The early stages of game development or game design are the most confusing. You don’t know where you should focus your time and resources first, especially if you’re just starting out and not exactly armed with a boatload of cash to work with. In general, there are three areas that game developers focus on: gameplay, story, and graphics. But which one is the most important? And, if you’re running with a tight budget, which one should you prioritize? Let’s take a look at each of them.
In most cases, the gameplay is arguably what makes or breaks a game. Many even consider it to be the most important aspect. Unless, of course, it’s a visual novel which has practically zero gameplay. A fun and engaging gameplay can keep players glued to the game even if it has an overly simple or shallow premise. Take Flappy Bird for example. It had no story and had NES-like graphics. And yet, it became a massive hit thanks to its incredibly addicting and notoriously difficult gameplay which consistently urged players to go for “one more try.”
Focusing solely on developing a great gameplay is perfectly fine. But make sure to give players a reason to actually keep playing the game; otherwise, it will become too repetitive. This is very important if you want players to spend more than an hour or two in your game. High-scores or an incrementing difficulty simply won’t cut it. It should be along the lines of bonus characters, new game modes, or unlockable levels – extra content, in other words. An addicting gameplay will draw players. But an addicting gameplay coupled with lots of extra content translates to lots of replay value, prolonging the lifespan of your game. Obviously, a long lifespan equals to more opportunities to make money out of your game.
If you’re just starting out in the game development business with tight resources, it would be wise to spend the majority, if not all of it, on the gameplay. And once your game takes off successfully and you start raking in profits, then you could work on the other areas to improve it and make it more complete. Or at least pretty to look at.
The story is a bit similar to the gameplay in that it’s responsible for making sure players stay interested in the game. A carefully written story with well-developed characters can motivate players to continue playing in order to advance the plot and find out what happens next. It can be argued that a great story could mean the difference between a game that you’ll forget as soon as you finish it, and a game so memorable that it will stay with you after several years. The story is what immerses players into the fantasy world that you have created, allowing them not only to casually pass the time but to also escape from reality. It’s similar to reading books or watching movies.
If you’re developing an RPG like the Final Fantasy games, the story is very important and shouldn’t be allowed to take a backseat. After all, RPGs have been following the same formula basically since the beginning. Players control either a solo character or a group of characters in a fictional world, battling enemies along the way, collecting items in dungeons, and traveling to towns and interacting with NPCs. The only thing that separates a good RPG from a great RPG is the story. So, if you’re going for an RPG, it’s okay to give the story more focus than the gameplay. You can simply take existing RPG mechanics and put your own spin to it. But be wary of turning your game into a text-fest where players spend more time reading dialogs than actually playing. Remember, most people who play on mobile devices are just casuals that dive into mobile games during their free time at work/school or while commuting. They wouldn’t want to spend that time simply reading through endless texts.
However, if you’re NOT developing an RPG or maybe a story-driven adventure game, the story can be last on your priority list. You can just go for a simple story that would explain why the players have been tasked to do whatever your gameplay dictates them to do in the game. Casual gamers would prefer to skip all the text-reading and directly dive into the gameplay where they can burn their hours on. You could even forego the story entirely similar to some of the most addicting games which simply rely on an unforgiving difficulty curve to keep players hooked.
Believe or not, graphics play an important role in enticing players to pick up a game, despite the common sentiment that graphics don’t make the game. Players notice the visuals first and foremost, unlike the gameplay and the story which both require the game to be played first in order to check out. Game trailers, screenshots, and posters can pique players’ interests and help them decide whether to look into the game more or move on to the next game on Google Play or iTunes. There’s a reason why some games feature overly sexualized female characters (I’m looking at you, MMORPGs) on promotional materials. The majority of gamers are males, so developers are looking to capitalize on that.
However, if you focus most of your resources into making your game look pretty and devote significantly less effort on the gameplay and story, it won’t go very far. After players have gotten used to the visuals and all the sparkly things, they would notice that there’s not much anything else, which would prompt them to drop the game and look for another game. You don’t want that, do you? So, if your budget could only afford one area to splurge on, pick graphics as the second-most to spend on after the gameplay (unless it’s an RPG which requires a good story).
“But how can I entice players to pick up my game if it isn’t visually appealing,” you might ask. Well, there are other ways to promote or advertise your game. There’s word-of-mouth marketing which should be more effective if your game has a great gameplay. Again, Flappy Bird was a great example of this. Before Nintendo effectively shut down the game, everyone was like, “Have you played this new stupidly difficult game yet?” or “How far could you go in this game?” Game reviews and critics also usually give more props to a great gameplay. So you could use stellar reviews to decorate your Google Play or iTunes page descriptions to get more downloads.
The bottom line
When developing a mobile game, whether you’re on a tight budget or not, your priority list should be like this: Gameplay > Graphics > Story. Take note that replay value, accessibility, and online stuff all fall under gameplay, while sound/music could be coupled with graphics (they’re the “cosmetic” details). But as mentioned, if you’re going for an RPG, the story should be prioritized more than the gameplay. If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to equally focus on all three areas, it’s best to work on just one or two areas. Trying to work on all three at the same time with a limited budget could result in a watered-down game which doesn’t stand out in one particular area.
(Featured image: Flickr)