During the last decade, one of the biggest trends in the startup world has been lean startup and the push to release an MVP to the market early. In the gaming space, however, I have seen many companies shy away from this approach. Obviously, a game success is greatly dependent on the quality of the art work and how lovable the characters are. Well, maybe it’s time to revisit that assumption.
At a recent event I attended, MGF Asia in Hong Kong, I sat-in on two sessions that discussed a very similar concept. Can a studio release an MVP and if so, what does it look like? Roy, the CEO of Forgame, argued that you can actually. He asked the crowd, “would candy crush be engaging with squares, rectangles, circles and triangles?” He then rhetorically answered that from their experience you can optimize the core loop without the graphics. He challenged the crowd to think about the production quality of Flappy Bird and had them ask themselves if a game could be enjoyable regardless of the art level. Roy explained that his studio is practicing the concept of a Minimal Playable Product and puts the focus on making the core game loop extremely engaging by iterating with a rather sketchy level of art.
In a subsequent session, Chris Natsume, of Boomzap, explained how investing in art at an early stage can lead you down a bad path. If you invest in art in the early stages then it can sway your decisions, probably for the worse, to justify your earlier decisions since you’re already heavily invested. “Those littles cute monsters are now sitting on your back and making you less agile.” According to Chris, their approach is to “build dirty and change big” and never be afraid to kill a game if its not good. He explained, “you have to pretend you are the publisher and ask yourself, would I invest the marketing dollars.”
While the video from MGF might not be available for a while, I did come across a lecture on the same topic from Gabby Dizon, CEO of Altitude Games and a past employee of Boomzap. The same concepts are conveyed in this lecture.