GDD 016 : When is a Game Done?

By July 8, 2014 Podcast No Comments
Game Design Dojo Podcast Episode

We received a Facebook question from our friend Bradley Erickson asking us “How do you finish and ship the dang thing after months(or years) of iteration and work?” after we published the episode ‘How to turn an idea into a game?’. So, we got together and recoded this episode to answer his question. Enjoy!

 How Do You Know when a Game is Done?

This brings up the question, “Is it ever done?” Well, at the end of the day you need to just ship it and get it out. This episode will give you some insights on how you can tell when you’re ready to rap it up.

Creating the Minimum Viable Product

Ideas are everywhere. An important skill to develop is taking an idea from start to finish. In general it is good practice to finish what you started. Finding a way to create a minimum viable product and getting that out in the world will do wonders for you and even hopefully earn you some money.

What Does Minimum Viable Product Mean?

From a gameplay perspective:

  • You can feel the meta loop – the core game loop
  • You’re able to replay that loop in the right amount of time and have a continuation of where you left off
  • The whole system is working for you
  • Social Media – perfectly acceptable high level meta loop or meta game
  • If you can get that short term, medium term and long term loops in place that’s a good indicator that you’re close to being done

No Bugs

It is extremely important that as your playing in all three loops of your game  that you’re not coming across any bugs or errors. The worst thing you can do when launching a game is get a bunch of 1 stars for something you had control of.

Soft Launch

Launching to a small market first avoids the disastrous results if there are any problems with your game.


Find ways to get as much feedback as you can. Seeing how people are playing your game can be a safety measure to catch problems really and make sure there are no road blocks.

Using achievements is a cheating way of doing analytics. It works based on what achievements the player is getting you’ll have some analytics. Brian used Flurry Analytics with his game Roboto and put a hook in the beginning of each level to gauge how people were playing the game.

What Corners Do You Cut To Get Your Game Out Sooner?

It is really hard to hand something over to someone when you know it had flaws. At some point you have to make the decision that this is good enough. But what do you give up on?


On free-to-play games, you can shave (not cut out) on monetization and focus more on player retention so they are more likely to play the game and stay with it; then over time you can introduce more areas to monetize like more in-app purchases. How about an in-app purchase that takes the ads away, for instance.

Amount of Assets

Visual polish is more favorable that the amount of assets. Instead of making six worlds for your game, you can put all your focus on worlds one and two and make them absolutely amazing.

Determining When Your Game Is Done

 Create An Amazing Experience

Your experience can be shorter and better.

Keep in mind, the game doesn’t have need to be the everything game that does all kinds of stuff. Players are going to move on to a game that has a different kind of experience – go in understanding that.

But, the experience you’re making is so special and so different and so unlike anything else that they only get it when playing your game. So, take that one thing that you’re doing so far and you’ve presented it in such a brilliant way  that it’s going to be unique and fresh and that’s why they’re sticking with it.

Working Through the Half Way Point

When working on a game, about half way through the game, you want to start working on the next game. Don’t. Finish that thought (remember, it was once a brilliant idea) and then move on to your next game instead of trying to turn this game into your next game.

It could be a tough pivot. Make all your pivoting early on. It’s not the time to pivot when all the features are in and everything’s working, it’s time to wrap it up.

UI is Super Super Important

Spend a lot of time on UI:

  • Making the graphics
  • Piecing it all together
  • Changing the flow
  • Adding options for different platforms
  • Can’t cut too many corners

It’s all about how you’re handling UI buttons for tablets and phones:

  • Are they fun to press?
  • Do they have little noises and sparkles that come out of them?
  • Do they slide in really cool?
  • Is the frame rate on these sliding UI panels really sharp and clean?
  • Are all these elements super slick?
  • Is it fun to navigate though menus?

These points are super important to consider for App games.

 Features – To Add Or Not To Add

A skill that is learned at this point of game development is knowing which features to put in and to keep going on in the development and which ones to not include and be thinking about wrapping it up.

Ask yourself:

  1. Realistically how long will it take to put in and be flawless?
  2. Does it solve a problem you have in the game?
  3. Does it solve your short, medium or long term game play loop?
  4. Is it needed for the meta game to make the experience fun and interesting?
  5. Does it address the minimal monetization needs that you have?
  6. Is it needed to understand more of what your players are doing from an analytics standpoint?

Identifying whether or not you need that feature to fit the core basic needs of the player is how you would evaluate it at that point.

Let’s say you’re a year in, the game has zero bugs and you’re determining if you put in a new feature – Stop innovating, no more creativity.  Look at other games to see what they did and take innovation off the table. Why re-create the wheel when there are plenty of mechanics that people already accept and know.

Deadlines – Respect Your Own

Give yourself a firm deadline! Treat deadlines seriously even if they’re artificial and stick to that timeline. People generally work to the amount of time given. Think of it this way: if you want to get better at running, sign up for a race. The real pressure will help motivate you.

Hold yourself accountable and do whatever mental trick works for you. You have to learn what buttons to use to motivate yourself and see what works as far as timelines go.

Knowing When Your Game Is Done

You’ve made sure:

  • To fit the core needs of the core game play loop
  • Have a hint of a monetization model – you can fill out more as time goes on
  • You’re deadly serious there are no bugs – can cause permanent damage
  • It feels fun and it doesn’t have to be long winded
  • What you show is extremely polished – especially the UI
  • It’s heavily themed
  • The visuals don’t detract from the experience

These points make up your minimum viable product.

Thank you again Bradley for asking us this question, hopefully we helped out with getting your games out into the world. Good luck!

Keep the questions coming!

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #016



About Deanna McRae