It's getting closer and closer to release day, and you're running out of time to finish your game, but you're torn between adding those extra few features and polishing up what you already have. What should you do?
Although some days it might feel like you've got all the time in the world, the truth is you don't. When it comes to game development, your time, your finances, and the rest of your resources are always going to be limited. Here's a list of things you should ask yourself before you do anything:
- How much time do you have?
- How much money do you have?
- Are you going to lose any important human resources, like your main programmer or artist?
Let's look at that last question in a little more depth.
Are You Going to Lose Any Important Human Resources?
The main thing you need to consider, in terms of human resources, is how critical these people are to your game. Is your game going to be easy to continue developing if you lose these people? Will you have to replace these people? Can you even replace these people? Replacing people takes time and, if you do it in the middle of development, you'll likely end up with some inconsistencies in your game.
If you're going to lose people, you’ll probably be better off polishing your game rather than adding depth to it. It's not easy to predict how long it will take to implement additional features because you've never added these features to this game before! Finish your game with the people that you have now. You can always find new people to work on a sequel, if you'd like to revisit your game and implement additional features later. Players will have an easier time accepting discrepancies between a sequel and the original, rather than in the middle of the game they’re currently playing.
If you're concerned about keeping consistency when revisiting a game, it’s okay for a sequel to be a little different—and it doesn't even have to be a sequel. If the game is too different to be considered a true sequel, call it a spiritual successor. My point is, you have options. Don't stress. Clean up what you have now; worry about new stuff later.
How fun your game is is critical to making a decision between focusing on polish or focusing on depth. Is your game fun right now? Why or why not?
My Game is Fun
If your game is fun, then you don't really need to add more depth, do you? Sure, your game might be even more fun with an additional feature or two, but do you have the resources to accomplish that? Is it worth the risk? Do you even know how long it would take or how much it would cost to add features?
Personally, I tend to err more on the safe side. You could always add polish now and end up with a clean, completed version of your game. Then, go back later with an update and add features to your polished version. If anything, like previously stated, you could release the game a second time with new features and call it a sequel. If your first game is successful, you'll already be paving the way for a second successful game.
My Game is Not Fun: There Are Too Many Bugs
This one's a no-brainer! You've heard of the saying "If it ain't broken, don't fix it"? Well your game's broken, so guess what you've got to do? Fix it! Polish it up! Just look at how many people were upset about EA's Battlefield 4 being released as a broken game. Ignoring major bugs is a surefire way to upset your players. A broken game with lots of features is still a broken game.
My Game is Not Fun: It Just Doesn't Feel Fun
At this point, polish probably won't make your game fun. You have two options: add features or start a new game. If you've invested a lot of resources into your game already, you might want to stick with it and try to figure out what's missing. Just realize that more features can also mean more bugs.
Ask yourself, if you've made it to this point and your game still isn't fun, what would make it fun? Take the time to run through some quick prototypes. If you can't come up with anything that seems promising, it may be wise to scrap the game and start again.
My Game is Not Fun: It's Both Buggy and It Doesn't Feel Fun
You need to figure out why it’s not fun. Is it the bugs, or is it just the game itself? When playing your game, do you want to keep coming back even though the game keeps crashing? If so, chances are you could be on to something, and polish might be your best option. If not, it may be a sign that you should abandon the project and start over.
Every game developer has a little bit of an ego. You want to be proud of your game. You want to show it off. So, in a self-satisfaction sense, it all depends on what your game means to you. Sometimes you just have to make decisions based on what you want.
Are you a perfectionist? Go with polish. Are you a "go big or go home" kind of person? Add depth. Are you torn between the two? Pick one feature that you think would add the most value and stop there.
Unique Case: It's Only a Learning Experience
Is this a game that is designed to be a learning experience for you? In that case, it's really about how you feel. You've got three options:
- Polish it up and try to make some money off of it.
- Add every feature that you're interested in attempting.
- Do both!
If you go with polish, you'll likely end up with some cash you otherwise wouldn't have had. If you go with adding features, you'll make a ton of mistakes, you probably won't make any money, and your game will most likely end up sloppy—but you'll gain invaluable experience in the process. Doing both gets a little tricky, but you could always polish a nice version of your game and release it. Then, for experience and knowledge gain, keep working on extending features.
For my first game, VOX STUDIOS: RAID, I decided to add as many features as possible. I tried adding things like networked multiplayer and custom pixel shaders to an already "complete" game. I ended up having to take out a lot of the work I put in, but in the end I learned a lot about the importance of planning and of building a strong foundation before extending features.
Have you released a game already? Listen to your players! Did they have problems with bugs last time or did they just not have fun with your game? What was their main issue? Imagine you're the player.
As a developer, the player might give you a second chance, but you shouldn't expect any more than that. Make sure you don't make the same mistakes that players were complaining about in your last game, especially if this new game is a sequel! Players teetering on the edge of your fanbase will often give you a second chance. Mess that up and you'll lose a lot of players that would otherwise be enthusiastic about your future games.
What was your last game known for: being crisp and polished or being lots of fun? Aim for consistency first, then squash anything that gets in the way. I'm not saying you should ignore major bugs, but you should establish a brand. Your players should be able to expect a certain something from all of your games.
Another thing to consider when deciding whether to go with polish or depth is how familiar you are with your options. Have you done anything like this before? Did you plan for this ahead of time? The less familiar you are, the more likely it is that you should go with polishing and finishing up your game.
If You're Familiar:
You should have some idea of how long it would take to implement this sort of thing. No two games are exactly alike, so you're probably going to be the best expert in your situation. If you have enough time, go for it.
Just be aware that, as you add more features, those features will also require some form of polish on their own. You risk adding on more time needed for your game as you add more and more features.
If You're Not:
Can you afford to take the risk? Any estimate you come up with is probably going to be wrong. In this scenario you should probably go with polish, unless you can reuse a lot of your assets. Consider adding more once you've already polished what you have.
The ultimate question can sometimes be “Are these features necessary?”. In my game Databits, I ended up adding a bootlegged physics system that prevented my characters from overlapping each other. The problem with this was that it took up a lot of resources when NPCs were grouped together. I didn't plan for this, and I didn't expect it.
In order to implement this feature, I had to reduce the maximum number of NPCs I had on the stage, which meant essentially taking out a feature. Personally, I felt that the sacrifice was worth it, but if I had thought of the necessity ahead of time, I probably could have better integrated the character separation and still have kept my NPC count relatively high.
Take it step by step. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to balancing polish and depth. Keep in mind the resources that you have available and go with your gut feeling. If you're feeling uncertain, go with polish. Nothing bad is going to come from having a more polished game. Just remember that you'll get better at making these types of decisions over time. The more you make, the better you'll get.