An Interview with Crytivo, Part 4: Tips for Developers

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Tips for Developers

In the fourth and final part of our interview with Crytivo, Alex Koshelnikov and Sasha Shumsky share tips for new developers on subjects such as attending gaming conventions, the importance of game design, and working with feedback.

An Interview with Crytivo, Part 1: The Company’s History through the Prism of Two Important Projects
An Interview with Crytivo, Part 2: From Developer to Publisher
An Interview with Crytivo, Part 3: Localization – Where Should You Start?

Oleg: We met at Gamescom 2017, when you were working on The Universim. Do you thinking conventions are a thing of the past? Do devs even need to go to them anymore?

Alex: Okay, I’ll give you the whole truth about cons :) Do they make a difference for developers? I don’t think so. What is a convention, after all? As far as we’re concerned, it’s a place where publishers show off to each other.

In our industry, a game’s mindshare is measured by how many Wishlists it has on Steam. That’s one of our primary analytics indicators. Anyone can look at those numbers and tell you whether a game is hitting the mark or not. Well, a convention isn’t any more effective at raising a game’s mindshare than a Steam festival, demo, or trailer. In fact, it might even be worse.

Sure, devs like cons. They dream about making it to them so they can tell everybody, “They showed my trailer on IGN!” And if we as a publisher don’t go to them, the same developer will start saying, “You guys must be worse than Devolver, since they’re always at this con and that con, etc.” No, we’re not worse than Devolver. We just don’t have as much money as them.

Sasha: I agree with Alex. It costs between five and fifty thousand dollars to show one game at a convention. That's fine if you're Ubisoft or EA and can blow a million bucks and rent out a whole pavilion. But the thing is, you can just take that money and use it to pay streamers, blow up YouTube, and get a ton of Wishlists and views. That’s gonna be ten times as effective as going to a convention.

Alex: For example, we went to Gamescom, and we've been to every PAX. We weren’t stingy – we handed out thousands of T-shirts and pins, we set up good thirty-by-thirty-foot booths, we brought moving dinosaurs, all that stuff – and we still haven’t made a dime off of any of it. We still keep going to cons every now and then, basically just to keep our developers’ morale up.

Now if a con gives us a free booth, that’s a different story – then we obviously have to go. Especially if it’s Indie Arcade or something like that. Sure, we’ll go to that. It’s a great time – there's parties, all sorts of cosplayers, and lots of activities.

Nikolai: Our interview's coming to end, so we’d like to ask you if you have any advice for new developers.

Alex: My first and only piece of advice is this: find yourself a game designer. We all want to have our own Fortnite and make $30 million a day. Well, if you want to make even 0.05% of that, you’re going to need a game designer.

Sure, you can make a game where all you do is throw a guy down a flight of stairs. There are people who just like physics. I like them in some games like – it’s fun to see your car get wrecked. There’s no story, just an engine that simulates things that happen in real life. But that’s not what I'm talking about right now.

So why is design the heart of a game? Games are built on special rules - they need to be cyclical. First you train the player. They beat the easiest level, and once they’re done, they say “I want more.” Then you gradually increase, then decrease the difficulty. It’s kind of like an EKG – first the player’s pulse shoots up. They feel like the game is pretty tough, so you decrease the difficulty a little. Then the player’s pulse goes back up, and they feel like an expert. Then you do it all over again. At the end of the day, the player feels satisfied because the game seemed really hard at first, but they gradually figured it out and ended up winning.

Oleg: I couldn’t agree more. It’s really great to let the player flex their muscles.

Alex: Needless to say, any type of game can be successful. Like Getting Over It, where a dude in a flowerpot climbs up a hill. Or Factorio, where you try to figure out what to match with what and how to do it so something happens until your eyes bleed. These are examples of successful exceptions to the rule. But remember the very first mission in Need for Speed? You’re driving this awesome car, and everything around you is blowing up, there’s this big car chase... it’s rad as hell. Then they take your car away, and they’re like, “So, did you like that?” “Yeah, I liked it.” “Good. Now go grind.” So you go and you grind. So, like I said earlier, you start things off easy, then raise the difficulty, and so on and so forth as the formula dictates.

Sasha: I’ve got a couple of tips, but from a slightly different perspective. If you ask me, the first thing you need to do is decide what you want to make and for whom. If your goal is to make money, then you need to look at what you like and what’s hot right now. You can find lots and lots of data online about the popularity of various game genres. Alex already touched on this from a game design perspective – for example, you’re better off making, say, a strategy game than a platformer, since there are tons of platformers out there, and not as many strategy games. By the same token, your chances of success are higher with a strategy game because there’s less competition in that genre and players are more into them right now. If you want to make a product for yourself, you can’t go into it expecting to make a million bucks. You can make an awesome platformer... that no one other than you will ever play.

Sure, sometimes you can combine these two things – if I’m nuts about strategy games, I can make a game in a popular genre that’s also for me. That’s probably your best option right there.

And here’s another tip: as depressing as it might sound, you need to not listen to your friends and family too much and try to show your project to strangers as much as possible. Developers are always surrounded by people saying, “You’re my friend, your project is amazing, you’re totally gonna make it.” So a lot of them think, “Great, that means I’m moving in the right direction. Everything’s gonna be A-okay.” But in reality, you might be setting yourself up to fail, since it can be really hard for your friends and family to tell you the truth. It’s way easier for them to say they like your project.

Alex: I mean, it makes sense, right? During the early access phase, your project is always going to be surrounded by fans, not haters. Consequently, you end up with nothing but positive feedback from 300 people you’ve already sold your product to. They all tell you your game is the next Vallheim or whatever. Well, don’t listen to them. Go ask the experts what they think.

It’s good when you have lots of reviews and stable feedback, but if you don’t have a lot of fans or anyone to get feedback from, go find an expert. Talk to a friend who works at a stable game company. Maybe they can talk to a game designer and ask them to take a look at your game and tell you what’s what. Then you’ll get honest feedback that can help you make your project better.

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