Making Your Game a Hit

Build your server’s success with this simple guide.

First, a confession. At time of writing there is no single magic bullet that will absolutely ensure your new game is a chart topping, Minecraft-toppling blockbuster. If there were, we promise we’d tell you. What there is, though, is a simple set of precautions you can take that will give it the best possible chance at the big time.

Whatever platform it’s for, and whichever game engine you’re using, there are a few steps you can take to prevent the most common pitfalls and player complaints, and to ensure it has maximum possible appeal to people who can help publicise it: early access users, streamers and games journalists. 

It will also need to stand out in a market that’s getting more crowded every year, making a splash rather than launching without trace. However the first thing to get right is to make sure that players’ impressions of it are as positive as you can make them, right from the start.

Bugs are Okay up to a Point

Especially in early access, there’s an expectation that games don’t need to be perfect in every way. Players understand that, and while you can easily go too far in relaxing quality control, it’s okay to release with a few rough edges.

What may be harder to swallow, is the frustration of multiplayer games where players lose because of faults in the game, or because of server lag. The humiliation of defeat, compounded with the sense that it’s not actually your fault is far more enraging than the odd dropped frame or late-loading texture.

For that reason making sure your multiplayer experience is as free of un-forced errors as you can make it, is an important step, even for a pre-release test. Those impressions matter.

Part of that will be in the code, and the engine you choose, the rest is making sure you have enough capacity for the number of players you expect. It would be devastating to be a victim of your own success, and discover that an unexpected spike in demand ruins the experience for everyone, especially when demand spikes are exactly what everyone dreams of.

One way of mitigating for those is to use a scalable hosting solution. Amazon Web Services offers a generic, if sometimes expensive way to respond to fluctuating player numbers. Another is online game specialist, Multiplay who helped Apex Legends deal with early player numbers in the tens of millions.

Read up on the options, look for examples of impressively glitch-free multiplayer tests and launches, and ask around to see what others recommend - and where they’ve fallen down in the past.

Be Upfront About Money

Honesty and transparency are the watchwords for in-game monetisation. Making games is a business, and players understand that the development process is expensive, and takes a lot of man-hours to get right.

A friendly, easy-to-use PlayerLands store selling subscriptions or cosmetic upgrades is an accepted way of financing a game or server. But the way you go about it is key to that acceptance.

Pay to win is still a label said through gritted teeth, and gaining a reputation for making games that demand cash transactions rather than player skill is a shortcut to excoriating reviews and pile-on discontent from what can be an extremely vocal minority.

By contrast selling skins, whether for avatars or weapons, is widely recognised as a perfectly legitimate way of funding future development, and one that in no way interferes with the natural process of gaining skills and seeing your practise pay off in a higher win rate.

Ironically, getting this part right will never win you plaudits, but getting it wrong can be disastrous. Players broadly appear to accept Supercell games like Clash of Clans have an element of bought advantage, but even industry giants can stumble. EA’s launch of Star Wars Battlefront II is still seen as an object lesson in how overbearing monetisation can bring even the mighty to their knees.

Be upfront, avoid hidden fees, and do your best to separate monetary purchases from success in multiplayer matches.

Everyone Judges a Book by its Cover

In a world overrun with visual media from Instagram to Twitch, it really helps to have a visually arresting game. Streamers love it, and when even still screen shots are alluring, it’s an excellent way of winning fans before they’ve even picked up a mouse.

Having a distinctive art style or visual feel doesn’t necessarily require 4K assets and a massive design team though. Pixel art, faux-16-bit, and more painterly approaches to front end design can all have their unique charms without costing a fortune to implement.

If your game’s mechanics don’t work properly or it doesn’t feel good to play, graphics alone won’t make up for that, but they are extremely effective at building that initial bridge between awareness and desire to give it a try.

It’s also generally a relatively inexpensive way of ensuring initial positive engagement whether in a magazine, website, or streaming service. 

Finding the X-Factor

Sadly, in the vital task of locating a game’s je ne sais quois, there’s a current shortage of useful benchmarks or general guidance. If there were a guaranteed way of adding the magic ingredient that separates an Overwatch from a Battleborn - other than pure marketing spend and a healthy dose of luck - we would love to share it with you here.

AB testing is very valuable, both in ensuring acceptance of monetisation methods like ad-supported games, or in seeing what tweaks to play mechanics are liked best by gamers, but this is still an area that’s as much about instinct and subjective judgements as it is about anything you can easily structure into a technical roadmap.

There are wildly differing theories as to what makes for a benignly addictive long term play, and if you’ve got any good suggestions, let us know and we’ll be sure to pass them on in a future PlayerLands guide.