Helping People Play Your Small Game
When I was a child, one of the big reasons I turned to small hobbyist games was because they were often free and available online. I had a lot of energy, time, and desire for games, and it was a lot of fun to find hidden gems. As I’ve gotten older, my excitement for playing games has dampened somewhat, but I still like to explore small games, and find a lot of inspiration in the neat stuff people are doing.
However, I find that I end up not finishing a lot of games, even short ones, due to certain recurring issues. These are some brief suggestions that might help more people play through your game! No rules or anything, just some things to consider based on my own preferences and experiences.
Note: this post doesn’t directly discuss the greater topic of accessibility, which is also a big factor in helping people play your games (check out Game Accessibility Guidelines and Includification).
In this article, I use “small game” loosely to mean a low/no-budget game, often with one or two main creators, often shorter than a movie, sometimes made during game jams, etc.
Good Names for Game Folders
If your game is downloadable, try to give the folder/file a clear title. Often I’ll download a couple games and not get to them all at once — and if the folder names are too cryptic, I might not remember what it is and pass it over later. If your game’s name is very long, try to condense to the most important words or only acronym part of it.
- Title: The Knight Who Never Realized the Power of a Frozen Tear
- Instead of: tKWNRtPoaFT.zip
- Try: KnightFrozenTear.zip
Or if your game’s name is very short, you might try adding a bit of description? I don’t really see this often, but seems like it could be nice in some cases.
- Title: Born
- Instead of Born.zip
Having a very simple readme file also helps with this a lot!
Make it a Bit Easier
This is very much based on my own preferences, but also the fact that difficulty is hard to predict. When you play your own game, it will inherently feel easier because you have a lot of practice and are familiar with the internal structure. I think difficulty might affect small games differently than big games, as well. When playing a Big Game, people may have more motivation to push through frustrating sections in order to participate in the social experience/event of playing that Big Game. They’re also more likely to be able to find walkthroughs, tips, and instructional videos to help them out.
Let People “Cheat”
Regardless of whether or not you try to make your game easier, it can also help a lot if you let the player “cheat”. For example, you might allow players to skip around to different parts of the game or become permanently invincible.
There are numerous reasons why a player might want to seemingly “break” a game. For example, in one point and click adventure, I tried to use an item on the wrong character. It did nothing but also destroyed the item, making the game unfinishable. If I had the option to cheat myself back to a situation where I was in the same place but with the item I needed, then I probably would have continued playing instead of stopping and never going back.
In other situations, a game may be too hard, and/or physically inaccessible, and “breaking” the game actually just lets people get past that part to continue playing instead of quitting forever. It also makes it easier for people to write about your game and take good screenshots. And as others have said — when reading a book or watching a movie, people can usually skip around all they want, and it’s just not a big deal at all!
My recent release Bratavism, allows players to go to the next/previous scene — I just left in my debug keys. And Even the Ocean allows you to create a new file starting at any point of the game. There can be valid artistic reasons to not include features like these. But as a default, I think games should be more open to letting players fudge with them, and I think there are unexplored creative opportunities for making games more flexible in interesting ways!
Thanks for reading! Please let me know if you have related thoughts! If you enjoyed this post, consider subscribing to my newsletter or following me here on medium or on twitter! Linked below are the first 3 chapters of my Even the Ocean art retrospective: