Mobile Mavens

How important is playing other people's games for indie developers?

Indie Mavens on balancing work and play

How important is playing other people's games for indie developers?

"Have you played anything lately?"

This is the question that alludes to the indie game developer's paradox, according to Rachel Presser. She writes about how being so busy making games gives her little time to actually play games.

It's a salient point brought up many times by various indie studios and solo developers. They want to play games but have little time to do so. But, this isn't about merely enjoying oneself.

As Presser asks, isn't it important for game creators to, you know, try out a variety of games to learn from them?

This is what we asked our Indie Mavens this week. 

As a developer, how important is playing other games to you? And how do you approach playing other games to help with your own game development?

What games have you been playing recently and what have you learned from them?


Niels Monshouwer Business Developer WeirdBeard

I play games with different mindsets. Some games I play just for fun like any other person.

I'm quite the completionist so I don't work through a lot of games, often these are games I won't ever create myself, last game like that was Dragon Age: Inquisition. I mostly play these game for fun and sometimes discuss them with other people (both other devs and no-devs).

Other games I play with a professional mindset, these are often more in the realm of things I am working on myself, most of the time I don't play them for very long, just to get the understanding of a particular mechanic.

Recently I've been playing Hearthstone for this reason as we were working on an educational card game.

Hearthstone - playing for work

Games in the 'Indie' genre I most of the time don't complete, I find them interesting and read up on them as much as I play them. I really love the genre from a professional standpoint, but often they are too rough around the edges to really be playable for relaxation or enjoyment.

Richard Perrin Owner Locked Door Puzzle

I've definitely struggled to find time to play games over the past few years.

I don't think simply playing games is going to make anyone a better developer.
Richard Perrin

One of the ways I stay sane on long term projects is not to play games in my down time but to play around with small game projects I may never finish. They gives me a chance to express ideas that come to me but don't fit into my main project. This leaves me even less time to play other games.

I don't think simply playing games is going to make anyone a better developer. I think that's only going to happen if you play games that expand your horizons.

If you've played JRPGs your whole life I don't think you're learning much playing the last few that came out. However I think it's worth exploring genres that you're not so experienced in.

Post-Dark Souls I've found myself opened up to things like Monster Hunter and roguelikes in a way that never clicked before and I'm learning a lot from that.

My social life has also led me into spending time with MOBAs and MMOs and learning why they're so popular. It's all been valuable in expanding what I know about games.

However I would say that expanding your horizons shouldn't stop at games. I think a lot of developers would do well to get out of the "games bubble" at times.

Read books, go to the theatre, travel (not just for conferences) anything to give you more life experience to draw from.

Ian Sundstrom Designer Ian Sundstrom

Playing games is one of my favorite ways to relax, but one major inhibitor for me is physical health.

When you spend most of your day working on your own games in front of a computer screen, spending more time being sedentary with video games is often the last thing your body wants

When I do get time, my preference is to play local multiplayer games because they allow me to kill two birds with one stone: I get a chance to play video games and I get valuable (sometimes hard to fit in) social time with my friends.

TowerFall - a good learning experience in forcing conflict

Recently these games have been extra helpful as I’ve been developing a local multiplayer game as a side project.

Bomberman and TowerFall have both been helping me with finding a mechanic for limiting match length; each game shrinks the stage towards the end of a match in order to force players into conflict and keep a round from going on endlessly.

Chris Savory Designer Savory Games

Mobile gaming has a huge advantage in this area as downloading and playing other mobile games is significantly faster than PC or console.

When I'm about 70-80% done on a game, I try to play other games less.
Chris Savory

Checking the featured games every Thursday has become a ritual for myself and my indie friends.

With that said, when I'm about 70-80% done on a game, I try to play other games less as it can get quite demotivating seeing other finished high quality products that are so fresh and fun to you.

This makes you think less of your own game and that isn't a good thing when you're trying to final it. I cut myself off from checking our other games at this point as anything I see or learn cannot be immediately acted upon.

Though... I just had to check out Angry Birds 2 and my god that game is 14 out of 10 polished

Vadim Starygin Founder Elite Games

It is very important. I play quite a lot - but most of that time I take and adopt features from other games to mine. And more over their monetization systems as well.

Then it is a good idea to check comments and suggestions for other games - to read about what players looking for.

Kepa Auwae Business / Design RocketCat Games

For the past couple years I haven't had a lot of time to play games besides the ones I'm making.

However, I still tend to pick one or two games a year and then play them a ton. 100+ hours and such. Examples: Payday 2, Dark Souls 2, Binding of Isaac, Spelunky. I've also played Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup for years now, on and off.

Spelunky - one of Kepa's favourites

I'm not sure if, for me at least, playing other games is very important anymore. I still will as a hobby, but if it's for research purposes, then I already kind of have decades of research. The ideas I have right now could possibly last me for the rest of my career.

It seems handy to at least be aware of trends, but it also seems like it can be pretty harmful when everyone's closely working from a checklist dictated by Most Recent Most Popular Game in Genre.

  • All "survival genre" games having similar UI and features and mostly concerning punching trees/hitting them with rocks to get wood to build stuff.
  • All AAA games slowly morphing into one similar The One Genre of open-world MMO-fetch-quest driven game with RPG elements and Batman.

I guess game development has always been like this, though. It's mostly close copies of Popular Thing, with the eventual game that does something differently enough to be interesting.

Tanya X. Short Creative Director Kitfox Games

The best designers have a variety of interests and inspirations, of which gaming is only one.
Tanya Short

Playing regularly is crucial if you are a designer that wants to create mainstream or niche games -- in either case you have to be aware of player expectations. Don't wanna sell your games? Only doing it for the artistic expression, or genuinely feel alienated from all games that currently exist?

Then yeah, make outsider art! Go for it, you beautiful creature!

If you can't "find time" to play, it's either because you're crunching yourself and burning out OR you're diverting that passion into other hobbies (like raising a family).

The former is unhealthy and is making your game worse over time, according to science, which is why I made this a few months ago.

The latter is a perfectly healthy trade-off, and while playing games is important, I'd also say the best designers have a variety of interests and inspirations, of which gaming is only one.

Leanne Bayley Developer We Heart Dragons

I feel it's super important to play games as a designer.
Leanne Bayley

I feel it's super important to play games as a designer. I remember watching a history of animation documentary at university and John Lasseter said something along the lines of 'You cannot hope to create something new unless you have an understanding of what has come before you' and I think this is especially true in games.

There's such a wealth and variety of games out there that it's getting harder and harder to come up with something truly unique, so it's totally worth while learning from what your peers have created; the good and the bad. Innovate on the successes and avoid the mistakes!

I don't have the time to play for fun as much as I used to (I have put hundreds of hours into Dark Souls), but when I do get to play I draw inspiration from games and I make time to study them when embarking on new projects.

Playing games like 10000000, Dungeon Raid, and Puzzle & Dragons inspired us to make Glyph Quest and Super Glyph Quest.

Games like Dungeon Raid inspired the Glyph Quest series

I'm working on an interactive storybook app with learning games for toddlers so I've researched a lot of similar games and played all things Toca Boca!

And drawing on my love of JRPGs, I'll be starting work on a side scrolling RPG soon so will be dusting off Guardian Heroes and Odin's Sphere for inspiration (and probably using this as an excuse to give Darkest Dungeon a go).

It's important to play games, it's like a whetstone to a devs mind.

Dave Gilbert CCO Wadjet Eye Games

I do find myself playing lots of games.

Been playing lots of indie games on my laptop when my daughter goes to bed. And they are super inspiring and enjoyable.

That said, I very rarely play the types of games that I myself create - e.g., point and click adventure games.

I play one and all I can think is "I could do that so much better" or "I could never be that good" or what-have-you. It's incredibly frustrating.

So I stick to the types of games that I would never make myself.

Justin Smith Developer Justin Smith

Playing games as a developer is pretty important, especially terrible games.
Justin Smith

I would love to play a game made by someone who had never played a game before! Are there any feral children we can contact? It would probably make Pong.

Playing games as a developer is pretty important, especially terrible games. You can steal ideas from terrible games and no one will complain. I've stolen ideas from successful games too. Angry Birds springs to mind.

I like to go to once a week and play all the games there. A developer who says they don't have half an hour a week to play some indie games is delusional. It's easy, and you can learn a lot from playing just a few games. You don't need to play all the greatest hits from beginning to end to learn something and find ideas to steal.

Pavel Ahafonau Co-founder Happymagenta

Obviously, it's hard to make a playable game if you didn't play any and do not play other games.

Our team consists mostly of passionate gamers - and that's the main reason why we came to game dev in the first place.

Some started playing early 80s. We play on mobile, PCs and consoles, and everywhere you can play a game, even programmable calcs.

It's hardly possible for an indie not to play, in my humble opinion.

With an affinity for eccentricity, as well as anything macabre or just plain weird, Chris searches for the games that fly under the radar. If you ask him, anything can be a game. Oh, and a game can be about anything, if you put enough thought into it. So, there.