As a first time, indie developer working on Plague Inc. for over a year, I found developer blogs and stories to be an extremely useful source of information and inspiration. Whilst waiting for Apple to approve Plague Inc., I wanted to share my list of Do’s and Don’ts for developers in a similar position to me (an idea, limited technical experience and a desire to release a great game)
- Identify a real gap in the market – this is a crucial point. The app store is a crowded environment where incremental change can struggle to be noticed. Whilst there are some great games which have fought their way to the top of a saturated genre, I believe it is far better to find an open space that lets you focus on making the ultimate game – rather than how to stand out against a horde of similar games. Plague Inc. sits in the ‘high strategy’ category, an empty space compared to most parts of the app store! (Although I always hope for more games!)
- Make the game you want to play – you will be spending a lot of time on your game, if you don’t feel truly inspired and excited by what the game could be – then what is the point!? I made Plague Inc. to be the in-depth strategy game that I had been searching for ever since I got an iPhone. Even after playing the game hundreds of times, I still enjoy trying out new strategies to devastate the world with a new Plague.
- Have a clear vision and stick to it – your initial design document (or envelope or scrap of paper) where you first capture your ideas must become your bible. Keep coming back to the pure vision and measure yourself against it. What changes have you made? What components have been cut? Does the game still support that first burst of creativity? The Plague Inc. that I released was quite different to the Plague Inc. that I first imagined but the core focus of a deep and meaningful strategy game remained throughout.
- Be prepared to spend (lots) of money – everyone knows you get what you pay for. If you have a fantastic game idea, then it is important to use money to deliver the skills that you lack, be it graphics, sound or technical. Don’t try to do things on the cheap.
- Find great people to work with – building on the previous point – it is rare for one person to be amazing at everything so bring other people on board (probably by paying them). Take the time to find the best people and don’t settle for less. Whilst it may be easy to hire an ‘ok’ person now, in the long run, it is always better to wait until you find the right person. For Plague Inc., I spent over a month talking/interviewing different people to find the people I needed. It was time well spent.
- Be too ambitious – Better to release a complete game with a smaller scope than never release at all. Everything always takes longer than expected!
- Mindlessly copy another game – Copying someone else’s game is pointless. It isn't creative, it isn’t fun and it is unlikely to be better than the original. Plague Inc. was inspired by the flash game Pandemic (and others) and I was wary of accidentally creating a clone. To avoid it, I developed and stuck to a clear vision of what Plague Inc. would focus on and how it would evolve the game play whilst avoiding the territory that had been claimed by Pandemic. The end result: a game with radically different mechanics and a more narrative driven, strategic game play that pushes the genre forwards
- Give up when you hit delays, problems or complications – these are part of the game making process and are challenges to be overcome. Plague Inc. had a 3 month pause in its development due to other priorities and whilst it was mildly frustrating, the team did not give up. Instead, we used the opportunity to recharge ourselves and then threw ourselves back into the game when ready