You’ve worked hard on your entry for the game jam. Now, it’s time to put it out there and get some feedback.
Releasing a game can be scary, especially if it’s your first time. Remember that this is just one more step in your journey as a game developer. If you want to improve, the best way is to receive feedback, and that requires putting the game out there.
First impressions are incredibly important. Whatever effort you’ve put into the game itself, it means nothing if someone drops by the game page and decides not to play it, or boots it up and doesn’t know what to do.
Let’s go over some steps to make sure the game is ready for prime time. Keep in mind these ideas assume you have unlimited time. We know jams are under time pressure, so do your best to hit each of these points before releasing. We’ve put them in order of importance from highest to lowest.
(1) Include proper credit in the game – especially for the team or solo dev.
First, credit the team or yourself (if solo). The best thing to do is put your name(s) front and center. If anyone on the team is uncomfortable using their real name, use their handle or screen name. Or, if you like, invent a company name and use that. You don’t need to be an actual business with a fancy license to call yourself by a name like “Awesome Sauce Studios.”
However, keep in mind that the way the game identifies its creators will be part of the player’s first impression. If they see a name like “Awesome Sauce Studios,” they’re likely to assume the game is made by a team, probably with some experience. If you’re solo, it’s often better to use a name or a handle.
Even if you have a studio name, be sure to credit every individual who worked on the game in the game. Again, you can use real names or handles, depending on each person’s level of comfort.
Second, credit all of the external assets you use. There is a disease out there called the Creative Commons 0 (CC0) license, which is great for people looking to use others’ work, but not so great for the people who created said work. The CC0 license doesn’t require attribution, but you should still credit the artist in respect for their contribution to your project.
Include these credits in the game. If the game uses work with a license like Creative Commons or MIT, include a copy of the license in the game package’s licenses folder.
(2) Ensure it’s clear how to play the game, even if the player chooses to skip the game page.
Many players will download your game and run it without reading the game page, your social media post, or any of the text/doc files included with the game package. Design your game’s tutorial/help with these people in mind.
If you don’t have time for a tutorial, include instructions in the game including:
- The controls and what they do, including whether the game supports controllers
- Types of game objects, what they do, and what they look like (you can drop in the same sprites)
- The losing and winning conditions for the game
(3) Make the game as available as possible to as many people as possible.
We no longer live in a time where Windows PC is the only gaming computer. Keep in mind a large number of jammers are also using Mac OS X and Linux systems. With this in mind, your best bet is to create a version of the game that runs on the web, thereby allowing everyone to play the game.
However, in the specific case of Unity, web builds often introduce unexpected problems with certain keys, certain browsers, and certain uses of audio. If you’re going to only make a web build, test it extensively with different browsers and make sure everything works as expected.
If you want to take out the guesswork (and also satisfy the few people who prefer a downloaded copy), build for all platforms: Windows 64-bit and 32-bit, Mac OS X, and Linux. Even if you can only test one of the builds, most of Unity’s systems work automagically when ported to other platforms.
Besides, not building for a platform gives 100% chance of failure. Making a build lowers that chance significantly.
(4) Write a compelling, intriguing, and complete game page.
- Tell a catching story to entice players into your game world.
- Describe the gameplay with actions and pizzazz.
- Include a shiny cover that showcases the title and byline.
- Include screenshots showing the best artwork in the game.
- Sell up your game as if it’s the next great experience.
- Ask players to share and provide honest, constructive feedback.
- Include all the credits as you have in the game.
- Tell players every little thing that went wrong.
- Apologize for creating a terrible or unfinished experience.
- Tell us it’s your first game jam. Congrats, but this is an implied apology. You can tell people later.
- Promise you’ll keep working on the game. This looks bad if, for whatever reason, you don’t or can’t.
- Ask players to be kind and not too critical with their feedback. This hurts you in the end.
(5) Package the game for the player’s convenience.
First, name the game executable appropriately. If your game is called “Mega Man,” don’t ship an executable called Windows.exe, final.exe, name-of-game-jam.exe, etc. Call it MegaMan.exe.
Second, put all files in a folder with the name of the game and, ideally, the name of your team. For instance, Capcom_MegaMan.
Third, zip up that folder. There are better formats than zip such as 7z, rar, tar, etc. but the most portable and familiar one is zip, so use that. Name the zip the same as you did the folder, e.g. Capcom_MegaMan.zip.
Finally, upload to the website where you want to host the game. If you’re uploading to itch.io, you may want to investigate the butler command-line tools. These make life a lot easier.
(6) Share the game on social media. Don’t be afraid to push!
Social media is a massive flurry of noise, so share your game early and share it often. Get those plays in. Use analytics if available to track how many impressions and downloads you’re getting. If you’re getting a ton of impressions and not a lot of downloads, consider reworking your page to be a little more enticing to those who visit.
Okay, it’s out there. Breathe a sigh of relief. With any luck, you’ve done all the right things to get people to play your game and provide feedback.
The next step is to spend some time on the other games in the jam and give feedback to your peers. Often, they will return the favor. We’ll look at how to provide (and receive) useful feedback in the next article.
What steps do you take to make sure your game jam game is ready for release? Let us know in the comments!