What if we told you that you can create your own videogames … perhaps even for free?
In 2013, the highly addictive mobile game Flappy Bird made its debut and in less than a year, the title started generating an estimated US$50,000 (RM195,000) a day for its creator Dong Nguyen, an indie developer from Vietnam.
Now, we know how the story ends – Nguyen, unable to handle the massive success of Flappy Bird and the pressure it brought along, pulled out the popular game from the Google Play and Apple App Store not long after.
Flappy Bird may be no more, but the story proves that it doesn’t always take a big studio with hundreds of people to work on a game or make it successful. Nguyen, a self-taught programmer, worked alone on the game for about three days before releasing it.
There are many other videogames developed entirely by one person, namely Stardew Valley by Eric Barone, Banished by Luke Hodorowicz and Undertale by Toby Fox.
These titles went on to achieve substantial fame and success for their creators, and have encouraged more people to make games to showcase their vision and ideas.
However, there is a question one has to ask before embarking on this journey: “Will every game created by a single developer be as profitable as Nguyen’s endeavour?”
Probably not, says mobile videogame developer NightMorning’s business director Abu Huraira Md Jamil.
“Nguyen can be compared to a lottery winner. Just because someone won the lottery, we cannot go around telling others, ‘Hey, buy the lottery. This guy won and so could you’,” says Abu Huraira.
“So, it would be inadvisable to ‘sell’ game making by saying that massive fame and success are a given. That said, we can always use Flappy Bird as an example that a game with an idea as simple as keeping a bird afloat, is all it takes to keep millions of people happy around the world.”
First, think about the game you want to make, says Metronomik founder Wan Hazmer Wan Ab Halim, who previously was the Culture team lead designer for Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XV.
“Game designers need to seriously think about the kind of user experience they want to bring to the people who play the game,” says Wan Hazmer.
“Do you want them to be a gardener who explores a different universe, or promote the romance of travelling? There are so many things that designers can introduce with their game and it is important that they figure this out earlier on before starting work.”
If you’re lacking ideas, look around, he adds.
“People tend to forget that ideas abound, and even a mundane daily activity like brushing your teeth can be turned into a videogame. That’s why I always say that the best game designer experiences life more and designs less,” he says.
It is also necessary to create a prototype, a smaller version of the game with some working mechanics, and this can be done with just pen and paper.
One of the easiest ways is by making a flowchart that illustrates the actions and the results that follow.
It is also advisable to avoid including some things in their first game such as multiplayer functions, online community or 3D effects.
Another important tip is to remember to keep the game simple – think Flappy Bird and not Final Fantasy XV.
“You can if you want to but that’s a different story that involves a big working team and huge budget,” says Wan Hazmer.
“If you are just starting out, it is best to have a simple idea and then add on when you get better at it. You’re making a videogame, not a board game, so updates are possible.
“Once you have decided on the user experience and the mechanics on how to gamify it, then start scaling up by adding the necessary skills. If you don’t know programming then learn to code. That is one of the most important things.”
Another thing that is best figured out in the earlier stages is where to publish the game.
“Do you want to make the game available on mobiles or PCs?” asks Kaigan Games producer Shahrizar Roslan.
“A new developer should start small, and the smallest platform is mobile. However, do remember that mobile games have to face more competition than PC titles.”
There isn’t much difference between making mobile and PC game as the workflow is the same, says Abu Huraira. “With PC games, you have additional things to do like creating codes for the controls, and so on.”
You can make an entire game at no cost, says Abu Huraira who encourages newbies to explore the Internet and look for free products and platforms that would help them in their journey.
Two of the most popular game development engines in the industry are Unreal Engine 4 and Unity 5. The best part? They are both available for free.
According to Wan Hazmer, the engines let game developers create games with professional-calibre graphics, with lots of tutorials, active online communities and loads of resources that help even newbies to make games like pros for any platform. Users can utilise any of the features available on the engines for free.
There is a catch though. If you make your game free then you do not have to pay any royalty to Epic Games which owns Unreal Engine 4, but if you ship a game or application, you have to pay a 5% royalty on gross revenue after the first US$3,000 (RM11,700) per product, per quarter.
Unity 5 has two editions – Personal and Pro. The former is free for game developers with revenues or funding under US$100,000 (RM390,000) per year, though it will have a “Made with Unity” splash screen.
“One way to choose which development engine to work on is to give them both a try and decide which works best for you. Now that you’ve chosen the engine, start looking for graphics and sounds,” says Abu Huraira.
Visit Freesound.org or even SoundCloud for open source sounds and music, or head to OpenGameArt.org for tons of good game art that can be used legally in open source games.
What else do you need?
Game designer Jeremy Ooi of Kaigan Games believes that some people mistakenly think that they would need expensive computers and gadgets to start working.
That is furthest from the truth, he says. One can create games using just an ordinary laptop or desktop, though expensive technology doesn’t hurt either.
“Don’t spend money to buy things that would get outdated eventually. Instead, build on your knowledge and gain experience in areas that you are not familiar with, like programming, and develop the skills that you already possess. If you’re good at drawing, work on that to make your game art beautiful, or if you’re good at writing, work on creating amazing storylines for your game,” says Ooi.
Some colleges in Malaysia are offering courses in game development, though Shahrizar says not to fret if you aren’t enrolled in one.
“This team is made up of two accountants and one guy with a background in Physics. We didn’t learn game making in college – it was a skill that we picked up on our own. We did that when there wasn’t as much free information online regarding the industry as there is now. Anyone who is interested in this field should start picking up whatever skills and knowledge that they can,” he says.
“The only difference between those who learn on their own and those who went to college and studied the course is that the students are familiar with the working environment of a gaming industry. Just because you don’t have that experience from college doesn’t mean that you should give up a future in gaming altogether,” adds Shahrizar.
Milestones and timeline
A game can be done in either 48 hours or 10 years, and it all depends on how disciplined you are while working. One of the best ways to ensure that you finish your game is by setting goals, says Ooi.
“Tell yourself that you’ll make the game in, for example, three months. Set milestones to achieve every week, and make sure that you do stick to the timeline,” he says.
Another important thing to remember is to stick to the plan and not expand the game when in the development process.
“People tend to keep adding things to the game, without realising that they are complicating the game and taking up more time developing the game than completing it,” says Kaigan Games developer Shahazmi Roslan.
Abu Huraira reminds potential game developers to embrace failures. “Fail fast, and rise quickly. Don’t keep your game a secret because it wouldn’t do you any good. You created a game because you want people to play it and you need to know how they react to the game. If there is anything wrong with your game, and the earlier the mistake is spotted, the better is the outcome for you,” he says.
He also wants the new developers to remember the fun aspects of the game.
“You’re making the game because you want to have fun with it and so do others. If you let that motivate you, then you are set,” he says.
Abu Huraira adds: “Oh, the money is a motivation as well, but it cannot be the only one to get you through your dreams. Remember that not everyone can be like Nguyen who made waves with Flappy Bird in just one try. Sometimes, you need to be like the creators of Angry Birds, who got their success after over 50 failed attempts.”