It's no secret that the recent democracy of game development tools and distribution methods have made it a better time than ever for fresh new faces to enter the world of game development. But those things can only take you so far.
Insomniac Games CEO Ted Price has learned a lot over his last 18 years of shipping games. And to a packed audience at the PAX Prime Expo in Seattle, he shared his four core tips for shipping games that stand out above the crowd, that help move the art forward.
1. Do one thing better than anyone else
The good news when you're starting a fresh, new project is that anything is possible. The bad news is that...anything is possible.
"For us at Insomniac...usually the most difficult part of getting started is getting started," says Price.
Twice now since its 1994 inception, Insomniac has had idea jam sessions, going up on the office rooftop with a keg of beer and brainstorming ideas for new games, coming up with a lot of crazy ideas for what would ultimately be a very complex project.
"It was a complete waste of time," he says.
"We weren't asking the right question. What does our game do better than any other game?"
Find that one thing you can do better than anyone else, and let it inform the rest of your development.
2. Fun comes first
Fun is hard to define. It's one of those things that we know when playing, but getting to the fun is hard.
In order to find the fun, you have to try and fail, over and over again, and never assume it will just materialize later.
The trap most of us fall into, says Price, is that once a game is running, we convince ourselves that it will be better once art and story and audio are implemented.
"That's dangerous!" says Price. "That's putting off the inevitable."
"All the fun stuff -- story, character, visual -- has to be subservient to fun. And once you figure out what's fun you have to prove it every single day."
3. Define your audience
Ask most ambitious young game designers who their games are targeted at and they'll give you the same, poisonous answer: everyone!
Today, more than ever, that is a very dangerous answer. Today's audience is incredibly diverse, and you have a much better chance of reaching your audience if you segment it.
Is it a mobile audience? "It better satisfy in seconds." Is it a hardcore shooter? "Your camera and controls better be second-to-none." Is it for the Facebook crowd? "Virality better be a core part of your design."
4. Make it personal
"The creation process should be an intensely personal experience," Price says. "You are sharing your interests and experiences and putting yourself in everything you make."
When you make your project personal, it shows. Put yourself (or all of yourselves) in your game, and your game will stand out.