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September 18, 2019, 08:26:21 AM

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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperDesignPivot or polish?
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AoF
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« on: May 14, 2019, 05:47:38 PM »

TL;DR: How do you know when you should polish a game VS give up on it and pivot to something new?

Hello!  Sorry but this is going to be a wall of text to both rant and give context (more for the latter).

I've been working on a game for 5-6 months and gotten feedback throughout the process. I'm at a point now where about 25%-50% of the people who play it say they're intrigued and, without provocation, have offered to play the next version to help me beta test it.  There have been 2-3 people that, after playing my demo, have donated to me, which is really cool and I appreciate it immensely.  Only 164 people have ever tried the game.

The game has some polish.  There are non-animated character sprites, some sound effects, and a legit background.  Other than that, it's all missing or placeholder.  Occasionally, someone will say the sound effects are annoying, but most don't.  There's no background music, many places that should have sound effects don't have any, and some of the visuals are simply missing, etc.  

Feature wise, what I've got is little more than a vertical slice of gameplay, but by this time in the project, I'd hoped that the vertical slice of gameplay would be complete.   There's a level->upgrades->level loop, and after the level finishes, you can buy upgrades and clothes to dress your characters any way you want, but it doesn't seem to keep people playing for long.  I understand that, because when you buy an upgrade, it does little more than make it faster to buy future upgrades.  It doesn't really change the gameplay that much.  

The average session duration is 11 minutes.  Nothing I do seems to do increase that.  At this point, it feels like I'm just pulling random ideas out of my butt, implementing them, seeing how people react, and repeating.  But the goalpost of "fun game," never seems to get any closer.  This has made me hesitant to make any huge additions, since nothing small I work on seems to help, I feel like working on something big could be a huge time sink with no payoff.

What's disheartening is that nobody has ever, ever said my game is fun.  If the feedback is positive, it's always, "Keep with it!" or "I'm intrigued!" or "Looking forward to how this turns out."  As I said above, the most demoralizing part is there is no obvious path I see to go from what I've currently got to someone thinking, "Wow, that was really fun!"  

When I get negative feedback that's constructive, it tends to be about how the game feels like a minigame and they can't envision this being anything you'd play for more than 2 hours no matter what I did with it.  While playing, others say, "Why am I doing this?  What's the point?"  

Right now I'm feeling like *I* can't figure out how to make this game fun.  I also can't tell how much more fun polish would add.  Can polish be a game changer, something that makes a boring game fun?

I've talked to some about pivoting to a different genre.  I wouldn't throw away what I worked on, but I'd rework it into a minigame for my new game.  I've gotten positive support about this, especially from those people who have negative opinions about my current game, but want to help.  

Sorry to be over dramatic, but before me stands a crossroads.  I don't know if I should put time and money into polishing what I've currently got or accept that it should be fun by now and pivot to another idea.  

Here's a link to my last Feedback Friday post on reddit, if anyone wants even more context than I've given.  https://www.reddit.com/r/gamedev/comments/bk3ogs/feedback_friday_338_important_decisions/emfj1mg/
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ThemsAllTook
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« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2019, 11:21:40 AM »

Can polish be a game changer, something that makes a boring game fun?

It definitely can. Several years ago, I was part of a community that did yearly game development contests. Entrants had 3 months to develop whatever they wanted, and each entry was judged in several categories, like gameplay, art, etc. One year, someone entered a game that had unusually shallow gameplay - he self-described it as a "hold-the-button clone", where the game basically consisted of holding down the mouse button on an object for a while with almost no other interaction. However, he put a huge amount of effort into the presentation, with impeccably polished art, sound effects, animations, and everything else. Everyone loved it, and it did well in almost every category that was judged. This was before the days where "clicker games" existed, but that's probably another good example of this phenomenon.

At this point, it feels like I'm just pulling random ideas out of my butt, implementing them, seeing how people react, and repeating.  But the goalpost of "fun game," never seems to get any closer.  This has made me hesitant to make any huge additions, since nothing small I work on seems to help, I feel like working on something big could be a huge time sink with no payoff.

Is the game fun for you to play? I feel like that's the most important first step. When you hit on a core loop that deeply resonates with you, that gives you intrinsic motivation to polish it up in a way that makes it more fun for the kernel of an idea that you can see inside it. Bridging the gap between "fun for me" and "fun for everyone else who likes the types of things I like" sounds easier to me than to try to figure out from feedback how to make a not fun experience into a fun one.

Sometimes an idea just doesn't work out. It's unpleasant, but the sooner you can discover this and move on, the less time you waste on something that's ultimately not going anywhere. Personally, I've found that I can often fall into a trap on a project where I get too entrenched in certain decisions I've made about the game early on. For my current project, I've been very deliberately keeping it flexible, and giving myself permission to reinvent large swaths of game mechanics if I think I can do them better a second time. As long as I have that internal driving force of "this is cool, but I'd like it more if it were like THIS instead", I know I'm still on the right track. If I find myself committed to something that just makes me feel apathetic, it's a sign that I'm drifting off course and need to rethink some core part of my design.

I don't have any more specific advice, but maybe this will help somehow?
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