Game Production Hotline

On Sunday, I moderated a panel at the 2012 Flash Games Summit on the life of flash developers.  I was joined by some of my favorite developers: Andrew Sega (Mytheria/Armor Wars), Dan Stradwick (Monsters’ Den) and Sean McGee (Thing Thing Arena/Endless Zombie Rampage).  During the panel, and in discussions throughout the day, feature creep, difficulty finishing games and not knowing when a game was complete were frequent topics.  For instance, Dan has been working on Monsters’ Den Chronicle for 2 years.  The first year was spent working on a hugely ambitious Monsters’ Den Godfall, before he decided to do something of a smaller scope and ship quickly (inspired by Andy Moore’s SteamBirds talk from the previous year’s FGS).  One year later, the third entry in the series plays fantastically and is nearing distribution.

In the past year, when Dan would tweet about feature creep, I replied by asking if he needed me to fly to Australia and use my Producer super powers to help him ship the game.  After a day at FGS, I had a brilliant idea.  I want to set up the official Game Producer Hotline.  For the low, low price of $0.99 you can call and tell me about the mind blowing feature you want to add to your game.  I will listen thoughtfully, ask questions and then say “No.  It’s a great idea but ship without it.”

In the rare event that this feature is truly genius, will make the game the next super hit on Steam, Kongregate or the iPhone App Store, then I will say “Brilliant!  Add that feature to your game! But first, what you are going to cut now that you are adding this brilliant new thing to your masterpiece?”

Practicing self restraint on is difficult and painful for Creatives.  The same imaginative insanity and perpetual passion that drives you becomes your own worst enemy when it comes to shipping product.  You are constantly coming up with new and innovative ideas inspired by the world around you and the games you are playing.  Dream projects naturally become dreamier; the light at the end of the tunnel naturally dims.

Fighting feature creep is easy.  I recommend using a scrum style backlog to priority rank all the features you want to put in your game.  As close to the top of your backlog as possible, draw a “Ship It” line.  Any feature above the line is absolutely required to create a finished game.  Anything below the line, you can live without.

Whenever you have a spark of innovation, go to the backlog and add it relative to its priority.  If your new feature is truly above the line, then some other feature MUST drop below the line.  If it is impossible to drop a feature below the “Ship It” line, then you have already triumphed over feature creep.  Otherwise, feel free to dial me up on the Game Producer Hotline and I’ll help you identify the features your masterpiece can live without.