I'm not sure how well this post is going to go over, and I realize that much of this has been said before, but I thought it would be nice if everyone submitting a game to Peer Review read this.
Many people have said that the quality of Community Games is lacking. They say that it is filled with amateurish shovelware. The sad part is that us reviewers have been keeping out the worst of it until it is up-to-spec. Now we are not allowed to judge games based on content, and while in some respects that is a good rule, many disagree with it. But I think that if all developers would think about a few things before posting to Peer Review, it would make the review process smoother (for devs and reviewers), it would make the overall quality of games on the service better, and it would ultimately bring more potential users (read: customers) to our community. Thus:
1.)Does your game follow the Best Practices?
Every retail game has to follow rules and regulations that are stricter than these. These practices make your game easier to play and understand to the user. And while reviewers cannot technically fail a game for not adhering to these, they can (and have often done so) fail your game for being unplayable or confusing to the user, which 90% of the time is because the game developer failed miserably on a Best Practice guideline.
2.)Have you tested your game?
Many commercial game development studios have in-house teams to test games. And if they don't, they outsource. But you don't need something like that because you aren't commercial, you are "Indie," right? Sorry, but if you are posting to Peer Review, there is no option to sell it for free. So unless your game can be completed in 8 minutes and you have a splash screen that says, "Don't buy this game", you are commercial. Sure, you don't need to hire people to test your game, but call up your friends, make some nachos, and just sit and play the game for a while.
3.)Is your game fun?
This is the biggest problem facing indie developers, especially because their ideas are so unique and original. Unfortunately, not every idea is cut out to be a videogame. If you throw your aformentioned nacho party and your friends play the game for two minutes and put down the controller, giving you a bleak little smile and saying feebly, "that was fun". Don't be a fool and think to yourself "oh well..." If you can tell potential customers aren't getting into it, don't get mad, don't get sad, grill them for the reasons. Ask them what was good and what was bad. Tell them to be brutally honest. But the key here is, whatever they say, take it with a grain of salt. They are talking about the game, not you. Take their advice to heart, and see if you can improve on it. If you can't then don't just release a boring game to the service to hurt and annoy other developers and customers. Treat it as a learning experience and start on a new game. I had an almost finished product once that got canned because, well, it just wasn't as fun in the application of the idea as it seemed to be on paper.
4.)Is networking fully functional?
If you have XboxLIVE multiplayer support, test it! Don't just assume that because Local Multiplayer or System Link works that your online works. If you can't afford a second Xbox to test it with, have a friend try it. Or post on the Help Wanted section looking for someone to just deploy and play a game with you to test online. While it can be difficult to test the maximum 32 players at once, you should try to stress-test as much as possible. However, let me regress. Don't try to get a developer to help you test if you have not done at least a little testing yourself. You should have System Link working perfectly, as you can play your Xbox360 vs. your PC. Once you have that working then move on to XboxLIVE, and find some friends to play with.
5.)Is your game a finished product?
Is your game ready to be put on the shelf of a BestBuy or GameStop. If it is, and you saw it there, would you buy it? If not, figure out why. Most of the time, developers just starting out (often students) will make their first platforming game, and their family will say, "Wow, thats great!" And it is, don't get me wrong. But is it something people would pay for? And to be perfectly honest, most of the time the answer is no. Don't take this the wrong way. It is still a big achievement and you should be proud of yourself. You could even put it up in playtest asking other developers what it needs to be a professional title instead of a student project. It could eventually be a polished title, or you may move on to bigger and better projects taking the experience and pride with you. But don't try to sell us the projects you do to learn programming and game development. We can play that for free at a Flash game site.
6.)What is the appeal of your game?
Does it use revolutionary new gameplay like Blow
? Or does it fill a niche like Biology Battle
or Weapon of Choice
? Or is it being released just because you think it is cool and want to make some money? Many developers need to seriously look at their motives for releasing a game. While sales figures have not been released, Community Games are just that: made by the community for the community. You should not plan to make a living off of them. If you want to do that, join a development studio or make a game prototype and sell it to a Game Production company. Thats not to say that money should have no factor in your decision, but don't pop out a crappy game (or a reskin of a sample provided by the XNA team) and try to make money off of it. You are just hurting the community, and people who have tried it thus far have often been shunned by many of us regulars. Reputation is everything in this industry. So if someone tells you your game probably isn't appropriate for sale on CG, ask them what you could improve, don't say "too bad, I'm selling it anyway".
7.)Does it have programmer art?
Some programmers can make cool art. In fact, all three of them should do game art exclusively because there never seems to be enough good game art. "Programmer Art" is a term used throughout the industry to describe crappy art that the programmer made as a placeholder for the real art added in later. In the indie world, it also refers to mix-and-match art from the web thrown unceremoniously into a game in a horrible mess that doesn't work at all. If you have a complete game with crappy art, it probably won't sell. The simple truth is, many books are judged by their cover. But the good news is that there are plenty of artists who would be glad to do art for a nearly finished game if they know it can sell soon and give them money soon. They won't join at the beginning of a project because it is too risky and could be a waste of their time. But when you do find an artist, put your game in playtest while the art is being done. Take suggestions and keep making it better. You will not only help yourself and your sales, but you will be doing the whole community a favor. Check out this post
by The ZMan about where artists linger.
8.)Have you presented it well?
Going back to the judging a book by its cover thing: Don't undersell your game. If the original Gears of War or Halo came out with cover-art that was just a black rectangle with the title in white text, do you think it would have sold? No, probably not. Use the advantages given to you by XNA to sell your game. Make compelling cover-art, screenshots that represent the best of the gameplay, and a video. Sure, the videos may not be seen by the users now, but maybe down the road they will be visible to end-users from their Xbox360. Post the video on YouTube and GameTrailers, too. Spread the word about your game. Don't just expect people to see it and buy it. There are a lot
of games on the Community Games platform, so the chance that an end-user will just "find you" is slim.
9.)Be nice to reviewers.
Once you submit your game there is one thing you need to remember: These people review their game on their own free time and anything they have to say to you is only their way of helping you. One problem I see a lot is people taking criticism personally. You need to remember that no game is perfect and that the reviewers aren't attacking you. And especially: Don't attack them. That is the fastest way to get your game rejected. Angering a reviewer is like angering a police officer. There are a lot of obscure rules and laws that we usually don't worry about (like making sure all of your art/music isn't copyrighted). We expect you to handle these things. But if you are rude and disrespectful, reviewers will start looking for obscure problems to spite you. We are human, and our feelings do get hurt. And in some cases (yes, this has already happened), Microsoft can and will ban you from Community Games. So be kind, and remember: We are only there to help you release the best game possible.
I am not going to go into other subjects like putting your game into Playtest before Peer Review, because this post is lengthy enough and those have been harped upon enough already, but the key here is: Be professional, and good things will happen.
I hope this helps you fledgeling developers, and good luck in the Marketplace.
If anyone has anything to add, please feel free.