It’s a relatively known fact that indie game devs tend to overscope their games. Even AAA game studios fall into this trap. There is an honest element to it, since everyone desires to make the best games possible and part of that process involves lots of engaging content. The issue however, is that not every feature is critical and not every feature will actually make the game “better.”
The question then becomes - “is this new feature worth including in my game?”
In general, a feature will either:
- Improve your game
- Expand your game
- Ruin your game
Let’s dive deeper!
Improve Your Game
A new feature will improve your game when it fills a gap in engagement that was previously present. One solid example is the game “Raft” by __. In this game, you need to hook in items floating in the ocean and build your raft to survive the harsh environment. It’s a simple concept, and many of the core mechanics are just that - core ones. When developing, they likely faced the question “is the ability to hook in items worth including in the game?”
Indeed, the player could simply pick up items directly, so a basic tool seems like an unnecessary inclusion. In a game where the player has a shark constantly circling their small raft though, the player is not afforded the luxury of picking up items further out. The hook item suddenly becomes a key feature to aid (and reward) the player for wanting to gather as many items as possible.
Expand Your Game
Continuing the examination of Raft, the idea of expanding your game is to provide depth, such as narrative or technical options. Many players desire a fishing mechanic in their game, and for a game where you are stranded at sea, fishing is a no-brainer. The catch here (pun intended) is that fishing does not introduce any subsystems that drastically change gameplay. When you fish, you collect new fish items that can be cooked for survival. It provides another option for gathering food and another way to relax within the game at the later stages.
Even with the rare treasures you can collect, they are mostly decorative and entertaining. This idea of expanding the game through fishing though is just as important as features that improve the game. It diversifies gameplay and enables players to make additional decisions on how they navigate the game. Whereas improving the game involves new systems to change the dynamics of the game, expanding the game seeks to stretch out the game in ways that better engage the player.
Essentially - to improve your game, you add new layers. To expand your game, you stretch those layers.
Ruin Your Game
Ruin is perhaps a strong word, but certain features do have the power to turn players away. I struggle to think of a good example through Raft, so I’ll turn to a different game - Minecraft.
A few updates back when the world generation was completely overhauled in a massive update, a new ore was added into the game…copper. For the record, I absolutely love Minecraft and when it comes to copper, I am super glad they added it for the decorative features it provides. When it comes to gameplay though, this ore is one of the most frequent ores that players will first encounter. The ore is used for decorative blocks, lightning rods, and a spyglass. I’m sure there are other uses I am forgetting in this instance as Mojang usually reuses items in future updates to extend gameplay.
However, in its current state, this early game material hardly “progresses” the game. It expands your color palette, protects you from lightning that could damage the house you are…only starting to build, and offers visibility that is…already possible through settings…
I’m skipping some of the finer details here, but I think the main point is clear. For a new player, this early-game resource doesn’t provide a step forward in gameplay. Not every item needs to do so, but to have it apply here is a bit conflicting.
The risk is that players may feel that their time was wasted on gathering copper since they expected it to extend gameplay beyond aesthetics or nifty little features. Copper absolutely needs to be in the game, but I would argue that its placement within the supposed progression path is not ideal.
When faced with a feature such as this example, I think there’s two options that come up. First, you can scrap the feature entirely. Second, you can change or move the feature in a way that better fits the natural tendencies of the player in approaching the game.
It’s worth saying that I don’t think there’s ever a “bad” idea in game development. Every idea has the potential to be good, given the time to either correctly implement it or change directions with it. With a positive mindset, you will confidently be able to determine the viability of every feature you dream up!