Why is game development hard? ( And what you can do about it )


Why is game development hard? For many of us ‘normal’ people, computer game development can be very hard.

Whether you are an outsider, an indie developer, or an experienced game developer, making computer games can be hard! From my first foray into learning ActionScript to getting my teeth sunk into game engines. Game development can be very tough, and I have no shame in admitting it.

When I first started to learn ActionScript ( which is now a largely defunct language ), it took time for me to wrap my head around how to make it work. But I got there… in time.

I can also recall this being said to me before leaving my game course.

“Oh yeah, designers can struggle with ActionScript when they first start using it.“


Quote from somebody on my old Multi-Media course, ever compounding the belief that indie game development is hard.

I’m not sure whether this was an insult, generalisation, or stating a fact. The designer-to-coder conversion could be awkward, and I was no exception.

My journey into making games has been very start-stop, with the apocalypse of Flash Player and Flash in general. My re-study into games has been both challenging and rewarding.

why is game development hard large green vector title graphic with bin of scrapped ideas

And something that I do feel I can share in helping to answer why is game development hard – my years and past project experiences ( including failures ).

I will dare to venture, that computer game development is now easier to do than ever before – but it still isn’t easy! In the late 1990s, game engines such as Unity or Unreal were yet to become a thing. You had to code and make most things from scratch. The internet was still in its infancy and game development took time to gain the credibility and investment it has today.

Game development, or computer game development to be more precise, has become more accessible and available than ever before. But this still doesn’t take away from the fact that even making a basic game – is hard!

“It’s not easy to be good in all of these areas. It is even less likely to be great.”

Why is game development hard? A short ( but not straightforward ) answer

Some of the most common challenges I have found with game development in the past, were due to my lack of technical understanding, losing focus, being unaware of my own limitations, and being too caught up in what technology to use for my projects. Some of the most common challenges I hear from other game developers as to why they find game development is not dissimilar to my own. Lack of certain skills, being stronger in some disciplines than others, and difficulty finding time to work on projects.

Additionally, difficulty with computer game development often stems from making a game on your own. We all have a vision. Only this vision can be bigger than our budgets… or capabilities.

Why is game development hard? A list of reasons

Here are some more in-depth answers as to why game development can be so difficult for most budding game developers. Much of this is based on my own and cumulative experience.

“Because of life”

Individual strengths and weaknesses

Whether it be a smartphone app, a browser game, or those with lofty ambitions to make AAA games each and any of these games can be tricky to make.

The challenges of making computer games differ from person to person depending on each game developer’s unique skills and strengths. You can regard your prime strength as a ‘hero skill’.

Certain game developers may have more skills in coding and writing in Csharp ( C# ) for example. But they lack the competency to perhaps create their original artwork.

Another game developer’s core skill, or hero skill may be in animation. However, they may not be able to code if their life depended on it.

And so on. It’s not easy to be good in all of these areas. It is even less likely to be ‘great’.

I have created an illustration to explain.

why is game development hard bar graph - me and my skills

I regard myself as a good 2D generalist when it comes to making games. However, I have many other technical shortcomings.

Here is another example.

why is game development hard coder stats and bar graph
This is how the stats of a ‘developer’ / coder may look.

Individual strengths and weaknesses when it comes to game development – Solution

Not knowing your strengths and weaknesses will make game development hard. The sooner you learn your strengths and weaknesses, the easier your journey will become.

You may come to the realisation that you either need to learn something new in certain areas of game design or you may wish to consider outsourcing.

Ignoring your weaknesses and focusing on your hero skills only can be a strength, although it will come at a price at some stage.

Commitment can make game development hard

When answering why game development is hard, it can be very easy to overlook the more general challenges. Not being able to commit.

Commitment can be challenging in any large-scale project, and my indie game projects are certainly prone to this.

Speaking in broad strokes and sweeping generalizations, I find it hard to commit to making my indie games now compared to when I was younger.

Why?

Because of life. Because I am impatient and need to see results early and I don’t have as much free time. My focus and attention are often pulled away and it can derail my momentum for making games.

Without seeing results early I can also lose interest. I also feel I need to ‘justify’ the use of my time more so now I am older. And spending hour after hour with my hobbies will not go down well with loved ones.

My focus and time are divided across other responsibilities. life and career can take you away from making your game.

This has been one of my biggest setbacks over the years, including technical limitations when it comes to completing smaller game projects.

Lacking commitment in making your game – Solution

Stating only the ‘why is game development hard’ and ‘Oh well, I can’t commit‘ without any attempt at a remedy feels like lazy reasoning without looking at ways to combat this.

This is what I have done to help my commitment in later years.

  • Set goals
  • Be realistic
  • Have some open conversations

For me to work on websites and game projects, I have discussed with those around me that I will need to set aside time during the week to work on them. This is generally in my free time. It will also make you feel more accountable to more than just yourself.

Pick a day, evening, or morning or when it suits you, and stick with this time. It is harder than it sounds but you are at least attempting to do something you want to do without the regret of knowing you didn’t even try.

Also, remember to be realistic with your time and how much you can get done in a set allotted time.

To help keep you on track why not write down what you hope to achieve per week or tally a certain amount of hours per week next to your project? This will make sure you spend time on what you do.

Marketing your game is hard

Making your game can be both fun and hard to do.

Don’t forget the marketing stage. Developing a game is only part of the race.

If my experience in helping and working with marketeers is anything to go by. Failing to promote your game ( on in my experience – products ) will undo all of your development efforts.

One of my biggest disappointments in the past when it came to releasing a game or app was expecting gamers to :

  • A ) Find the game by magic
  • B ) Play the game

Why is game development hard or post-development? Because the ‘development’ of a computer game is only half the battle. If this is a commercial venture, there is still much to be done once the game has been published.

“ Gamers can expect a lot, and take a lot of indie game development for granted. “

Ideas and solutions for getting your game seen

Make a conscious and deliberate effort to promote your game.

Look at platforms for marketing and distribution, discuss with industry professionals, and fill all the data in on the app store as a bare minimum. Treat the marketing of your game with the same level of passion and dedication as you do the development.

Or, seek out somebody else who will or knows what they are doing.

Senior management can make game development hard

No offence to company MD’s or owners. But a boss of a department or company owner wanting to pull the plug on a project can make it pretty much impossible to make a computer game. Not just hard.

Based on past experience of working on gaming apps. This project ( image below ) got only as far as proof of concept before it was decided that the computer game may create a conflict of interest with the physical game. Plus I think it required too much time to make and detracted from other profitable projects.

Designing an app

I however still wonder to this day whether making the the virtual version of this game may have extended the product’s life. Or perhaps it was on a downward trend and they felt that time to profit ratio wasn’t worth it.

Solution if the game was cancelled

Suck it up, or beg to get the project back on the books. Those with a silver tongue may manage to get a project back up and running. But by and large, due to company reasoning, somebody at the top has already decided the fate of your game. The project is a no-go.

Move on, or bank the idea. Or pencil it up to experience.

Gamers all have opinions ( and they can be harsh )

Why is game development hard?

Because humans can be very mean!

Another emotional reason why game development is hard… is the emotional toll from listening to the general public.

Nothing is more demotivating than putting all of your heart and soul into a game, only to have it torn to shreds by those who have no real interest or care for how much effort you put into making your game. And why should they care? they just want to play something good after all!

This alone, is a reason enough to qualify game development as being hard and sometimes quite unforgiving.

The bar in game design is very high.

Gamers can expect a lot. Arguably too much now.

You’ll have a lot of keyboard warriors with plenty of opinions about the game you’ve made if it is popular. This is hard to filter when you get a lot of players. And sometimes, you need to ask whether the negative opinions and thoughts of your game are just justified.

Why is game development hard? A solution to dealing with the criticism

Being bombarded with criticism and negative reviews of your game can be enough to demotivate any hardened game developer.

There are a few ways I would personally try to handle this.

  • Ignore the nay-sayers
  • Make the game as good as you can in the first place
  • Don’t take it personally

Making games is hard. Why make it harder on yourself by reading every negative slur, insult, and critique? Give yourself a break.

The technical bar of entry is another reason why game development is hard

Having a lack of knowledge in any of the technical aspects of game development can make it very hard when it comes to making games.

I have struggled with certain aspects of the technical stages when making old Flash games or working with Unity.

Not being able to code is no longer mandatory for making games but it may hinder you at some stage. But there are still plenty of technical parts to the game that make it hard.

Solutions – Overcome what you don’t know

One of the most obvious answers would be to learn what you don’t know.

If coding brings you out in hives, then consider using no-code game engines first to get the ball rolling.

If you know 2D but want to make a 3D game then learn 3D or find resources or people to help you.
Learn, in other words.

Unforeseen events can make game development hard

If you’re an independent computer game developer or a hobbyist, day-to-day life can interfere with completing or spending time on your game project.

This point ties in with one of the earlier points with commitment being an issue to completing a project. Outside situations can interfere with making games. This is real life, we are just human after all.

When considering why is game development so hard, you’d be forgiven for believing that commitment would be one of the easiest stages in completing your game project.

It is very easy to say that you will stay committed to a project and stick to the project. These are words. It is different putting it all into practice.

Here is the reality of why unforeseen events can derail a project:-

  • Poor health
  • Boredom
  • Day-to-day life
  • Speaking to other human beings
  • Work

Solutions to work around unforeseen events

Don’t stray too far.

It would be easy to say to lock yourself away and never interact with the outside world. But we both know that the outside world will want to interact with you at some point, and you with it. And so you should.

A solution – dig deep. If something comes up that pulls you away from the project. Try to get back to your game development quickly before you lose momentum. Share with the world that you are making a game to make yourself feel accountable.

And, keep a project diary to help you get back on your feet with your project when you are ready. Getting waylaid for any length of time will make it harder if you forget where you get to with your game.

To try and hold me to account. I am currently working on a mini Flash game remaster. It’s being remade in Unity and Adventure Creator. There, I said it. I’m remaking this guy, and I am currently stuck on making a UI Canvas stage

Lack of funds can make game development hard

Why is game development hard? A lack of suitable funds can also hamper making games.

Don’t know something? Hire someone.

Don’t have funds? Oh well, do it yourself then. And in lies a vicious circle.

If you lack time, or can’t commit, and you lack funds too and don’t know how to do something, it is less and less likely that you will see the completion of your game in all reality. You are stuck.

  • Lack time? You won’t be able to make your game yourself.
  • Cannot commit? Then you cannot offer the time that your game project deserves.
  • Won’t or can’t learn? Then it can’t progress without the help of somebody else.
  • Lack funds? You will not be able to fill the shortcomings of the above.

These factors above can stop a project dead in its tracks, be it game development or any other type of project for that matter.

Solutions if you lack funds for your indie game

Money issues or lack of resources notable reason why is game development hard.

If a lack of funds is a reason why you are finding game development difficult – this can be harder to resolve. But not impossible.

You can always consider the following:-

Get another job

If you are working on your game as a hobby and need money, you may need to find a ‘day job’. You may be able to leverage the spare money toward your game and other helpful solutions.

Raise money for your computer game

One of the more typical ways of raising money for computer game projects is by using crowdfunding platforms to raise money for a project. Don’t just assume either that simply launching it will get the funds or enable yo to hit a target.

Get a grant

Look for companies that offer grants for making games. If you have a polished and established idea. You may be able to apply for a grant to help with your game development.

Why is game development hard – what do I do when I have no money…

Empty pockets, broke… not a lot of money.

I wanted to share some of what I have done when working on my more recent indie game project and my past Flash games… and games that never saw the light of day.

My day job

Be it freelance or my full-time job. I had a means to earn money outside of relying on my own games to pay for themselves. I used to sell my services as a Flash Designer & Developer back in the day, this went hand in glove with my wanting to make games. My day job, or main job supported me financially.

I’d buy resources

Making games is hard, and starting everything from scratch makes indie game development even harder. Why punish yourself further?

More so with Unity, I have purchased assets and tools to help make development easier. And sometimes, it is a project saver.

I will read up on how to make games

Why is game development hard – sometimes it is due to massive holes in knowledge. And I still have plenty of holes and things to learn. One way you can make indie game development easier is by reading up.

This is something I do, either with books, forums or videos.

“The catch is, that my capabilities did not match my vision…”

Being ‘overambitious’ can also make game development hard

If there is one way to make game development harder for yourself – it is by being overambitious. Surely, that would be a good thing? Not when it comes to making games. You need to work within your limits. If you don’t know your limits, learn them!

Being overambitious with past game projects is something I have certainly been guilty of. I’ve had visions in the past of big grand games with AAA calibre graphics and epic stories – stuff that was just beyond awesome!

The catch is, that my capabilities did not match my vision. The reality did not pair up with what I wanted to make.

If you’re trying to make a computer game on your own, you need to set your expectations to a level where one person would be able to achieve what they have in their minds I’ve their game. Knowing your own limits will also help in making your game. And if you don’t know them. You will figure it out.

Solutions to being over-ambitious

Know your limits.

Making games can be very difficult. Learning new tricks and learning new software can take time. There is also a limit to what you can do on your own.

If you are just starting, either save your ‘big vision’ for when you get good and grow. Or look at ways of raising money and getting help.

Why is game development hard? … Poor planning

This is something I have been guilty of in the past and present. Jump into the middle and see what happens, this tends to be my learning style. Figuring out what I don’t know and then filling in the gaps.

Too often I have underestimated the scale of small game projects and realised part way through that I should have given more over to a loose plan.

A weak plan or weak checklist can all work hand in glove with the other hurdles to make creating a game even harder than it already is.

Solution – Plan and stick to it

If you make a plan ‘after’ you just started, this is better than no plan!

Being slowed down by a breakaway or a hiatus in my work is one thing, this is worsened further if I have to take a break without a plan to refer back to!

Here is a little something to help.

  • Create a checklist of ‘all’ that needs to be done.
  • Keep a project diary that you can refer to when you come back to your project.

Other helpful solutions

You may also find these subjects helpful:-

Why is game development hard – the final summary!

That concludes a variety of reasons as to why game development is such a challenge. Numerous challenges come with making a game! And many more in all likelihood that go beyond this list. I have compiled together a list of reasons as to why game development is hard on reflection to the rest of this article.

A reason summary

  • Not knowing your strengths and weaknesses
  • Being unable to commit
  • Not marketing your game
  • Lack of technical skills
  • Boredom
  • Lack of budget
  • Poor planning
  • Being too ambitious
  • Saturated market
  • Bad luck

And many others.

Why is game development hard? – sharing my experiences

The personal challenges that I have had when making indie games have often arrived from the selection or the reasons above.

But my biggest challenges have been:

  • Not being able to decide what software to use.
  • Lack of time and commitment.
  • Being spread too thin.
  • Getting lost as to where I got to when I come back to projects when I come back to them.

In reality, there are probably more experiences here that evade my memory as to why I have found game development hard. Mostly, one of the biggest reasons is because I’m an arty type and designer first combined with all of the above reasons at varying stages.

Where to publish your HTML5 game

Thank you for reading. Perhaps you would like to read why old computer games were trickly or view more on the home page – game gunk.com.

You may also be interested in playing my ‘alpha’ game on itch.io – Fools’ errand

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