I found this article at gamedev.net somewhat horrifying. It’s supposedly about how to make your game highly polished so that it will sell many copies. But after a somewhat relevant first point (“Put effort into your demo”) it’s all downhill.
The article is terrible. Let’s ignore the fact that offers advice about polish, but is itself extremely unpolished (the prose is fragmented and there are glaring factual errors, like getting the name of Xbox Live’s point system completely wrong, in a section that’s about how effective that system is in attracting players. One wonders, has this guy even used Xbox Live? Why is he writing about this?)
I won’t spend any more time complaining about specific points (you’ll find plenty of problems yourself). The wider issue that bothers me is: this article is typical of the institutional knowledge of the indie game community. If you go to the indiegamer.com forums, or read the development notes from a random indie game linked from someone’s blog, you’ll find about the same level of insight, which is to say, almost none.
This is a problem. It will be very difficult for indie games to propel the industry forward, to somehow prevent games from becoming the comic books of the 21st century, if we are all riding the short bus. We need to develop an institutional wisdom appropriate to our place at the avant garde.
For example: if writing an article about polish, why don’t we start with some kind of understanding of its basic nature: that it’s not merely eye candy, but also can have a dramatic impact on the usability of the game, and the way the player perceives in-game events? That one important function is to provide audiovisual cues for events that may otherwise exist only as hidden state, or would be vague as to their occurrence in space or time? (If a player can’t tell exactly when or where or why he died, it makes the game much harder to learn, and the player feels less cared-for). That there is a space defined by the axes “provides player comprehension” and “provides sensual stimulation” (and probably a few others); that every piece of polish lies somewhere in that space, with almost nothing at the boundaries? That since it’s very rare for well-executed polish to provide only eye candy without added comprehension, we shouldn’t be so quick to think of eye candy in a cynical, “it’s just there to sell copies” kind of way? What about the fact that audiovisual effects are, by their very nature, smaller works of art within the bigger work, and as such they express things that are inseparable from (and invaluable to) the work as a whole?
That might turn out to be a pretty good article.