The Dreaded Ten Percent

This is our experience with trying to push Produce Wars through the last ten percent of production. Please send me an e-mail or contact me on Twitter to tell me about the last ten percent of your game.

Every game developer knows what it is. The experienced ones plan for it. The big studios sometimes pretend it doesn’t exist, but it does.

The last ten percent.

FezIt’s that point you get to in game development where the game is ready to go, but it’s not perfect. There’s just a couple of those things nagging on you that make you want to tear the entire game apart and start over. Most independent game developers are familiar with the neurotic five-year journey that Fez took from inception to launch, and how the game mired in the infamous ten percent for at least a year before it was released.

2012-01-16-the-last-ten-percentIt’s not just in gaming either. Rumors have it that during post-production director Tony Kaye tried to sabotage American History X because he didn’t feel like it was ready for release. The film went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed films of all-time.

We are currently at this point with Produce Wars.

We have been at this point for the last three months. While it has been incredibly frustrating, it has also been incredibly educational. We had considered pushing Produce Wars out the door in early January because the frustration had built up so much that we had become sick of the game. In fact, we could have released a fully playable version of the game in October.

Yes, like five months ago.

It’s a good thing we didn’t though. A month ago, we sat down to play test with a couple of people who had never seen the game before to get their raw and painfully honest perspective about where we were at. This play test session was revolutionary, because it revealed to us just how far away from making a complete game we were.

Many of the stages had unrealistic expectations of the player’s skill. Up to that point, the only person that had significantly tested the stages was…well, me. Not only did I design all 95 stages in the game, but I have been testing and working with Produce Wars for almost a year now. Because of this, the difficulty was heavily skewed towards “throw the controller at your cat” instead of “cat sitting on lap purring happily and gouging your thighs with its claws”. Either way, you’re pissed at the cat, but we don’t want you to be pissed at our game.

controller catThis led to the complete redesign of almost half of the stages in the game, a balancing of the shot values for players to earn certain medals, and a gazillion other small upgrades that we would have overlooked had we released the game early.

I mean, we had a friggin’ typo on our main menu that none of us saw for six months.

It made us understand how necessary the last ten percent is, no matter how frustrating it may be. Seriously vetting your game before release could be the difference between a hit and a flop. Even if your game isn’t the next Fez, Braid, Spelunky, or Super Meat Boy, the effort you put into the last ten is subconsciously appreciated by the player.

Perception is often greater than reality. If the player perceives quality, it often times can mask many of the inherent flaws that your game inevitably has. It’s not to say that if your game is crap, you can sell on appearance alone (you can’t polish a turd, so they say). But low lighting and appropriate make-up can get even the ugliest of girls a one night stand (thanks for the help here Jenna Marbles).

And for gamers, that’s what cheap indie games are: a one-night stand.

Produce Wars Box ArtYou can create this quality by paying close attention to detail and being cautious about launch. At some point though, you have to strike that balance between improving and moving on. That girl isn’t waking up in another person’s bed unless she puts herself out there, and the same is true with your indie game. You have to find a way to cut yourself loose from the ten percent and get the darn thing published.

So our promise is that Produce Wars will get published. We’ve been on the treadmill for long enough, and we’re almost ready to put ourselves out there. We’ve officially defined the remainder of our improvements so that there is no more feature creep, no more surprises.

Produce Wars is coming soon. No doubt about that one.

Please send me an e-mail at gigaloth@gmail.com, or shoot me a message on Twitter. I want to hear your experience with the last ten percent of your game!

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