Game development as an act of creation, and learning to step outside oneself

Despite the fact that game development can involve many roles (story designer, art designer, gameplay designer, etc.) which can be filed by many people, ultimately the game produced is a creative work influenced from the individuality of each of the people involved. This means things like biases, world views, and what makes a fun or interesting game to each person all factor into the end result.

I believe we all have blind spots when thinking creatively, whether that is game design, a visual art, novel writing, or even musical composition. For example, something which we feel is obvious or logical may not be the same to another person, or even to most people. That’s why in all these creative arts, it’s good to have someone to bounce ideas off of and get feedback: “Does this make sense?”, “How does this sound?”, or “How does this look?”.

Herein lies a problem, because all these things are inherently subjective. We could ask 100 people to review a creative work, and they might all give different opinions and suggestions. This is why it’s best to be very picky about our reviewers, and in the domain of game development this means being picky about who tests our games, and what weight we give their opinion. We also can use basic statistics, like putting more weight to any feedback that was given by a certain percentage of people. If 80% of people say the UI is hard to use, then it would be pretty unwise to ignore that feedback.

As with all things, budget comes into play here since if we are not willing to spend money, our best bet is to be lucky and make friends with someone very experienced in playing and/or designing games, who also possesses the communication skills to clearly communicate what works and what doesn’t. Another option is to just get as many people as we can to help out, gather their feedback, and then worry about how to value it later. If your budget for your indie game is 0$, then you’re options are pretty limited here.

Fortunately, there is one more thing we can do to help – become our own best beta testers. That is the art of stepping out of our everyday thoughts and trying to act like a third party. This can involve playing devil’s advocate (“is this feature really easy to understand?”), or trying to think in detail about what the “average” person would think (“so-and-so game is popular, so many people would quickly grasp this element”).

In the field of music, we can get a good idea of what a third party would hear by recording ourself and listening to that with all our attention, since during the actual performance we are worrying about so many other things it’s hard to really listen to what sound we are putting out and the overall feelings it invokes. For novel writing, you can try to read through a chapter you wrote after waiting a few weeks, since then you’ll be closer to what a new person would experience. At least I found this to be a good practice.

For game development, I think getting into a neutral state where we turn off our biases is very difficult, but actively trying to get into that mode can help us train little by little.

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