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So... You Want to Make Video Games? Part 6: Test, Fix and Publish

Check out how to test and fix your new game design
So... You Want to Make Video Games? Part 6: Test, Fix and Publish
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So far game designer Nick Pendriis has help guide us through a world of development wonder, as his ebook So... You Want to Make Video Gamesis serialised exclusively right here on Pocket Gamer.

We've covered topics including concept, art, narrative, design, building and planning. At this stage, if you're working page-by-page, your new game will be up and running. But, as you'll find out, that doesn't mean it's ready.

Here in phase six of Pendriis's game development system, we take a look at testing and fixing your new software, before publishing it for the world to play.

Check out the earlier sections if you haven't already, and the list below shows you what's left to come in our exclusive serialisatoni of So... You Want to Make Video Games?:

  1. CONCEPT: Find a strong idea.
  2. DESIGN: Make test versions and create a blueprint.
  3. PLAN: Organise the project carefully.
  4. BUILD: Create the computer code.
  5. ASSETS: Create visuals, audio and words.
  6. TEST. FIX & PUBLISH: Look for problems, resolve them, release the game to the public.
  7. PROMOTE and SUPPORT: Announce the game and respond to feedback.

Here's Nick Pendriis to give you a bit more about the testing, fixing and publishing phase.

Your first app might just be for you and your friends to play. Maybe you don't plan to publish it. Still... what happens when your friend is playing and the game breaks? Or you can’t even play the game yourself. If it doesn't work, then it's not finished!

It's easy to lose sight of your achievements when you're focused on fixing problems, so stay positive at all times!

Get other people to play your game. They'll use it in ways you didn't expect. This is great for finding “bugs” (errors or problems in a piece of software).

Then, after the sweat and the tears of building and testing, comes the publishing. This falls into one of two categories, traditional or independent.

#1: Testing games sounds like fun

Testing games is not the same as playing games. Testing games is repetitive and it can be very, very dull. Also repetitive. It requires technical knowledge too. When testers report errors, they need to know what caused the problem and how to convey that clearly to the programmers.

“It broke on level two” is not a bug report. It should be more like this:

  • Bug Priority: High
  • Occurrence rate: 100%

Steps to repeat:

  • Play to level 2. Walk player character into jungle area at south of map. At clearing, try to walk into waterfall. Player falls out of world and game crashes.

This way, the development team know what is wrong, how often it happens and what the possible cause might be. In the example above, there’s a problem with the “invisible wall” that keeps players inside the play area.

Clearly, the more a tester knows about video game development, the more useful they are. A good tester understands the way games are constructed, knows what a great player experience feels like and has the ability to communicate clearly and concisely.

Clunky design and a poor user experience are considered “bugs”, just as much as broken code or glitchy performance. Equally, a great tester doesn’t only find bugs but can give solid suggestions for improvements when asked.

Quality assurance

In professional game development, the process of testing is known as “quality assurance” or “QA”. Testers will hammer different aspects of the game, often in teams, deliberately looking for faults and trying to break the game. Any issues they find are reported in a strict and clear format that gets stored in a database, spreadsheet or bug-tracking software. Scribbled notes in a pad simply don’t cut it.

A commonly used bug tracker is Bugzilla.

However, keeping notes in a pad is fine for small solo projects. The trick is to be organised and keep good records. Although getting familiar with software like Bugzilla will definitely help if you’re planning a career in game development.

Many people get very excited about the thought of becoming game testers, as this show from Sony demonstrates. (Not for the faint hearted!)

Once your game is running smoothly and doesn’t contain any obvious errors, it’s time to send it into the wild. The next section looks at publishing.

#2: Traditional publishers

Originally all video games were sold as physical products. They came on a variety of media (tapes, cartridges, discs) but all had similarities. They were solid objects and they needed to be manufactured, packaged and moved to the shops. These duties fell to the publishers, distributors and retailers.

It was extremely expensive and complicated and for that reason, each part of the chain would take a cut of any proceeds from a game’s sale. Publishers were notorious for taking large percentages of any revenue, to make up for their risks and efforts. Now the big games consoles still play games on physical media but they’re moving increasingly online.The big publishers have been keen to boost their online presence significantly because digital apps are like a goldmine.

The key strength of any publisher is the size of their audience. Giants like Namco Bandai, Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts all have strong reputations, big budgets for marketing, loyal fans and excellent networks for pushing games in front of eyeballs.

#3: Independent publishing

Fortunately, anybody can set up as a developer, quite easily, and compete with giants like Sega, Konami and Ubisoft. Several digital stores are open to everyone and they give a healthy percentage of sales revenue to developers.

This digital retail ecosystem is fertile ground for new developers, as there are so few costs involved with publishing. The stores take care of the customers and the finances, leaving devs to concentrate on development and brand strategy.

The independent option doesn’t come with a guarantee though. Your app may get noticed, or it may not. It depends on random factors like luck and public whimsy, just as much as it depends on hard work and all-out determination. Still, that’s part of the fun!

These stores are all open to indies:

#4: Pirates

Most developers and publishers are very concerned about software piracy. After working so hard to create something of value, it’s painful to think of people stealing it and sharing the work for free.

Throughout the short history of video games, companies have tried all manner of weird and wonderful tricks to stop pirates. Some games requested players to type in a random word from the manual. Others came with gadgets or devices that would prove the game was genuine.

They have all been “cracked” (stripped of protection and in many cases shared freely) andoften only hours after launch. So far, there is no such thing as a pirate-proof game. There will always be people looking for a free lunch. In fact, the more defences you put up, the more you encourage some crackers to get past them. They like the challenge.

Generally, anti-piracy measures bother legitimate players but not the actual pirates – despite the vast amounts of money spent on software protection, which increases the price of games and if anything, increases piracy.

As a developer, you need to write off a percentage of your profits. Someone is going to steal your work and there’s nothing you can do, except take it as a compliment that your game is worth stealing.

Do what you can to protect your game, so that it takes effort to steal it but really, don’t go overboard. Let the stores figure out how to stop theft. The online retail portals often use “DRM” (Digital Rights Management) to stop unwanted sharing but it can be bypassed. If Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Sony cannot prevent the problem, who can?

  • FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft)
  • FAST (Federation Against Software Theft)

Most of your players will be honest and they’ll support you because they appreciate your work. Focus on them and don’t waste resources tackling the few bad apples. Learn to look at the pirates as “freelance product evangelists”!

Having published the game, it’s time to start the marketing machine. In the following section, we’ll look at promoting the game and the art of public relations.