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I am working on a hobby game that is played in the browser (not flash). It is a sort of civilization simulator. It is a pretty substantial sized game that I hope one day has many players.

My question is what should my game have before I allow the public to play. I have several thoughts and would appreciate suggestions as well as other thoughts.

  1. Limit the game to colleagues and friends to test until I effectively finish the game.

  2. I open the game up to the public shortly after basic enjoyable functionality is done. I would then release weekly or biweekly updates with new functionality and bug fixes.

So the root question is, is it better to release to the world after everything is "done" (potentially years) or after it is "playable", but lacking?

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+1 for not Flash :-D –  Bojangles Apr 7 '11 at 8:58
    
Thank you every one for your responses. I appreciate them all. –  Wulfhart Apr 7 '11 at 20:36
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5 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Provided you've got enough of the game finished (core feature are done, no major glaring bugs, enough content to get a feel for the game), then I would suggest releasing it to the public in the "playable but lacking" state. You'll be able to get feedback, and possibly find additional bugs from multiple users playing. The feedback is the most important. Not only does it help you with ideas on what to add to the game, it can help motivate you to keep working on the game.

A something to keep in mind when you open the game up to the public: responding quickly to bug reports and having a level head when responding to criticism will help build a community for the game. Good luck!

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+1 Nothing wrong with being like Google and having five-year betas on everything! –  corsiKa Apr 7 '11 at 7:44
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This makes sense. The community will potentially gain loyal users. More importantly, something I just realized. If I start taking suggestions for features and functionality. The players will have a sense of ownership in the game as well thus helping the game's community. –  Wulfhart Apr 7 '11 at 19:02
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The above answers are pretty nice and enough for your question.

So, I want to recommand two great books: "Getting Real" and "Rework" which are 37signals great products. I don't know you've heard about these two books or not. But I'm sure these two books will not only solve your problems but will also help in your entire life.

You should read "Getting Real" first. And there, you will learn about "building the real thing" by skipping all "unnecessary" stuff and the method of promoting your app to spread the world. And read "Rework". It is really nice book too. I'm sure, you'll surely love these books. :D

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Ah, for "Getting Real", you can read it online for free. You can read it here –  SH. May 17 '11 at 10:30
    
I will give those a look over, thanks. –  Wulfhart May 26 '11 at 17:34
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Think about the difference a live game will make.

You say it is a browser game so do they download it or is it run off a server.

Several hundred beta testers are different to a few mates.

Another thing is be realistic. You say about releasing additional content weekly but would it be better to wait a fortnight and release it.

the most important thing is release it when you are confident about it. There is nothing people like more than tearing down your work to make them selves feel better.

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It will run off a server, nothing to download except the webpage. I didn't put my full schedule into the question. I plan to fix bugs weekly (or at least shortly after they are found) and implement new functionality when it is done whether is takes a fortnight or 3 fortnights. –  Wulfhart Apr 7 '11 at 18:04
    
Ok that sounds more sensible. Do seriously think about server traffic, I once made a facebook style website for my degree and it worked fine but when we opened it up to the public for a laugh it crashed the uni network, in the end it looked more like a DOS attack that a website lol. –  Skeith Apr 8 '11 at 8:13
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I was reading an article about this topic on a blog by somebody who has studied Jesse Schell. Their philosophy concerning game is identify the "core mechanic" or "toy" that is fun to do in the game, and build everything else around that.

Take minecraft for example. The "toy" that is fun to do in the game is making blocks explode and putting new ones in their place.

If your game has its core mechanic down and playable, and most importantly, it's FUN then release and iterate. If not, then don't release until it is FUN.

Again, considering minecraft, it had the bare essentials of the fun "toy" built so Notch released it. It's since sold over 1.8 million copies at 10 euro (or more) each. It's still barely in beta and a significant number of copies were sold in ALPHA. But it was fun.

Keep your eye on the ball. An unfun game is a game that will go nowhere no matter how many years of development you put into it. =)

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My goal is to make a game that I will have fun playing (or at least creating). I will make sure to make as fun a game as possible. –  Wulfhart Apr 7 '11 at 18:42
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I strongly advocate Agile for gaming. It's the best. Based on that, I would say release now, and keep continuously improving it. (But the down-side is that people may get upset if you need to do things like resetting points/experience.)

In agile, work is broken down into small pieces that make sense if the game was released right away. So make sure you do it right.

This also gives you crucial early feedback, which may surprise you and provoke you to completely change the direction of your game -- for the better. You won't know until players get their hands on it, though.

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I have already planned to use the Agile method. Since I am working alone iterations will contains small amounts of features with larger work spread across multiple iterations. –  Wulfhart Apr 7 '11 at 18:25
    
Good point on the people getting upset over point resets or experience. I will keep that in mind. –  Wulfhart Apr 7 '11 at 20:35
    
Bear in mind as your game gets older, people who invested hours of their life into it will not want to be equated with n00bs (newbies). This means if you upset the game balance (newbies can become strong disporportionally to older players), older players will also balk. –  ashes999 Apr 7 '11 at 20:37
    
That's something to keep in mind, but it isn't necessarily a stopper. If you have enough players, there's always going to be people upset over any change, and it's up to the makers to decide whether more people will be upset than happy. Keeping in mind, the upset people are going to complain a lot louder than the happy people rejoice. Pretty much every WoW expansion invalidates the work of all the hardcore players, and gives newer players a chance to rise to the top and that's worked out well for them. –  Davy8 May 17 '11 at 12:59
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