Experimenting with Find the Gnome

Find the Gnome is a game I build with the purpose of experimenting:

  1. What is the state of my game development and production quality?
  2. Can I use my previous experience in business software development to amplify a start in game development?
  3. My own art. Does it sell?
  4. Can I get a base income when I create 3 games in 2 years?

I did build Find the Gnome from November 2017 to June 2018. The release page you can find over here.

Here are the results of my experiments:

1. My qualities

Question: What is the state of my game development and production quality?
Conclusion: I did all of it (idea, production, marketing) and it doesn’t sell.

A little background: I had to create a game whole by myself to find my qualities, with the limitation of 50 hours in half a year. So… 500 hours, 8 months and a lot of scope creep later the product was shipped and I had a near burn-out for asking too much from myself.

There are a few goods and bad’s, and a lot of ‘you cant blame that on yourself’:

  • The Good
    • Coding: The quality of the software and tooling where quite good, for my standards. Quick to build, easy to adapt.
    • Pipeline: It was easy to publish.
    • Gameplay: Fun concept. Or that’s what the reviews said.
    • UI: Oke-ish interface that get’s things done.
    • Marketing: I had an active development blog and vlog during the development. I also actively did product quality research with users.
  • The Bad
    • Gameplay: It turned out to be a one-trick pony, had few content, and very little variation. Main problem was choosing 3D and having no experience creating 3D content, and not be able to automate content creation.
    • Pipeline: It was very hard to create content and hard to integrate content. Could have used a lot more automation.
    • Art: It just is a wrong combination of styles and colors. And I shouldn’t have chosen 3D for this kind of game, almost nobody does.
    • Marketing: I did think the game would sell itself. I did not use social canals for selling. And did not adjusting the development on the outcome of user research (why do research if you won’t adjust course).
  • No Blame
    • Marketing: being visible as a game is extremely hard in this very crowded global market. And there was no reference point for my game buyers: very few games do action 3D hidden object.
    • Art: 3D is very resource intensive and requires a lot of experience to get right. So no blame I couldn’t succeed.
    • Production: having the goal to do it all by myself to find out my qualities limited on forehand the quality of the total production.

For more details, see the blog posts I wrote on these subjects:

2. Amplification of game development skills

Question: Can I use my previous experience in business software development to amplify a start in game development?
Conclusion: Yes but specifically with a background in software development you have to focus on heavy delivery pipeline automation, and to rely on others for content.

These are the things I did find:

  • The game engines are good nowadays. Not that much coding is needed. However I did find a lot of anti-patterns in the Unity code-less environment that damage maintainability over time.
  • The availability of knowledge on creating games is high. As a software developer you are used to incorporate knowledge and patterns so this makes for a quick start. However I did find a lot of bad advice that will slow you down on the long term.
  • There is not that much flexibility in tooling, most of the time it is for a dedicated kind of delivery pipeline. It is hard to use it to its fullest potential without locking you in on a brand or a practice. Same for the free and payed store assets.
  • You need a lot of knowledge of the whole delivery pipeline before you can effectively start automating. These are the area’s you need automation in: gameplay concepts, UI concepts, tooling, 3D modeling, 2D modeling, locomotion, 3D lighting concepts, materials (with 3D properties), level design and optimization, sound design.
  • Automation is hard to do right. You can change things quickly but it is very hard to keep all components in the game aligned and not screw-up the gameplay experience. And most of the time the automation is limited in specific area’s so you need to still do a lot of hand work, or accept that some area’s aren’t up to your standards.
  • Automation in publishing and marketing is also needed. Keeping the updates going to the users with matching visuals and documentation is a lot of work.
  • I thought my knowledge in software development methods would help me out. Skills like DevOps and Agile Scrum and such. Well, I had the mindset right because I knew how to get work done. But current game creation (tooling, publishing) isn’t aligned with these practices. Further more, the end-users expect full-fledged max quality products so that doesn’t align either. The market seems to be changing though.

3. Does my art sell

Question: My own art. Does it sell?
Conclusion: Well, apparently not

This question is a combination of an assumption and a question: is what I created art, and does my creation reach an audience that will pay for it.

Well, the question if Find the Gnome is ‘art’ is a hard one. I read a few articles on what’s ‘art’ and it turned out to be a hornet nest I don’t want to get involved in.
For me it seems to be a more psychological thing: I do value things I create, I have a message I want my thing to bring, so I name it ‘art’.

From an analytical standpoint I had the following findings:

  • I did not receive that much money. It is probably due to a combination of factors: not reaching the right audience, having art too narrow for an audience, too much variation of quality within the art, low overall art quality, unclear message the art is portraying.
  • I wanted to make art because I thought all games should be art and portray a message. I think this is the biggest problem of them all: there where a lot of other things I was experimenting with too, there was just too much ‘doing things different’ going on that confused me and the end-users.
  • During the making of this art I kept learning a lot, I was busy learning my own taste. That makes it hard to create art with a consistent message and good quality.
  • In my head I had it all visually sorted out. But I couldn’t get it out in a tangible form. Probably due to not enough experience creating art content.

4. Creating a base income

Question: Can I get a base income when I create 3 games in 2 years?
Conclusion: It is hard to create 3 games in 2 years, and if you are super good or just lucky you can get enough money out of a game for a base income.

Well, I know I’m going to sound sour when saying the following: with the quality of games I produce at the moment it is just pure luck if I could get money out of it. In the current market you need a lot of quality to make it as an individual developer, and still need to be extremely lucky with exposure.
So I for sure can’t get a good income out of my games with the current quality of games I make.

I was inspired by people who said ‘just start making games, in the long run they will get you an income’. I think that could still be true, but times have changed a lot. I did a blog on this, see ‘starting a game company‘ for more on this.

Another thing I learned is that you need to be able to continuously create games. That is much harder than it sounds. Staying motivated, getting money from other sources if needed. I watched a lot of motivating video’s before deciding to give game development a go myself, but most of it didn’t work out for me the way those video’s portrayed. I did a blog on this, see ‘to succeed create something you love it seems‘.

3 games in 2 years is very hard work if you do it besides another job, have a wife and 2 kids, and have commitments like a mortgage.
For me the hard work incorporated getting myself together, deal with the present, accept current quality and prevent scope creep. I didn’t know these things were so hard to do, but apparently they are.

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