Developer Diaries 1: Getting Started


Why Write Developer Diaries?

Creature College is currently winging its way towards our distributors ready for mailing out to all the lovely people that pledged for a copy of the game so our minds here at Happy Otter Games have turned to the creation of our next project.

I thought it might be interesting for anyone else thinking about creating a game to understand some of the process I’m going through when thinking about designing a new game. So I’m going to write these developer diaries as a record of the set of problems that I’m trying to work through whilst developing the new game.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Whilst Creature College funded it didn’t quite hit the sweet spot for Kickstarter. I’ve written an entire article on why I think this was, so I’m not going to go into further detail here. What I will say is please be honest with yourself. What do I mean by this? It’s really easy as a game designer to get dragged down into your own enthusiasm for your game and not see that it doesn’t have the legs it needs to make it on Kickstarter. Ask the community and listen to what they’re telling you. They’re going to be the one’s buying the game.

As we’ve approached the new game I’ve been determined that we were going to hit Kickstarter bang on. A lot of this is about understanding your market; there are many different games that seem to do well on Kickstarter but three things seem to be critical:

  • Theme – While almost any theme can work on Kickstarter there are some themes that seem almost guaranteed to draw people’s attention if done well – Steampunk, generic fantasy, viking, dragons, and a few others. We polled the community and both Viking and Generic Fantasy polled equally highly leading to our choice of theme for the new game.
  • Artistic Style – it’s very important to get this right. For our new game we found five great artists and asked them all to deliver a piece of artwork based on a very specific brief. We then showed the artwork to the community to find out which artist’s work seemed to resonate.
  • Branding and Design – The elements that you design around your artwork and the branding have to make your game look like something people will want to play. We’re very fortunate to be able to work with a couple of brilliant designers based in Buenos Aires.

It’s a little trite to hold these three items up and make them sound like the only thing that matters. Many other things go into making a Kickstarter game successful, marketing, game-play, play testing, reviews, design of your Kickstarter page, the video, pricing, pledge structure, miniatures, your own track record, I could go on and on. However if you get theme, artistic style and design right you’ll be a long way to having a successful game.

Game Mechanics First?

Perhaps oddly I tend to think about theme and artistic style before I think about the actually mechanics of the game. I suspect everyone has a different way of developing a game but I figure out how I want the game to feel before ever putting pen to paper for the mechanics.

Part of this is aesthetic, I want the game to feel like something people want to play. There’s nothing quite as validating as putting up a piece of artwork and on that basis alone someone writing “shut up and take my money”. The feel of the game is often what will make it easy or hard to market. Interestingly some friends of mine went to a talk by the fabled game designer Reiner Knizia at the Cheltenham literature festival a few years back expecting a weighty discussion on game mechanics. What they got was a treatise on how important marketing is in the game publishing business. Get the right feel to a game and it will sell because of what people perceive it to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that game mechanics should be an afterthought, just that they don’t have to be the first thing that you do.

Realistic Budget

Building and marketing is likely to cost you money which, unless you’re phenomenally successful, you won’t make back in the first year. Scribble yourself out a budget with realistic costs for artwork, design, materials, marketing, attending shows, video production and prototype production. Be realistic here, I probably spent around $10,000 on Creature College to get it off the ground and my new game will probably cost around $15,000. Even if you’re very talented and can do all your own artwork and design you’ll still need money for marketing and show attendance.

Also, unless you manage to hit it big on Kickstarter with your first game, don’t expect to make any money initially. Once I’ve sold all my copies of Creature College from the first print run, which I’m guessing will take me a couple of years, I may make $2,000 – $3000.

So What Have We Done So Far?

We’re already a little way into our second game project so I thought it might be useful to catalogue what we’ve done so far:

  • Theme – after a lot of research we’ve decided to go for a Fantasy Viking theme. Out of the 60 or so respondents we had to our surveys Fantasy came out as by far the highest scoring genre
  • Artwork – We asked five very talented artists to create a piece of concept artwork for our game and based on community feedback we chose a couple of artists to work with us.
  • Brand – Working with the same designers we used for Creature College we’ve created a name and brand for the new game which we will trademark once we have the final logo files
  • Core game loop and initial game mechanics – We’ve figured out what the core game loop of our game should be, in this case and very roughly it’s get goods, to explore so that I can complete quests, win artifacts to transform my characters so that they win honour points and become better and getting goods.
  • Plan out the events calendar for the year – We’ve purchased stands at our big annual events. For us that means UK Games Expo and Essen Spiel 2016. Figuring this out is great because it gives us points in the year that we want to work towards. For instance I know that I want new company branding work completed for UK Games Expo and hopefully a playable demo of the new game.

While all this is going on it’s important not to forget our current game which as I type is currently in the air and winging its way towards our distributors. In order to be trusted to run a second Kickstarter campaign it’s very important that I deliver on the first!

I hope this has been useful to folks. If you would like to have a general chat about game design or have any specific questions please do drop me a line at, but if you haven’t read Jamey Stegmaier’s excellent blog posts please, please go and read that before you do *anything* else! 🙂


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