Indie Game Dev Tip #4 – Why You Should Build to Ship
Today, I want to talk about a concept that I think has really helped me get to a lot of places in a lot of different areas of my life. That’s the whole concept of BUILDING TO SHIP. When I talk about building to ship, what I mean is any product that you build, any software, any game, anything like that, you want to build it with the intention to ship it.
When I started in game development, I spent so many hours, days, weeks, and months on stuff that I imagined would be shipped eventually, I didn’t begin with the intention to do that. I was just kind of trying to build this thing that I could share with my friends, do some weird tests on, or try out all new features and just keep developing and stuff.
I learned that no matter what you’re doing, as an artist you are creating something from nothing. Some of the greatest artists in history that we know about They some from places and they’re paintings go for millions. The people that we know about are the ones that actually finish things.
They’re not necessarily the best in art because art is very subjective. How can you tell that that guy’s art is better than that guy’s. One time, I saw a painting go for 2.4 million dollars. It was just a bunch of splats on the screen. I don’t think that was worth 2.4 million dollars but someone did.
So, how do you say that one artist is better than others? How do you put a dollar value on all these different art when you don’t know who’s the best?
Many artists are renowned as the best of all time because they continually finished products. They continually shipped them. These famous artists put out hundreds even thousands of art pieces during their lifetime. That’s kind of crazy to think about right? How can you put out that much stuff? These guys built to ship. They just kept building and building. When you start on a project, especially a game, you have to have the intention to ship. Intention goes beyond, “Oh someday I’m going to publish it.”
You have to have a deadline. You have to have the real intention in all of your being to get it out there. I’ve talked a couple times about sticking to MVPs or building the Minimum Viable Products and then iterating afterwards. For me, the thing that has made the biggest difference in all of my development in software and game development has been this sprint to the rough draft. I had this intention to build the core thing as fast as I can and then I can build a bunch of stuff on top of it and add to it later. I just want to ship the core thing.
Don’t get me wrong here. I know that what I’m saying can be misconstrued as you should just make a piece of shit and just put it out there and don’t worry about quality and all that stuff—that’s not what I’m talking about. I think quality in game design is important. Especially in our situation now in our ecosystem where there are tons shitty games out there that have taken over the whole Steam Store.
Quality is important. However, I think as a developer you are not a machine, and you have to understand that you are not a machine. Machines can run 24/7 you just give them electricity and they’re good to go. You are not that. I am NOT that. We cannot run 24/7 on just electricity, even just on food and water, we can’t do it. We’re not wired that way.
We have a bunch of other human needs. You need to understand that about yourself so that when you start a project, especially a big project, you won’t end up killing yourself to finish it, or more likely, end up not finishing it at all.
When you’re working on a project and you don’t have the intention to really ship it, it might never get done. It’s important that you are aware of this.
The human brain is constantly compared to a computer. That is not accurate. Human beings have other needs. Also, other things get in the way. Our motivation dies. Our desire to continue dies. Sometimes in the beginning, we have this strong desire to learn and when we learn something, we don’t want to work on the project anymore. I already have it in mind at the start of a project that I’m going to sit down and go as fast as I can to ship the thing. I’m going to build it and ship it out as fast as I can.
Many times, especially with mobile games, I can get the basic version out in a week or two. I really love that because my attention span is only a maximum of 2 weeks. If I go beyond that, I get into the territory wherein I really don’t want to mess with this thing anymore.
So for me it’s really important to sprint and get that playable demo, that vertical slice, or that MVP done as fast as I can with the intention of shipping it. I’m going to put this out there, see what people think, and then I’m going to iterate on it later.
I think that something happens in your brain when you start shipping things. It’s a different mentality than when you’re building things. When you’re building things, there is no end to the amount of times you can tweak it. There is no perfection, there is no completion point in art. When you’re working on a game and you don’t intend to ship it, you can keep adding shit and tweaking shit for eternity.
Literally, you will have stuff to do on that game forever. There is no game developer in the modern world that I know of that really looks at their game as complete. They’re either published or not published. It’s never really complete, perfect, or 100%—but they got it out there. The ones that get it out there, are the ones that go places.
Like the famous artists, the ones that get it out there are the ones that we remember and know about. These people that don’t get their stuff out there, that don’t publish or ship, we don’t know who they are. No matter how much love, effort, amazing quality, and attention to detail that they put into their project, if they didn’t ship it, we won’t know about it.
You need to understand that. You have to make that mental shift from an artist that wants to create this perfect thing and not put it out there until it’s perfect to NO, you’re the person that’s going to build to ship. You’re going to build it to ship it. You have a deadline, you have a sprint in mind, you’re going to make shit happen, you’re going to get it done and you’re going to push it out there. Then, you’re going to move on to the next thing.
Sometimes you might iterate on the old thing and make it better a few times, but you need to know when to stop. You can’t get so focused on the perfection that you never get shit out there. You have to build it to ship it. You need to accept that it’s never going to be perfect.
If none of the famous artists in history released anything until they thought it was absolutely perfect, they would never get better at their art and we would never know their name.
So that’s my message for you guys today: BUILD TO SHIP. If you have any comments on this, please leave it below, I’d love to hear from you.