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Planning Your Game Part 1: How to get started

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So you’re ready to start thinking about your own game, huh? The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out what it’s about, right? This is the first post in a series that will go into a bit more detail about how you can plan out your dream game.

What type of game is it?

Are you thinking that the game will be hyper realistic, fantasy, or a mixture? Will there be pets? Do you care for pets? Do pets have human characteristics?

There are generally two types of games in our little corner of the industry, although some games could fall into a grey area.

Pet sites

Pet sites are more towards the fantasy scale of game development. Is your game set in space? In a volcano? Do pets eat ice cream and spit fire? Can your character do magic? Anything that is outside of reality can fall into the pet site category. Neopets, one of the founding games of this genre, Persistent Browser Based Games (PBBG), is a pet site.

Sim games

On the other side of the scale is a hyper realistic game that mimics life down to the small details. “Sim” stands for simulation game, and this game could involve animals such as dogs or horses. These animals have realistic genetics and result in colors found in real life. In most games, you also have to feed, water, and train these animals. They fill a gap for the end user by being able to own a virtual pet in lieu of a real one.

The grey area

Not all games fall into one type or the other. There are some fantasy games that would be classified as sim games - such as dinosaur games like Exhibited or horse games like Celestial Equine. They require care and have some form of breeding and genetic crossing.

What is it going to be about?

There are a couple different methods to start planning where your game will go.

The central pet

You can start planning a game by determining the type of pet it will be centered around. For example, I may want to make a kangaroo game. Let’s call it Roo Boss. From setting the pet, I can now say that this game will take place in Australia, the native habitat of the kangaroo. Now that I have my setting, I set the main player goal in the game: to have the preservation that saves the most kangaroos. From there, I would go into planning the preservation mechanics, kangaroo characteristics, and ways players can interact. 

The setting

As a different method, you can start by determining the setting. Perhaps you’ve always been enamored with the mountains. You can choose a mountain setting. From there, you could choose your game goal: to survive. Then based on the setting, you could choose between bears, cougars, mountain goats, etc. This is still gearing more towards a realistic setting. If you want to go more fantastical, you could choose an underworld setting. From there, you could say that all pets are demonic and the goal is to have the highest evil rating possible, through battling, feeding, etc. 

The goal

Finally, you could create a game starting from the goal that players would have. The goal could be to collect and evolve pets, similar to Pokemon. You could then backtrack to think of a unique storyline and setting to make the game your own.

… You get the point. 

When developing your plan, make sure to include these 3 elements: pet/primary focus, setting, and player goals. No matter where you start, you’ll need all 3.

Who does it target?

Demographics and Interests

After you know what the game is going to be about, you can figure out who it will appeal to. Is it going to be 20-30 year olds? Teens? Kids? Mostly women? Figure out the basic demographics about your audience.

In marketing, there is a term called a customer avatar. You can go and create this completely fictitious person who would play your game. Where do they live? What other games do they play? You can even go so far as to list the books they read and the social media posts they're interested in. Digital Marketer has a worksheet for this that could be a great starting point: https://s3.amazonaws.com/digital-marketer-files/Lead+Magnet/Customer-Avatar.pdf

How do they play?

You can use the suits of a deck of cards to describe the four major types of gamers. Clubs like fighting. Spades like exploring. Diamonds like achieving things. Hearts like socialization. You can probably think of various video games that are focused on catering to different gamer types just from that.

The types influence why you play. Take ARK for example. A club is going to play ARK in order to beat up the tameables. A spade is going to play to explore the map. A heart is probably going to want to play multiplayer to be in a group. A diamond is going to be wanting to get all the tames, or all the tames they deem worth getting, etc.
 
More information can be found here about the four types: https://elearningindustry.com/types-of-gamers-and-learner-engagement-4

Deciding if you have the right idea

It’s easy to come up with an idea. As you can see, I’ve already thrown several in this post from the top of my head. But when deciding whether the idea is right for you to move forward with, there are several things to consider.

Are you passionate about this idea?

Building any game is not an overnight endeavor. Even if the build time only takes a couple months (which is fast for game development), you’ll still have to manage the game after it opens. Burnout is a real thing for game developers, and it's harder to overcome if you're not truly passionate about the project. It WILL be your baby. Love it, nurture it, and choose the idea that you will be all-in for the long haul.

Has it already been done?

The best thing you could do at this point in your game’s development is to conduct a competitor analysis. This means, joining AND playing any game that is similar to the one you’re thinking of building. Make a list of the features they have. Are they doing them well? Would you change anything? Is the game dying or thriving? What kind of community does it attract? There are so many ideas out there… if there is a game with your idea that is doing well, I would encourage you to abandon it and choose another idea that you’re passionate about.

Is it too much?

Some games can get to be too much for the game developer. Whether it’s too much art, too many features, or just too much in general. Ask yourself what kind of timeline are you looking at to develop everything you’ve dreamed in this game. If it’s 5 years from now, ask yourself where you’re going to be in 5 years? Will you still be working on this game? Could you make the scope of the gameplay smaller so you can get it off the ground, launched, and have it start to fund itself?

You have the idea and the plan, now what?

Congratulations! You have a game plan. Now you’ll need to figure out what you can do yourself and what you need to hire others for.

WARNING: Game development is not cheap. 

Even if you can do everything yourself, will you have enough time to devote? Will it be high enough quality for the end product? I can draw stick figures pretty well, but I would never consider putting them into a live game. 

Planning

This part should always be on you, the game developer. Even if you pull in someone else to help with ideas, YOU have the final say. This is your game. In order to better communicate your plan to others, you should consider writing a game design document which outlines the setting, gameplay, NPCs, items, etc. That way, if you need to look for others to work on or invest in your game, they’re on the same page you are. Here’s a helpful resource on what a game design document is and why you need one.

Programming

Make no mistake, THIS is going to be the biggest part of building your game. If you’re looking to hire a programmer, check out So you want to be a Site Owner, but have no idea anything about Programming. If you want to do it yourself, that’s great! You can do it yourself, even if you have no programming experience. There are tons of videos on Youtube for free, and our community is always around to help answer questions.

Art

Although programming is what will make your game unique, art is what draws players in. You can very easily lose a lot of money by going in the wrong direction with art. Be aware of the quality of art you’re purchasing. Is it what you want? Will it make your game stand out from others?

Writing

If you have any type of lore, writing will become a huge part of your game. Character dialog, item descriptions, etc, all need great writing to make the game immersive. Once your game is launched, writing is also essential in marketing.

Management

Are you going to manage it all yourself? You might consider hiring a community manager. There are also moderators to consider. Make sure that your team knows your goals and are aligned with them. 

Moving Forward

As you can see, there is a lot that goes into planning a game. This post has barely scratched the surface of what all is involved in planning. There are many, many games that have started and eventually stopped because the owners didn’t know the magnitude and immense responsibility of game development. It’s a lot. This is the first post in a game planning series that will hopefully shed some light on some key elements involved.

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Planning Your Game Part 2: How to plan programming

Not sure what to send to your programmer? This guide will help you communicate what you need to your programmer to get the best results. Doing the programming yourself? This is also for you to plan out your work and figure out timelines for yourself. 

 

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