In my opinion, one of the most important things when creating a game, putting aside things such as making a game you yourself would enjoy (an obvious piece of advice that more developers need to keep in mind, by the way), is a simple little thing I’d like to call being realistic about your goals.
Using a specific example here, the official Unity forums collaboration section, up until recently, was a total joke. The place was swarmed with 12-year-olds claiming to be the CEOs of companies that were probably not officially legal entities, wanting to make an MMORPG without paying anyone until the game gets released and, obviously, becomes a huge success the likes of which nobody has ever seen. I have just one thing to say to the people like this: Look up 38 Studios. And I don’t mean to look up 38 different studios, I mean the company known as 38 Studios, which had a government grant of $1.5 million and still failed to make an MMO, or properly pay its workers, for that matter.
So then, since I’ve been talking about my own experiences working on Turtles all the Way here, the obvious follow-up question is what my goals are. While I am perfectly willing to state them, I must be frank in saying I’m not too sure about how realistic they are myself, but I, at the very least, tried to keep them to stuff that could conceivably happen.
But first, stuff I wish I could do but probably never will include but are not limited to making a Pokémon MMO spinoff for one of Nintendo’s home consoles and making a virtual reality social MMO. Both would be a dream to do, which is why they’ll probably never happen.
My realistic goals, however, are far simpler. I know that Turtles all the Way is no Minecraft, nor is it Journey, Angry Birds, nor Fez, for that matter. However, I also know it’s no Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, either.
Something I should note is that all of the good ones above (as in, not Big Rigs) have a few things in common. First off, not one of them is story-focused. Those are four successful and critically acclaimed indie games that simply did what they did, did it well, are easy to pick up, and (Angry Birds aside) are focused around brand new gameplay ideas, or at least a fresh take on an old idea.
Looking at Turtles all the Way in comparison, it does not contain a single idea that could be considered as such. In fact, it’s closer to more forgettable indie titles that are generic 2D platformers with a single additional mechanic to differentiate itself from the pack. Though, if I was looking for successes, I should note that there are reasonably decent successes such as Fancy Pants Adventures, which is simply a 2D platformer with no new mechanics at all (unless you count the pencil weapon, but that was introduced in the console release, so it likely has very little to do with it). Take away the Sync Points System, and my game is suddenly not very notable at all (at least, conceptually).
So I know I don’t have a mega-hit on my hands. At least, probably not. What I hope to do here is at least break even, and I will take measures to make sure word of the game gets out there. What I hope to do is to at least earn enough with the game to continue making more games. I want to be able to work with a team and release games as a hobby every few years. If I get a large enough hit, I may be able to get more people on board and get even faster releases. I don’t expect, however, to earn enough to quit my day job (when I finish my education and get one, that is). Not that I would unless one of the games becomes a big success before I start, or if I somehow make more than I would as an attorney.
Does that dream lack bang? Yes. But this is reality. Right now, I’m working informally with a team of four other people, and they knew up front that I’m not guaranteeing them a cent. In fact, when I asked them what they wanted in return (aside from their name in the credits), in no way prodding them in any direction, the only one that responded with money immediately added that he was kidding. I was even planning on putting money aside if they were to ask for it, but they didn’t. Of course, I do plan on paying them at some point, but I’m also the one covering the costs here, and they’re being very understanding about that.
But, as you can see, that is no solid foundation at all. At any point, it’s easily possible for them to kick me out of the equation, but I’m the one doing the coding, writing the story, coming up with mechanics and getting ready to pay money to contract more people here, so I’d certainly hope not. If they were to do it, I’m quite sure the game would collapse, since I’m the one coordinating things.
There’s a downside to this setup on top of that, too. I sincerely doubt that I’d have any of those people on board for further games. Honestly, chances are I’ll be at it alone again in the future, but at least I’ll have something above all of those kids who want to make MMOs as their debut title.
A serious game under my belt. You have no idea how much value that has. Doesn’t make me the next Notch, but I’m not Notch, I’m only me.