Dazed and confused – The search for my next game
With March of the Living having done well, I am now living the dream of being paid to think about game development all day long. It’s pretty cool.
There’s one small problem though, I have no idea what game I will work on next. Sure, I won’t make anyone cry over this but if you’re wondering what goes through the mind of a full-time indie dev after his first success… well, there you have it.
Oh but I have plenty of ideas. I released 14 games in 9 years so I always come up with something. So yes, tomorrow I can start to work on something right away but I won’t. The reason is simple, I not only want to work on something I will enjoy but also on something that might also have a decent chance of being more recognizable than the bazillion of games released on Steam every week. It might seem like an obvious objective but pretty much all my other games were “games I wanted to make” without giving much thought about what kind of effect (or lack of) they would create in other people’s eyes.
I don’t pretend to know exactly what made MotL so more successful than all my other games combined but I’m pretty sure that when I say FTL + Zombies that no other game comes to mind beside March of the Living. FTL is a beloved and popular game and zombies, well, they’re a familiar concept extremely popular in games and television. Put these two together with the right execution and I guess it might start to explain something.
So MotL can be clearly identified in a sea of games. That’s good and that’s something I’d like to recreate. I mean that I want my next game to be easily described and recognizable as even if I make something good, if it just appear to be like 50+ other games than it might not work.
I started to dig a concept I had in mind and after doing a simple sketch in Photoshop I paused a bit and started doing research about what other games it could be compared to. I stopped searching after finding 6 games all looking more or less the same that were sharing way too much with the idea I was exploring. Does it mean I should throw away this idea? Maybe not but I definitely need to revise a lot of it if I don’t want it to be “just that other game looking like all these others”. It wouldn’t be a clone or just the same concept with a twist but I don’t feel like it has enough going on for it to be a success.
Just because my last game is a success it doesn’t mean I can predict how successful my next game will be of course. It’s just my guts telling me this idea is too beige. Maybe it just need refinement, maybe I haven’t found the right angle yet but this is how I feel right now. When I pitched FTL + Zombie, the effect was immediate. I sure had no idea if or how successful it would be but I was able to easily transmit my excitement for the project. That’s what I’m looking for again now.
I browsed Steam a lot today and very few games caught my attention. I deliberately stick to the short description of each games and then I would automatically dismiss most of them as being uninteresting. I quickly check the number of reviews and stats on Steamspy while comparing to MotL and saw that in most cases my first impression about these games not having great potential seemed to be right on spot. Not that they are not good games that I could spend hours on them but they still failed to catch my attention, even less to get me to fetch my wallet.
If I’m honest and apply the same process to my other game Human Extinction Simulator, I must admit it doesn’t do much either to catch my attention. Unless I’m badly in need of a new tactical space battles game I might very well skip it even though if I think the mechanics are interesting and different from other games. It just doesn’t sell itself very well. That’s what I want to avoid for my next game.
I’m not necessarily waiting to come up with the concept of the century but I don’t want to work on something good that easily falls in the shadows of similar games.
But the concept itself isn’t the only thing that can sell a game. If I tell you “stealth assassin game” it can mean a thousand things. The implementation can make all the difference. Maybe the visual genre standout. Maybe there’s a particular mechanic never seen before that gets people excited to try this new spin. Maybe it’s how the game is presented (not talking about quality but it can be 1st person, side view, isometric, etc.). The trick however is to find the best mix possible of all these things.
To put it in other words, before, I was working on ideas I liked and was hoping others would think they were cool. Now, I’m a bit more conscious about what I myself expect from games and want to apply the same criteria to what I will work on next. Finding an idea I’m comfortable with for my next game is now a bit more difficult than before. For good or bad, I don’t know yet.