Ever since one of my favorite Actionscript game development bloggers (Emanuele Feronato) posted on his site about ‘Flash Mind Meld‘, I have been waiting to go through it. Sixty ‘Experts’ give their tips on creating successful flash games in 60 seconds. Sounds amazing, right? Free advice from 60 guys and gals good enough to be counted as top flash game developers.
I just finished listening and taking notes on all the sound bites, and wanted to provide a summary of what I had heard.
I was happy to see Emanuele on there, but there were also some other big names, such as Jim Greer from kongregate, Sean Cooper who started game development in 1987, and worked on the PC title ‘Magic Carpet’ at bullfrom games, Tom Fulp, creator of newgrounds.com, alien hominid, castle crashers, and many other developers, a lot I hadn’t heard of, but had seen their games.
Here is a bullet point list of what some of the developers said that I found useful:
- Make games that are simple and quick. Don’t plan on spending a lot of time in development before seeing what people think of it. The advice ranges from spending 2hrs on programming, to spending two weeks to a month. This is good advice because you can find out whether a concept works relatively quickly, and can get feedback from people testing the concepts early on.
- Make games re-playable by giving in game achievements and unlocking content- reward players for playing through multiple times. I think this is a good way to add re-playing because it gives casual players a way to get through quick, but also wonder about extra things in the game, and come back to try to find them, or even to have them feel like they ‘completed everything in the game’. Achievements aren’t too hard to add, but they can give a lot more for the player to do ‘if they chose to'(important part).
- Make games social. Not just in trying to add in the facebook API to ‘compete high scores with friends’, but also advice such as to throw something memorable in the game so your game stands out. Make it easy for someone to describe your game to a friend, instead of it just being ‘another shooter game’. One example was a developer that made a game where a slug crawls into a cat box and explodes – since it was ‘unique’ or crazy, it might be more memorable.
- Have a good team. If you’re a great programmer, find a good artist and musician. This is something I’ve discovered is true in all sorts of business- outsource what you suck at, and work on what you’re good at. Sure, you can be good at everything, but it will save time, and allow each piece to be perfected by each person a little more if you can offload some of the work. Plus, spending a month trying to get a concept created and being tired of the game vs. a week with a team means you’ll be less tired of the design, and able to think more creatively on your specific specialty.
- Win your audience in the first 30 seconds. This was a good piece of advice repeated over and over. Make your loader screen look awesome, make your menu screen interesting and usual. Make your thumbnail for your game want people to click on it. Make sure the first level of the game is easy, rewarding, and introduces features slowly to not overwhelm the player. This also includes making it easy to get into the game- make sure they can start playing your game in less than 3 clicks. This advice is good, because most flash game players will be quickly looking at your game, decide whether to move on and play something else quickly, and will get bored quickly because there are so many alternatives.
- Make the player feel like they are learning things themselves. Appeal to their sense of discovery – instead of ‘here you unlocked magic balls’ – help them discover a new game mechanic, play with and master it.
- Look into popular themes, whats hot in tv, movies, media, ect.
- Distribute your games as far as possible- all game portals, ect, so you have a wide audience to play them.
- You can always add more features in sequels. This was interesting to me – to try to get your core game mechanics fun and working in your first game, if there is more you want to add, but isn’t really needed for the core game yet, add it to the sequel, then you have yet another game, and have your first one out in less time, and can determine how successful the first core concept is.
- Plan out beforehand as much as possible to avoid wasting a lot of time down the road.
- When the player does something, let them know they are doing something awesome. Reward them with cool sound effects, neat animations, ect. Look at ‘no more heroes’ for instance- repetitive boring gameplay, but pretty cool to see all the exaggerated feedback, and cutting several enemies apart with a quick swipe.
- Use comedy and humor to make your game stand out, even if the gameplay might be somewhat generic.
Kind of Useful Advice
(this is advice that can kind of still be useful, but not specific enough to really help)
- Decide how to monetize your game. From finding a sponsor, using ads in game or on the game portal, hoping to make money from your game, and deciding how to do it is probably something you do want to consider
- Make the game you want to play. This is true, and something to remember when deciding on what kind of game you would love to work on, but some of the magic might be taken out of playing the game yourself after hundreds of hours of work on it.
- Finish the game.
- ‘Polish the game until it shines’ – gameplay, sound, graphics…. everything…
- Make sure there is thought put into everything, the gameplay, user interface, background, ect.
- Put your personality into the game, so that it shows who you are, and a reflection of you.
- Get a distinct style (probably so people will remember your game and it will stand out).
- At the end of the game, make the player feel like the time that they spent on your game was worthwhile, and give reasons for them to want to play it again (to show their friends, unlock new features).
- Make sure your game is still fun the millionth time playing it (I don’t think this is true for most games- a lot of my favorite games I would only play once, until I forgot parts of it and wanted to re-experience it).
- Take a simple concept/idea and spend time making it work perfectly (so you create 10 games in a month, find one thats super fun compared to the others, then put your time into making that game great).
- Dont waste players time (so let them skip cut scenes, keep things moving, ect).
- Look at comments/ feedback for similar / other games. Do people like shooting ducks or bugs better? Go look at a similar game, look through the comments and feedback, and do some pre-design research.
- Dont be afraid to fail. Learn from your mistakes to make the next game better. Move on when your game starts going nowhere- learn when to quit and drop a concept and start working on something new.
- Use some sort of gameplay ‘Hook’ and build around it. Have some really fun basic idea, concept, gameplay, and build a game around it.
- Keep everything as simple as can be, make sure there is not any added complexity that doesn’t really add to the game.
- Make a complete game instead of 90% of one. Add menus, pausing, mute and sound effect off options, keymapping, and intro screen, tutorials.
- Add personalization, so it feels like ‘their game (though this conflicts with making it easy to get into a game fast, and playing without having to go through steps beforehand – at least for a lot of game types).
- A lot of flash game players are in offices or school environments (this gives you an idea of your primary audience, as well as keen ideas on how to design for them).
- Make your game fun and engaging from the start (using either an interesting story, ‘fun’ or innovative game mechanics, shiny graphics, or competitive gameplay).
Overall, some good advice throughout, and a few stinkers. Some good pieces of advice were repeated over and over again, as well as some bad pieces of advice.
Bad advice, to the question “how to make a successful flash game” includes “Make it ‘fun’” (no friggen duh), “make it have ‘tight controls’, super duper tight controls!”, “make sure it’s real polished, everything perfect, make the programming perfect, sound perfect, gameplay perfect… “.
Or even ‘don’t make a game because you want to make money, because then it will suck’…. kind of dumb – most people would like to get something back from the time they put into their game, whether it be popularity, or being able to pay their bills that month. Most games are made with the intent that they might be commerically viable to any degree….
Or “make your games completely unique”. I’ve read articles on the cost of making a brand new type of game, versus making one thats based on another type, and it’s much easier, and less time consuming to do the second. Plus, all ‘original games’ are usually built on other games. All content comes from somewhere else, it’s all a matter of how much it’s changed. Crysis is a first person shooter based on the same gameplay as ‘Wolfenstein 3d’, but it has some extra gimmicks to make it stand out more, as well as a unique storyline to discover.
I would assume that many have seen very poorly created flash games, and want to impress on newer developers to not just show some junk together and call it a game, but it doesn’t help developers looking for advice from experienced developers perspective
One for instance by ‘Chevy-Ray Johnston’ was particularly bad, with a strange ‘rap’ with no concrete advice…
To repeat, here’s a list of non helpful advice, some repeated by most of the developers…
- Make it ‘Fun’
- Have good Gameplay
- Don’t have bugs
- Make it have ‘tight controls’
- Make everything super polished, and perfect
- Don’t make a game with the intention of making money
- Make your game completely unique
Overall, I’d say between the 60 or so developers, about 1/2 had some useful advice, and I am very happy to have heard many experienced flash developers give their advice on creating a successful flash game.
The flash mind meld was also useful because a lot of the developers have blogs, so I can start checking out the developers I thought had useful information, and find out more of their thoughts on making successful games. That would be the only other thing I’d like to see- a link for some of the developers that goes into more than 60 seconds of detail about their thoughts on game design and development.