There is nothing more exciting in game development that making your first game or starting a new project. Unfortunately, there are a lot of pitfalls along the way. Admittedly, I don’t know of anyone that has successfully built a unique game as their first game. My goal here is to help you make some good decisions early on and hopefully feel encouraged with your first project.
So, what type of game should you make first? The first game you make should be simple. Some of the simpler game types are puzzle games, 2D platformers, card games, and 2D adventure games. If you wish to create a commercial game, consider limited gameplay time and simplified art assets.
Easy Difficulty Game Types for Your First Game:
- 2D Platformer
- 2D Role-playing games
- Card games
- Simulation games
- 2D Adventure
These games not necessarily “easy”. In fact, there are some major complexities here. For example, the 2D platformer the character really has to feel right. Movement has to feel crisp and consistent. This isn’t easy. However, I do feel that these genre’s have a lot of tutorials, limited art assets in many cases, and many tools available to make this process easier than some of the other genre’s.
I threw in the simulation genre because I consider some of the simple games such as Gas Station Simulator or Car Wash Simulator. These aren’t super easy games to develop, but they may be more simple than some of the other genre’s mentioned below.
Medium Difficulty Game Types for Your First Game:
- 3D Role playing game
- 3D First Person Shooter
- 3D Platformer
- Party Style Games
Most people consider 3D to be slightly more complex than 2D. I’m not so sure that the development process in Unity is any more or less difficult. However, the art production is generally more complex and time consuming. I believe it’s easier to create a beautiful 2D weapon than it is a beautiful 3D weapon.
These may be a bit more difficult, but they aren’t impossible. There are plenty of small development teams and even solo developers to accomplish some of these. A good example of a beautiful RPG style game developed by a small team would be Firewatch.
Very Difficult Game Types for Your First Game:
- MMORPG – Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games
- Real Time Strategy
- Anything Multiplayer
- Sports Simulation
Unfortunately, these are some of the game types that I have witnessed students suggest as their first game. I will be blunt with you. I don’t know that it is feasible. Most of these types of games have large numbers of poeple working on them, they generally require huge open-world environments that would simply be too large of a task for a solo developer in most cases.
The multiplayer aspect of these types games is a major problem as well. Most people who speak of diving into multiplayer talk about how the level of programming knowledge required is pretty astounding. There are tools that make multiplayer in Unity a bit easier, but I generally find them more suitable for party style games.
Sports simulation feels a bit more advanced to me as well. I haven’t really seen any solo developers tackle it successfully. I feel as though the market is dominated by the big players. It would be very difficult to build an audience unless you have a unique twist. NBA Jam and Rocket League are a couple of sports based game concepts that come to mind that have a bit of a unique approach to them.
Ultimately, I recommend simply keeping your game simple. Keeping your game simple sounds like an easy task, but there are a few common pitfalls that most new game developers often fall into.
Things to Avoid With Your First Game
Over Scoping Your First Game
When you start a new project, there are often an unlimited amount of possibilities that you frequently consider. Many new developers look at what is often considered “simple mechanics” from other games and want to add them to their own.
Most simple mechanics require some experimenting, and usually a level of competence to complete them. Take for example, a platformer. The movement of a character, particularly in a platformer, is extremely important. The simple jumping and movement mechanic may arguably be the most important aspect in that style of game.
Many new game developers will jump in, feel as though they can watch a quick tutorial, and accomplish this part of the game in an evening. Most of the time there is testing involved, tweaking to make your character feel unique, but also fitting for your games pacing.
When working with students, they often one to take a mechanic from every one of their favorite games. Not realizing this is may be a poor decision not only for gameplay purposes, but potentially for the scope of the project.
Project Creep Within Your First Game
Project creep in game development occurs when throughout the project, the developer continuously deviates from their original plan, adding features.
It is easy to do! You think, “Man, if I could just add this one more thing to my game, it would make it so much better!”. My suggestion is to plan early. Follow your game design document well. The game design document is meant to be a living and breathing document. It will change over time. However, you should try to avoid changing it so much that your original game idea is no longer the idea that you originally envisioned.
Coffee Stain has done an excellent job of this. In the video below at the 7:16 mark you see Jason, Coffee Stain’s community manager, discuss why certain elements are not going into their game. Why not combat? How about solar energy? There are certain things that simply do not fit “in the game they are building”.
It’s not that these mechanics are bad ideas. They could fit and often do fit in other games that are in the same genre. However, this game has a specific storyline. Mechanics need to fit. The game is meant to be a bit more relaxing, so high stress moments such as fighting mechanics are secondary to the building mechanics of the game.
In your game, you should also be picky as to what you place into the game. Mechanics can and sometimes will change. But do not neglect the overall concept of what your game is supposed to be.
Underestimating the Value of Building an Audience for Your Game
One of the most critical mistakes you can make, particularly early on, is not building your audience. It’s absolutely crucial. I’m really even going to suggest do this even if you aren’t trying to build a commercial game.
Most of us build games because we want people to play them and enjoy them. How would you honestly feel though working on a long project, putting in countless hours, and no one cares in the end? It’s a bit demoralizing to be honest.
The best way to build an audience is simply to share your progress. It may start out that your audience is just fellow game developers. However, that’s still really exciting. Having an audience may celebrate in your successes, and hopefully encourage you during the inevitable low times in building a game.
Successes You Should Find in Your First Game
Learn, Learn, Learn
One of the most exciting things about building a project, is looking back at where you came from throughout the development process. I think this is why my students though, enjoy large projects. In my two year program, I generally have a pretty high return rate. I truly believe the reason for this is not because I am somehow great at my job, but rather, it’s the nature of the projects.
In projects there are significant low points. However, in game development when getting through those low moments, such as figuring out a bug or implementing a mechanic that you have been working on for hours or maybe days offers extreme high moments. Unlike a job which is relatively easy, there is something to be said about figuring out complex tasks and being a problem solver.
After many of those moments, you will be amazed what you learn over a relatively short period of time. I have always been surprised at how far students can progress when I open the doors for them to tackle difficult projects. They almost always leave feeling encouraged about what they have learned and are excited to progress in the game development industry.
Job Experience in Game Development
If you are seeking a job in game development, whether working at a AAA studio or simply joining a team under a paid gig, their first question will likely be, “Have you built anything before?”. Unfortunately, there are so many people that want to be in this industry, it almost requires at least a little bit of solo experience to get your foot in the door.
There is value in having had to go through the entire process on your own, the art creation, the programming, the marketing and finally, the publishing. You may not be an expert at any of them, but my guess is that you will have at least eliminated the jobs you don’t like and found what you do enjoy. That experience is something that people cannot take away from you and may lead you to other opportunities.
A Feeling of Accomplishment
Lastly, I had mentioned it above, but there is a sense of accomplishment that comes with building video games. I’ve built a lot of things over the years. I have worked on websites and many other projects, but there is nothing quite as satisfying as building a video game.
I think the reason for that is that they are so complex. There is so much work put into them! Others may not see it, but you know it when you build one. The simple things that go unnoticed by others you put many hours of work into. The minor details, there may be other who simply do not appreciate it. However, you look at them with a smile on your face because you are so proud of them!
Building games is hard. Really hard. There are certain genre’s I would definitely recommend avoiding. I hope that a few things mentioned here helped you avoid some of the mistakes I made early on and see students frequently making. If you have something you would like to show me, I would love to hear from you!