovation. Seeing what big publishers are doing to games with some boarderline unethical micro transactions, and deceiving customers, I really see a huge opportunity to innovate and eat the big publishers lunch.
 
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srodrigo

srodrigo

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Are you planning to publish to Steam or host on your own native/web platform?
I'm planing itch.io for soft lunches, then yes, probably Steam, as that's the only one that seems to make money (providing players find your game, which is the main problem).
 
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srodrigo

srodrigo

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I really think the video game industry is RIPE for innovation. Seeing what big publishers are doing to games with some boarderline unethical micro transactions, and deceiving customers, I really see a huge opportunity to innovate and eat the big publishers lunch.
It's a young industry, it definitely has room for innovation. The problem is, as much as it sounds like big publishers are going a bad path, they are making tons of money and players still buy/play their games. So I think we agree, but the market doesn't seem to match the complains.

Also, innovation doesn't come for free, experimental games usually take longer. Some indies go down that path because competing in existing niches it's getting difficult due to the over-saturation, but it's still a risky investment.
 

404profound

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I'm planing itch.io for soft lunches, then yes, probably Steam, as that's the only one that seems to make money (providing players find your game, which is the main problem).
It sounds like the market saturation potentiates higher level opportunities as well (e.g., new ways for game developers to get exposure, niche platforms for specific game types, etc.)
 

top boy

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This guy is a millionaire now, the game sold over a million copies in 2 months.

The 4 years of self-imposed crunch that went into Stardew Valley

"For four years, he says, he worked an average of ten hours a day, seven days a week, on Stardew Valley. Luckily, he was living with his girlfriend, a graduate student in, appropriately, plant biology, and to help stay afloat he worked part-time as an usher at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre."
 

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If you want to release something quickly, just to understand the process, check out Phaser.io

It's a 2D (last I checked) javascript based engine with a simple API. I made some basic games before I decided it wasn't for me.

If you're dead set on something like Unity, perhaps try making something for VR. It's a smaller space and might be easier to create a standout product.

Either way, if you're going down this route, I'd highly recommend the following

1) Stick to simple polygon graphics
2) Nail the gameplay
3) find someone to partner up with to do the music for free or cheap

The odds that you personally have the skill sets to nail the art, programming, game design, UI, and music is so low that I'd bet a small fortune against it. There's a reason even small games are built by teams, with the exception of a few individuals who are modern day Da Vincis. The reason is that these are orthogonal skill sets and if you try to master all of them in parallel, the chances of you releasing hot garbage rise exponentially.

Also, and this may be an unpopular opinion, drop the meditation. It's 20 - 30 minutes a day that could be spent with your family or working, and the benefits are pretty nebulous. I don't know if there are any single game devs that waste time with meditation.. but I'm betting not.
 
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srodrigo

srodrigo

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It sounds like the market saturation potentiates higher level opportunities as well (e.g., new ways for game developers to get exposure, niche platforms for specific game types, etc.)
Maybe. The whole thing is quite new and, even if there are "gurus" out there (as usual), no one has much idea about how to succeed.
 
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srodrigo

srodrigo

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This guy is a millionaire now, the game sold over a million copies in 2 months.

The 4 years of self-imposed crunch that went into Stardew Valley

"For four years, he says, he worked an average of ten hours a day, seven days a week, on Stardew Valley. Luckily, he was living with his girlfriend, a graduate student in, appropriately, plant biology, and to help stay afloat he worked part-time as an usher at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre."
He is an outlier. He made the game he wanted to make, which happened to be in a niche that had declined. Then, he did an amazing job to create a great game, and a small publisher did the marketing for him (I doubt he would have had that skill). But for each Stardew Valley, there are many 4 year projects that make nothing. Also, he did everything, from programming to art and music. Who said it's impossible? But it took him ages.

If you want to release something quickly, just to understand the process, check out Phaser.io

It's a 2D (last I checked) javascript based engine with a simple API. I made some basic games before I decided it wasn't for me.

If you're dead set on something like Unity, perhaps try making something for VR. It's a smaller space and might be easier to create a standout product.

Either way, if you're going down this route, I'd highly recommend the following

1) Stick to simple polygon graphics
2) Nail the gameplay
3) find someone to partner up with to do the music for free or cheap

The odds that you personally have the skill sets to nail the art, programming, game design, UI, and music is so low that I'd bet a small fortune against it. There's a reason even small games are built by teams, with the exception of a few individuals who are modern day Da Vincis. The reason is that these are orthogonal skill sets and if you try to master all of them in parallel, the chances of you releasing hot garbage rise exponentially.

Also, and this may be an unpopular opinion, drop the meditation. It's 20 - 30 minutes a day that could be spent with your family or working, and the benefits are pretty nebulous. I don't know if there are any single game devs that waste time with meditation.. but I'm betting not.
I really dislike VR. I know it's something new and maybe even the future, but I doubt I would be able to put the extra mile on something I hate. I expect some current niches to stay though, and luckily maybe even get desaturated when the crowd moves to VR.

I might end up partnering with someone eventually. The thing is I had bad experiences and the last thing I'd like is to be in the middle of a project and lose my partner. I'll try to avoid it for a while until I really can't carry on, or find someone worth it (which is very difficult).

About meditation, I understand your point. However, I need to fix my levels of stress (that have been building up for years), otherwise things will go wrong pretty soon :) If 30 minutes a day can help with that, that'll be a massive win.
 

Soundmaxx

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Hi there,

My name is Chris, I do make some music in my free time which i sell in stock music online libraries.
I haven't had any request for a game so far but i would love to get involved.
I'm not the greatest composer like but people seems to like what i'm doing :smile2:

SoundmaxX's profile on AudioJungle


Have a listen and if you find anything that can work within the game you can have it for FREE. I can even edit it to fit your needs. If not, I can write something unique (full track, sfx, sound design).
The only thing is that I can spend only 2-3 hours a day in music making as I'm a slowlaner myself :( I've got a day job and kids... :wideyed: Happy to help though! If you think i can add some value to your project with my music, get in touch to start working on it :smile2:

All the best!
 

NicholasCato

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Im currently pursuing a fastlane similar to yours. Ive actually spent half my 20's in and out of the games industry working on freelance projects as a 2D artist, Concept artist.
Now after realizing I dont want to be an art machine for someone else's business system, Ive found a lane in game dev that has the potential to be very profitable.

This thread has some great info i didnt consider. @splok hit the nail on the head with his observations and I think youve already fallen into the trap of trying to do everything. You dont need basic knowledge or every aspect of game creation. Just know what you want and learn how to direct others to make it.

Im an artist so I know where youre coming from. Ive fallen into that trap many times of wanting the glory that comes with being a renaissance man. But thats not fastlane its a time sink that puts you farther from your goal and less likely to finish anything.

Ive actually been through the whole process of making a mobile game in unity and publishing it on the app store. A couple years back i made a match 3 game re-skin when those were big. I did a bit of SEO to choose the theme of my game hoping i could rake in money by rising to the top 10 apps of a promising keyword.
The app failed horribly i probably only got 30 downloads but i learned a lot. The game i'm developing now is more like gamifying a service than making a game.

In your first post you mentioned that making a mock prototype for your game to see if you have an audience doesnt work? This was actually my plan to actually get a crowdfunding type situation primed to fund the first release of the game. Could you explain why you don't believe that could work?
 
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srodrigo

srodrigo

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This thread has some great info i didnt consider. @splok hit the nail on the head with his observations and I think youve already fallen into the trap of trying to do everything. You dont need basic knowledge or every aspect of game creation. Just know what you want and learn how to direct others to make it.
I still disagree about not having a minimum knowledge about all areas. Not trying to be stubborn here, well known indies agree with this and has been useful for them. As an example, imagine you buy stock art for your games. You might have a library of assets over the years, and might want to combine them. If you don't have a basic knowledge about what plays well with what, you might make something worse than you think.

Im an artist so I know where youre coming from. Ive fallen into that trap many times of wanting the glory that comes with being a renaissance man. But thats not fastlane its a time sink that puts you farther from your goal and less likely to finish anything.
I'm much more convinced about this than I was a week before, and I think you guys are right. I'm probably going to keep going for music composition, as I studied music theory and played for many years, so I'm much closer than with art. Also, other indies (which have been running this for a while) have advised the same thing, they just use stock assets, and hire people later when they make money and can invest. Unless you are the guy who made Stardew Valley, you can't make everything to a good level. Some people reuse as much as they can and are "cheap".

I'll still keep learning just a bit of art for fun, as I like it :) But just as a hobby, without pressure or expectations, and in spare time that doesn't take any work time.

Ive actually been through the whole process of making a mobile game in unity and publishing it on the app store. A couple years back i made a match 3 game re-skin when those were big. I did a bit of SEO to choose the theme of my game hoping i could rake in money by rising to the top 10 apps of a promising keyword.
The app failed horribly i probably only got 30 downloads but i learned a lot. The game i'm developing now is more like gamifying a service than making a game.
Great to here that you are still making games. This is a long journey, and now it takes even longer to get traction, so keep going!

In your first post you mentioned that making a mock prototype for your game to see if you have an audience doesnt work? This was actually my plan to actually get a crowdfunding type situation primed to fund the first release of the game. Could you explain why you don't believe that could work?
I think this is quite interesting. Take a landing page with some screenshots made in 2 days to show how an app would work. You want to let the user understand what features you are offering, and the user probably doesn't care much about it looking pretty or not, as long as it solves their problem.
If you were to do the same with a video game, I would say that showing functionality (gameplay) is not enough. As a half product/half piece of art, I would miss the art if someone drops their programming assets on their landing page. You'd need at least close to final art (which might change a lot from the original idea to the final look), and for something like crowdfunding, I'd even say you need some gameplay video, with that art as well. You can make the minimum, but still sounds like a good amount of work. Look at crowdfunding pages and make a guess about how much work would be involved, but to me this takes weeks or months, not just a few days. Just notice how most crowdfunding campaigns are run when the game has been months in development.

I would be interested in examples of simpler graphics working well in this case, though, I would love to be wrong about this. But I just see that something a game that you can show to final users (players in this case) needs to be quite polished compared to apps. Not saying that it can't work, it's just that it takes more time.

I think what could work is making a prototype of the main mechanics with plain assets, and show that to people who can provide feedback, these people being someone who is not going to buy it (a.k.a. other developers or people in the industry).
 

NicholasCato

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I still disagree about not having a minimum knowledge about all areas. Not trying to be stubborn here, well known indies agree with this and has been useful for them. As an example, imagine you buy stock art for your games. You might have a library of assets over the years, and might want to combine them. If you don't have a basic knowledge about what plays well with what, you might make something worse than you think.
If thats what you feel is best for you man go for it. Im still gonna say this is driven by ego haha and theres nothing wrong with that. My intention was just to let you know it will take much longer.
But looking at it from afar, lets say you spent a year focusing on nothing but music. Every day 4 hours a day learning the program for a couple months, learning how to construct a song, and then figuring out what music is best for your game and fine tuning the tracks to near perfection.

Thats a year and tons of mostly wasted hours to make something only decent, when you couldve paid a muscian (someone whose devoted 8+ hours a day for YEARS into their craft) to make you a song 10X better than yours for only $100. maybe a little bit more.
IDK about you, but for me having my name come up in the credits more than once or twice is not worth this effort.

Like I said im a illustrator and as much as I'd like to make all the art for my second game, im not going to. Most i will do is pass a few sketches over to a 3D modeler.


I think this is quite interesting. Take a landing page with some screenshots made in 2 days to show how an app would work. You want to let the user understand what features you are offering, and the user probably doesn't care much about it looking pretty or not, as long as it solves their problem.
If you were to do the same with a video game, I would say that showing functionality (gameplay) is not enough. As a half product/half piece of art, I would miss the art if someone drops their programming assets on their landing page. You'd need at least close to final art (which might change a lot from the original idea to the final look), and for something like crowdfunding, I'd even say you need some gameplay video, with that art as well. You can make the minimum, but still sounds like a good amount of work. Look at crowdfunding pages and make a guess about how much work would be involved, but to me this takes weeks or months, not just a few days. Just notice how most crowdfunding campaigns are run when the game has been months in development.

I would be interested in examples of simpler graphics working well in this case, though, I would love to be wrong about this. But I just see that something a game that you can show to final users (players in this case) needs to be quite polished compared to apps. Not saying that it can't work, it's just that it takes more time.

I think what could work is making a prototype of the main mechanics with plain assets, and show that to people who can provide feedback, these people being someone who is not going to buy it (a.k.a. other developers or people in the industry).
Thanks for your input on this I agree with you when it comes to gameplay being what sells so if anything a gameplay demo should be what is presented first. I think I may just make a short 25 minute demo showing the main functionality of the game if i go the crowdfunding route. finalized art assets and all or atleast very polished.
 

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