They gave me a few suggestions. Maybe they're right, maybe they're wrong. Maybe I'll have the intelligence to listen to them.
- Get an artist. They've said this before, this is one that I've resisted before, but it's probably true. I need to get somebody else to make my game pretty. I think it's OK, but I'm a programmer, and programmers (as a rule) go for functionality over prettiness. The screenshots bear this out.
- If you want to reach into "mass market", you've got to make it simpler, simpler, and simpler still. I'm not sure that I'm committed to the mass market. There are niches that aren't completely saturated, and maybe the complex logic puzzler is who I should go for. Or perhaps making the game simpler is something I should do. Making games that I want to play is one thing, but if I want other people to enjoy it, I have to concede that the crowd that still remembers how to solve a Rubik's Cube isn't that large.
- For a game company to be successful, rather like a restaurant, you want to develop a brand, and hopefully, a following. Then, sell to that market. This one's another hard lesson. Wisdom I don't want to hear. I like thinking that having a broad spectrum of interests is good, but it makes sense to think that a business ought to focus to some degree. Focus isn't my best suit. I'm doing this puzzle game now, my next game is either a side-scroller or a role playing game. Essentially no crossover there. The puzzle players almost invariably have no interest in a "Dungeons & Dragons"-like hack-and-slash fest. And vice versa. I don't really want to make puzzle games forever. Hack and slash, yeah, I could do that. Maybe not forever, but for a while.
- There are other game companies out there. Not exactly a lesson, but they mentioned Game House, another local developer. I downloaded "Shape Shifter" from them, and it's an interesting lesson to me. The mechanics are REALLY SIMPLE. Remember being a 3 year old, and picking up the square block and putting it in the square hole? Ok, you can play this game. Simple mechanics help, I guess.
As a result of all this, I've come to some conclusions:
- Finish Switch 2000, already. I really would rather be doing other things (working on other games, going outside and getting some fresh air) than working on Switch. This depends on a few other things, though.
- Try a simplification of the Switch mechanics. A college buddy made a game which ripped off and simplified the original version of Switch. Seems appropriate for me to rip off his simplification in return. It might make Switch too simple, but it seems like it might be worth trying. And the lesson that I haven't yet learned is that when you think you're making it too simple, it might yet not be simple enough.
- Try a simplification of the Switch menus. "Shape Shifter" has a really simple start screen. Two buttons in the middle of the screen, both which take you into the game. You can get to more complex stuff by clicking on the button on the side of the screen. But simple and direct.
- The sooner you hit your stride, the better. This kind of ties in to a lesson learned from They Might Be Giants' "Dial a Song" service. TMBG learned a lot of lessons about songcraft by putting versions of their songs up on an answering machine. If people hung up in the middle of a song, that was a hint that 50 layers of guitar wasn't as cool to the listener as it was to them.
Iterate often, listen to what works, go with that.
But where this leads me is that I need to focus on games I want to spend time on. The difficult bit is that the games I want to spend time on require a lot of time. 3 month games allow you to hit your stride quicker than 18 month games. But you've got to pick the right games, or else you get stuck doing stuff you're not into.
Seems like there was more. I really ought to go work on Switch. But instead I'm going to drive to Fry's.