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I'm assuming you're an indie developer, doing your own (or getting free/partner-based) artwork. I'm also assuming you have no external pressure driving you forward into new games; you can work on your games as much (or as little) as you want, then move on.

Having said all that, how do you decide how much polish to put in a game?

I'm also assuming you won't fall into the notorious trap of dumping your game half (or less) finished; that you have the discpline to work on it until it's "good (enough)."

I currently have a rough cycle where I develop the core functionality, then content/levels/whatever, then add layers of polish (art, bug-fixes, and usability tweaks) until I get bored. There's always scope to improve, but I don't have a measuring stick telling me that "at this point, your return on polishing is not worth the time/effort you're putting into it."

I'm going to assume this is always worth it if you learn something new (like how to render a glow effect, say).

Also, before you ask, I don't have much of a player base (and not one I can observe, either) to ask them when it's good enough.

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2 Answers 2

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I'm going to assume this is always worth it if you learn something new (like how to render a glow effect, say).

That's a poor assumption. Indeed, I would even say that this assumption suggests that your general idea of "polish" isn't necessarily polishing anything important.

"Polish" is not adding glow. "Polish" would be adding glow to something such that it makes the game better in some material way. Does that object need to glow? How does that glowing fit into your overall visual design aesthetic? Do other objects need to glow in order to make the entire presentation more coherent?

Gratuitous effects are gratuitous. As are gratuitous AIs, gratuitous levels, gratuitous enemies, gratuitous areas, etc.

In a well-designed and well-polished game, every element exists for a purpose. Putting more "stuff" in a game does not make it more polished. Making the game a coherent, cohesive work is what makes it more polished.

This will generally involve doing boring stuff. Making a UI that looks like it belongs in that kind of game. Making sure that all your UI elements have a consistent look and feel. Making sure that your UI screens all make sense and have consistency and logic to them. Ensuring that enemies and other objects of interest are visible and noticeable, popping out of the background. Ensuring that the player's play experience through the game is smooth; the game doesn't get too difficult too early, and it doesn't get too easy later on.

Polish is all of those little things that you know you need to do, but take a long time and in many cases aren't very interesting. And they're certainly not why you started making the game in the first place.

Yet these are what makes a good idea into a great game. And these things are not easy to do. They require a lot of grunt work.

The only real way to know how much is enough is to give the game to other people and let them play it, then see how they react. Ask them if there is anything that feels missing from the experience, or if they ran into trouble, or anything of that nature.

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5  
+1 For infinite wisdom. –  michael.bartnett Oct 20 '11 at 6:16
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+1 I wish all game companies would polish their games like this :) –  bummzack Oct 20 '11 at 7:12
    
+1 for "give the game to other people and let them play it". Valve does this all the time, and uses that data to improve their games. –  thedaian Oct 20 '11 at 17:20
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Your 5th and 6th paragraphs are the key here. –  Nate Oct 20 '11 at 18:14
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Sometimes the polish phase needs to reach the "shipped" terminal state. Nothing like a shipping deadline to break out of the trap of infinite polish. It is not unusual to perform rapid release iterations (well at least in the iOS AppStore). –  Daniel Blezek Oct 21 '11 at 13:11

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

For non-indie games, how much polish is usually a matter of time and money. You have a budget, release window, and so on, and you usually just find the highest priority things (hopefully from the user's perspective, but sometimes from the other internal forces like IP holders and the like) to do first. Eventually you have to cut your losses and ship.

But for you, I would probably frame the question a different way. Assuming you haven't released yet, the amount of polish is more an effect of when you're proud enough of the product to put it in front of people.

at this point, your return on polishing is not worth the time/effort you're putting into it.

The only person who can determine the return is you. Are you learning something new? Are your skills improving? Are you looking at it from a "how many more units will this potentially get me" perspective? Would you get a better ROI by starting a new project? There isn't an easy way to answer that question in the general case.

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Unfortunately, I think I addressed most of your points in my question -- no limit on time or money, no other priorities; only polishing where I benefit my skills from it. Cheers though. –  ashes999 Oct 20 '11 at 20:36
    
Given no constraints, is there really a concept of "enough"? –  Tetrad Oct 20 '11 at 21:24
    
there should be. I'm sure someone has found a metric for deciding when it's useful to keep polishing a game and when it's probably better to stop. –  ashes999 Oct 20 '11 at 22:52
    
+1 for using pride as a metric –  user_123abc Oct 23 '11 at 22:19

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