Saturday, February 13, 2016

Developing in Groups: Why Developing by Yourself Doesn't Work (for some)

I've never successfully made a game by myself.  I remember that when I started doing development of games in high school, I'd get past the very initial stages of developing a game and scrap it because something about it "wasn't working" or I felt that I didn't have the ability to fully realize this game into something fully fleshed-out.

I like to pretend I actually finished this game

What I hadn't realized is that I was running into a stumbling block about my development personality that I didn't know existed - that I was really unable to do "closet development," or developing something totally by myself.  This "closet development" can't exist in a pure form - any game gets input from somebody at some point during development, even if that input doesn't have a direct effect on the outcome of the product.  That said, there's a pretty distinct difference between "Matt Makes Games" and "Matt and Greg Make Games," with the second implying that Greg has a pretty central role to the development of the title outside of Matt.

Now, a lot of "Matt-s" have made a lot of games quite successfully - Undertale, Braid, and FNAF to name a few.  But some developers simply cannot realize their potential without a Greg at their side to help.  I might even argue that, outside of the world of games with very specific story or mechanically-driven purposes, closet development without Greg almost never works.
 This came up when I Googled "I made it myself"

These are some of the benefits to working with at least one teammate:

  • A teammate keeps you accountable to the project
    • It's far easier to keep focused on development work if someone else is counting on your doing a share of the work.  This point is particularly important on projects that aren't destined or projected to make any money, since the primary incentive to continue the project essentially lies in finishing it. 

  • A teammate fills in your development weaknesses
    • This point should be pretty obvious, really.  To use my own development as an example - I'm not a very gifted artist.  Whenever I start a new project, the question that burdens me the most is "how am I going to make this game look pretty when I still can't reliably get the 'line' tool to draw correctly?"  I've only been able to actually finish the art on just a handful of my projects, so, planned or not, that job most often has to fall to some "Greg."
  • A teammate helps polish ideas and remove roughness in design
    •  Even if your teammate doesn't specialize in any particular task, they always offer very valuable ideas and feedback on what you're doing (and you generally offer good feedback for them as well).  No designer can truly see their game with a fresh perspective - far from it.  What seems like inconsequential quirks can actually mean the difference between a marketable game and a student project (I'm l looking at you, Rubber Ducky Beta).  A teammate who is dedicated to seeing the project work offers the best feedback on what flies and what doesn't.

So, in closing, let me complain a little.  Every game I start of my own volition fails, but every game that I start with a Greg generally ends up going farther and working better than either of us initially intend.  I cannot function as a closet developer.  Make sure you know whether you don't have the ability to develop on your own so you don't frustrate yourself out of development with un-finished projects and failed ideas.

Solus Deus
John Szymanski