At what stage should you start exposing your game

Hi there

I've been reading a lot about the importance of showing your game to many people early on. I've been wondering about the "completeness" of the game with regards to this. At what level of development should you start thinking about things like making playable demos online or early access etc?

This is a hard question to answer without specifics of the game. Should you at least have a playable demo? What percentage of the initial mechanics should be there? What are the important things? Because I've read that waiting too long is a death sentence but surely showing a half arsed product too early is also not good.

I've been working on a tower defence. The graphics is in place and the basic towers with some upgrades are there. And enemy waves with anims are already in place. Is this good enough?

Let me know your thoughts please.



  • edited
    There are different groups of people that I think about when I think about showing my games to people. (1) My co-workers, or people I chat with in private who are game developers, (2) people on this forum, or some other smallish game development community, and (3) the general public, which may lead to (4) some kind of paid development (Early Access, Greenlight, Kickstarter, publishing deal, whatever).

    (1) and (2) are basically the same thing, except that (1) is easier for me because when I ask someone to playtest something for me in person, it's hard for them to just shrug their shoulders and close the tab the way people can online. :P And it's easier for me to see what they're struggling with first-hand, without their having to tell me. I think the important thing I want when I show them things is to have some kind of game loop in place. It doesn't have to be refined, the timings can be wrong, and there doesn't need to be a metagame (upgrades, multiple missions, whatever); I'm showing game developers. For the most part I think experienced game developers can see what parts are works in progress (i.e. all of it), what parts are negligible to tweak/fix, and what parts are really big problems that could really break the game or make it really difficult for me to finish. And if they have any suggestions, it's super easy for me to add/change, because at this point I've only done maybe a weekend of work, so I'm not precious about anything anyway.

    (3) I think would be something I do if I've got enough of a game in there that a Youtuber could have fun with what I've got. So I imagine if I've got a good ~10 minutes or so of content where you're frequently surprised by something new, or are able to discover new things, that's more than enough to share it with a wider audience and see if there's traction. (I haven't actually done this yet; I'd like to make many, many smaller games first, to flex my game design muscles. Most of my game career has been spent "finishing" games by adding art content, prototyping and implementing visuals and adding juice, so I usually leave this stuff out because it's stuff I'm pretty confident with doing already.) I'd also put it on Gamejolt,, or whatever other indie-type game platform I can find where it doesn't cost me anything to put it up and I can see how many people are playing/returning to/commenting on my game.

    If I found that a lot of people were watching a Youtuber play my game and that it was getting super popular, and I thought it was a game that I'm still excited to work on, and a large number of the people who're seeing the game (who are also complete strangers) were commenting on Youtube videos saying that they would pay for it, I'd put it up on (4) Early Access, or Greenlight, or whatever other monetising thing is available to me. I don't know how many views I'd need to be able to call it a success though, but I imagine it'd have to be well over 10k. It's just got to be something that people already want to pay for, and have told me, overwhelmingly, that they want to pay me to finish it, to make it better, and to make it something that they can play, and can recommend their friends to play.

    I don't think there's a "right" answer, but I do think that going onto the next step before the previous test has been done and shown promise is a giant risk that I'll be wasting my time. Given that I imagine a full-on, hardcore solo release of mine taking some 2-5 years to develop, I don't want to be wasting any time working on a project unless I'm very sure it won't be a waste of 2-5 years of my life (or the lives of anyone who decides it's a project worthy of their helping me finish it). I think not doing (1) and (2) is a huge (and needless, given how easy it is to do) increase in risk that I'll be wasting my time making a much bigger game built on crap foundations. (3) is about testing the public waters, and seeing if it's something that non-developers (the vast majority of players) have to say without actually putting myself under the pressure of having to make something that they'd actually pay for (yet).
    Thanked by 2FanieG Boysano
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    If you don't know the answer, show the game to as many people as possible to find out if you should have shown it or not.

    The logic is simple:
    1. If you have a thing and don't show it to people, but should have, you'll never know and your thing will be worse.

    2. If you have a thing and show it to people and should have, yay feedback. Welcome to open design :)

    3. If you have a thing and you shouldn't have shown it at point X but do, you can still learn a massive amount of information from how people react to it AND your thing will have suffered zero damage (you can always show it to people again later).

    4. If you have a thing and don't show it to people, but shouldn't have... Well. Yay? You guessed right and are totally "protecting your IP" / a better game designer than anyone else on the planet / better have a bullet-proof marketing plan.

    Most people seem to think that they're making games in state 4. I don't think state 4 actually exists. The real question should be "how much effort should I put into showing my game to people" to which the answer is simply: As much effort as you want them to put in to get your game. If you want to show something to a colleague, they can scoot their chair over or open an email with very little effort. If you want to show something on a forum, that's more effort required from the people that are going to read your thread, download it, play it, read your instructions, play it again and finally write their feedback for you. If you want to get someone to pay for your game, you should be putting in more effort than you've ever put in before (no, it does not matter how much effort you put in before either, always more).

    There are always more people to show things to. If there's something in your thing that makes people excited, you won't be able to stop them showing it to others, this is super rare, but that should be the only time you even start to think about charging for it.
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    @Eric I agree with the above posters.

    For showing a game off to people nearby or nearby in virtual space (like these forums) it's almost never too soon. If you have zero questions that someone playing the game can answer for you then maybe it's too early, but if that's the case you probably haven't started the game.

    Doing a big public launch, like starting a Kickstarter or Greenlight campaign, is a thing where delaying it until it's going to get a bit of traction makes sense. And the only sure way you find out if it can get traction is show the game to a lot of people. You might find also that after showing it to people, discovering problems you didn't expect, and then trying to fix whatever problems there might be, that the game is going to take far too much work to get that traction. It's much better to find that out early on than at the end of your unsuccessful Kickstarter (or similarly heart breaking situation).

    There's almost zero chance that a game being shown on these forums (or somewhere like this) is going to be picked up by journalists and go viral on the internet. And if that does happen then your game is probably so good it is unstoppable anyway.

    My rule of thumb is: If it's playable, and you think it might not be pure shit, post it. You can always improve it and update the build. And anyone who does play an early build, even if it's shitty, is going to be more invested in giving you feedback later on when you update it (assuming the update offers significant improvements).

    The short of it is: The only thing posting a build early can cost you is the time it takes to post it. And you can get real value from it.
  • Wow thanks. Lots of tips to go through here. Lol @ "If it's not pure shit". In light of this I think I shouldn't share anything just yet. Thanks guys. Especially for the verbose answers.
  • Eric said:
    Wow thanks. Lots of tips to go through here. Lol @ "If it's not pure shit". In light of this I think I shouldn't share anything just yet. Thanks guys. Especially for the verbose answers.
    Um. Can I just say that I feel you took completely the wrong message there?
  • dislekcia said:
    Eric said:
    Wow thanks. Lots of tips to go through here. Lol @ "If it's not pure shit". In light of this I think I shouldn't share anything just yet. Thanks guys. Especially for the verbose answers.
    Um. Can I just say that I feel you took completely the wrong message there?
    I'm going on @Elyaradine phases. I'm at 1 and 2. I definitely don't have 10 minutes of content yet. Nor do I have a proper game loop. I know your specific message was to post it anyway. But I think sharing it with colleagues more appropriate right now.
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    Er... For 1 and 2 I just need like 20 seconds of gameplay (something that shows what I'm aiming for without necessarily doing it very well. Just testing an idea before committing to anything). It's when I (eventually) hunt for YouTube views that I'd be looking for something more substantial (10 min or so, or however long my target YouTube audience's videos typically are). If you're already getting in upgrades and things, getting into metagame, my guess is that posting stuff is way overdue!
  • edited
    I think you were making a joke about the pure shit bit (it's really hard to read tone in text) but for instance I think this game on the forums isn't shit.

    I think you can show people stuff even earlier than Elyaradine suggested in point 1 and 2. He said in his initial post that he'd wait until having some kind of game loop and then call coworkers over or post on the forums.

    I always show what I'm working on to at least one person as soon as I have a single interaction. There's usually at least one important interaction in my games that I want to feel good, and I generally want it to feel good before I worry about anything as complex as a game loop.

    If that interaction feels off I want to find that out ASAP. No point in building a game loop around something that feels bad. And waiting until I have 10 minutes of content is far too long. (Elaradine obviously said he'd wait for 20 seconds, not 10 minutes)

    There's another, subtle, cost that hasn't been mentioned. As your game grows in complexity it becomes more time consuming to alter the behaviors.

    What this means is that the behaviors you really need to get right, the ones that define the feel of the game, are far better to iterate on when the game is really basic. I'd go so far as to say in any game design there's a hierarchy of problems you want to solve, and these problems are best solved in order with testing at each stage. It's much more challenging to alter a behavior that other behaviors depend on, it creates a ripple effect that you then have to spend time solving. The longer you go on without testing your game (and it's really only testing if fresh eyes are looking at it) the greater this cost potentially becomes.

    (Obviously I'm talking about sharing for feedback here, holding off your marketing push until it isn't shit is sensible, but your response sounded like you had decided to share nothing at all with anyone despite having a functional game)
  • Mmm okay I see. "As your game grows in complexity it becomes more time consuming to alter the behaviors" I hear that part. Guess I'll add a restart button and post what I have later in the week.
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
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    @Eric Cool!

    Definitely not trying to bludgeon you into sharing though. I hope I didn't come off too strongly.

    Obviously our studio has had great success with sharing early and often. Broforce was available to play on the third day of it's existence, and the feedback we got absolutely informed our development and got us to focus on what was good about the game. Similarly I've posted other games after a day or two that have been universally hated, and I'm a better designer for learning those lessons and I'm glad I learned them quickly.

    And conversely I've worked on games in relative secrecy for months, only to run into problems eventually, be unable or unwilling to fix them once so much was already in place, and learn a fraction of the lessons (because I got no feedback along the way).

    Don't know if it's true in your case, but sharing your work can be scary. It sometimes feels a lot like putting yourself on the line, but it's such a critical part of the process of both improving your game and learning. Hopefully we've got a community here who can make the experience worthwhile for you.

    Looking forward to your game in any case :)
    Thanked by 2Elyaradine Boysano
  • @BlackShipsFilltheSky Nah it's not that it's scary. I've released 4-6 casual games before which failed relatively hard except for 1. I was just hoping to stop failing relatively hard. And considering the success of Broforce I would say you can come off as strongly as you want. So I'll be sharing soon.
  • Just a small note on all of the above. Regarding "showing colleagues" - Personally, I think this particular forum you could treat as "colleagues". We're all/mostly game creators and totally understand the process since we've gone through it or are going through it. This is not a forum of game players, but game creators. Other forums I'd wait till I had a little more, but here ... early is good - especially if someone here with more experience can give a small tip that might improve things early on ;)

  • Here is an interesting article on it recently I just found:
  • Boysano said:
    Here is an interesting article on it recently I just found:
    Thanks man. Tons of stuff in there that I still need to do. After I post here I guess I'll know what % of the game is shit and how to proceed.
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    @Eric Glad to hear you've got some failures behind you. Failing being one of the best ways to learn to stop failing :)

    Some of the folks on this forum talked about their failings over here:

    Regarding that Yoyogames article: There's some good stuff there, and particularly the lesson that exposing potential players to your game a few times before launch is important (because people trust products more that they've already heard about), and obviously for building pent up demand (because a strong start when your game initially goes on sale often influences how platform-holders treat your game).

    I'd disagree with the bit about Expos. I think it's worth going to expos, but it's very expensive/inefficient marketing, even more so for a South African. The reasons why I'd think it's worth taking a game to expos is because it's fun, and for networking, and for observing new people playing your game. Mileage may vary I guess. There's certainly a lot of games that go to expos that get next to no marketing worth out of it.
  • So I've gotten around to making a build. I posted it here:

    Thanks for the encouragement and guidance :)
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