Iconica was finished in late 2007 and released in 2008. Its creation took about eight years total, since it involved grounding the game in the backstory which is set in the World of Rynaga.
After 10 years of supporting Iconica, I’ve learned more than a few lessons about game design. Here are some of the most impactful takeaways I’ve had so far.
Plan resource investments
My wife is an treasured partner in this project. I often refer to “our company” or “our game” because I consider her such a great contributor. Her sensibilities around finances and resource management have helped me a ton. But I’ve made mistakes in judgement even with her guidance.
When things started moving with Iconica and we were coming to the point of production, I chose a vendor partner who would gang run our printing. This, I thought, would be cost-effective. It was. However, print quality suffered. And when this led to lost print runs and wasted resources, I decided to go with a local vendor. This meant spending more money on production values, but created a better product for the customer.
Another thing. If you must use credit to pay for business investments, use it for things you will pay off within days, not months. This seems like a no-brainer but it's easy to rationalize on the time it will take to pay back a credit charge. This was another pitfall I fell into early on. Bouncing back was rough, but that lesson will last a lifetime and has taught me to be more calculating with investments months in advance.
Take it slow
“Game design” sounds awesome. It’s two things most of us love - fun games and cool design. But it's easy to underestimate the work involved. Often, game design is more about things like psychology, math, and testing. These things take patience and time to do right.
When it comes to the speed at which games get done, I’ve learned to curb my expectations. Currently, I have ideas in progress for three different experiences. I’m tending to each one for specific things. I’ll do some work on overall design here, crunch some numbers there, and make some mockups for another project. It’s all part of cultivation. Each project has to get done, but the process is usually years not months.
The bottom line is: good game design is time intensive work. At the end of the process will be the final game. Players will be able to sense the work you’ve invested. And they will either support your game and champion it OR they will be unimpressed and ignore future releases. The stakes matter.
Avoid big talkers
Exhibiting at cons is awesome. It allows for connections with folks on a real and personal level. It provides me with valuable insights into how customers perceive our creations.
Over the years attending such events (and online in general), I’ve been approached by well-meaning business people who are ready to offer big money to license our work OR people who want us to enter into seemingly lucrative agreements. The one thing that’s helped me avoid disastrous partnerships is asking lots of questions.
Simple questions such as:
- What do you expect to gain from this partnership?
- Are you open to a signed agreement?
- In your view who retains copyright?
- Can you point to some experiences you've had with similar deals?
- Name two other creators you've worked with. What was the result of your collaborations?
- Why do you want to partner with me?
- What do you expect from me?
Some would-be collaborators are put off by people who ask questions. As business owner, I can’t afford to work with people who are not transparent. I’m guessing you’d feel the same.
Next week I’ll finish out this two-part post with a few more game design lessons.