Even if this blog is aimed at game developers, this particular post and its advice can be applied to any work or field.
A lot of game developers are dedicated people. They have a task to do and they will do it whatever it takes. But making a game is a very time consuming task so a lot of them will simply dive into it and spend several months or years focused on their mission.
Because of this blind dedication some forget about the outside world and how it keeps spinning and evolving. Worse, some end up totally consumed by their game development with no forces to continue further. Finally, among the luckiest who manage to release their game, a lot end up with absolutely no players to play it because they forgot to build the necesserary audience on the way to success.
Because a lot of dedicated and very busy game developers see time spent developing mini games as a waste of time, they don’t see them as the investment they really are.
Truth is mini games can sometimes save the whole development of your main game project.
Release the pressure
We all know what happens when one spends 10+ hours a day, 7 days a week, on the same thing. She end up burned-out or nuts.
It’s not sane or safe to spend a complete year on the same thing without any other distraction. Really dedicated developers can be impressive and force respect, but it’s important to not lose yourself into this kind of behaviour. If you waste all your forces and sanity into your game project, who will continue and finish it when you’ll be too tired to even go out of bed. Here is a situation where mini games can help1.
Spending a few hours every week doing something else will help you organize your thoughts and greatly release the pressure accumulated during work. While you will continue making games, in a way, you will have an opportunity to make and see them differently.
The new challenges and questions mini projects can offer help drawing a line between every day work and side projects, keeping the idea of making game as a funny thing to do and not only boring work. Not having to think about your main game project 100% of your time make you see things differently and forces you to act differently.
Also when you haven’t released any game since long time, because you are too busy working on your main game, it’s possible to start doubting yourself and your capacity to finish things. The fact that mini games are easier to achieve can help you improving your self esteem greatly.
Improving your skills
When your task is to make a game you don’t really have time to see what is happening outside. You work on your thing and you try to make the best possible game out of it as quickly as possible. There is no room for self-improvement nor time for learning when the only thing you have in mind is to finish your game.
Taking time to make minigames for yourself or during game jams can be the perfect moment to try new things and learn new technics or discover technologies that your main project would have never brought you. Want to try this new 3D feature your game engine has but your game is in 2D? Making a mini game on this very specific topic will help you mastering the beast and probably give you some new ideas for your next games.
Making mini games can be seen as a real learning investment. While making them you won’t be working on your main game, for sure, but you will learn new skills, you will experiment with new engines, features or technics, that will probably end up helping you in your every day task. They can help you seeing your job differently or understand how to fix some issues you have encountered but never really had time to find the reason. But most important they can help you keep learning and improving your development skills.
Build an audience
Building an audience for a game is a complex subject that deserves a whole blog post on its own, but mini games can help you in building a strong and reliable audience, even one composed of players who would not have known about your game.
Let say you’re working on a very specific game where players have to design artificial intelligences for killing robots to battle and dominate other players little armies. You will probably believe that your game will only touch a very specific gamer niche. One probably composed of programmers, AI students, engineers…
Now let’s say you make several mini games a year and share the result of your work online (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, …). There are few chances that your mini games will be related or linked to your main game. These games will probably be very different and, by their different nature, will attract very different kinds of players. The question “Who is the developer behind this very original mini game idea?” will naturally lead the player to your web site where your main game project is explained.
The new followers gained thanks to your mini games will watch what you do, be interested in your game productions, and when you will talk about your main project, they will be ready to discover what you deliver.
After the game release, won’t you be happy to have an audience composed of more kinds of players than what your original niche would have offered?
A note about danger
Making mini games offer a thrilling experience. Spending time doing mini things way faster and more easily than your main project is awesome. And even more when you see your audience growing every time you post a piece of new mini game mechanic.
However take care of not fooling yourself. These should stay mini games with the sole purpose of helping you making a better game. These are not your main project. Don’t lose your focus, goals and plans.
How to make mini games
There are tons of different ways to make mini games. Some will decide to only spend few hours a week and create a game a week, others will try to make a game a month or more.
There are no rules on how to make mini games. From my personnal experience I find it better when you don’t expect too much from these projects. Setting an achievable goal from the beginning is the best way to make it real. Take a ‘simple’2 game mechanic and change it a little bit to make it yours. Would a Tetris game with inverted gravity be fun? Would a PONG game with an orientable racket be fun? Would multidimensional Snake games be fun? Once you have found the mechanics, give you a few hours (from 2 to 20) that you will split in short sessions (2 hours sessions are the best for me). Try to find a little bit of time every week to be your special game development moment and stick to this plan!
Then you will realize that what you get from this apparently wasted time spent doing another thing is, in fact, very profitable to you, your game, and your skills.
Mini games can help you release the pressure but please, don’t hurt yourself. No game is worth putting you in danger. Go outside. Practice physical activities. Play Pokemon Go. See your friends. Read books. Find a hobby… ↩
You should know that there is no ‘simple’ games, only games so smartly designed that they look simple. ↩