Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Production Line: The current plan

I’m keen to get people playing a really early build of my next game: Production Line. My current aim is for it to be available for pre-orders and early alpha play in about two weeks time. This is MUCH earlier than I normally start taking money for a game, and letting people play it, but this as an experiment for me, and I’m always looking to try new stuff. The more I think about ‘Early Access’ for a game like this, the more I like it as a developer. I suspect I’m a much better programmer and ‘big picture’ designer than a designer of the nitty gritty mechanics of a game, and for someone like that, early feedback from real players will be invaluable. Here is my current plan:

The next two weeks: Get a playable Alpha.

The game is playable right now, and you can easily spend a few hours playing it without issues, or running out of things to do. The game is English-only, windows-only, and is missing the following:

  • Proper music
  • Proper SFX
  • A decent GUI design
  • Any kind of high scores, goals or achievements
  • Modding support.

There will also be a lot of awful balance issues, and of course some hidden bugs you can enjoy finding. Yay!. My big internal debate right now is how much to charge people ordering at this stage, more on that next week. This is likely to be a direct-download from-the-developer only affair in the short term. Anyway beyond that…

The month of February: Play Balance

Everything will be thrown into chaos once the player base goes from just me, to the 100 or so people mad enough to pre-order at this stage. (I plan no press release or ads, just a blog and twitter/facebook announcement. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it). I suspect I will be inundated by people saying ‘Windows are too cheap!’ ‘Employees don’t cost enough!’ ‘Aircon is a worthless upgrade’ and so on… Sorting through all that and making the game a balanced, playable experience for everyone is going to take a lot of analysis and fiddling so I expect that this, combined with GDC at the end of Feb, and also Shadowhand‘s launch, will mean February will be likely ‘feature-free’ in update terms.

The month of March: Late game stuff.

At this point I’ll likely want to gather opinions on, and suggestions for, the two big missing areas of the game, marketing & QA. The cars currently are assumed to have neither, and the whole topic is ignored, but introducing them both will be fun, and involve new research, new graphics, and a whole lot more GUI. This is just to get stuff into a vaguely playable state and make sense of the mechanics. Marketing is obviously something I am personally interested in, but I’d like to know the extent to which players of the game find that it will add to the experience.

April and beyond: Features and polish.

Music, SFX, a decent GUI design, and a whole lot more features are all planned, but I intend to ask whatever community I can build up to give me their priorities in terms of what I work on. Some people may be interested in more employee management, others in variants of car designs, maybe some in an even bigger tech tree, or more complex market mechanics, it could go in a number of different directions from here.

Q2 2017: Steam Early Access?

If all goes well, I might take a step towards putting the game on steam for early access later in the year. I can’t guarantee that, and never intend to make any promises about the future, but I also cannot foresee any problems. Until then, it will be direct sales only, so I can keep control on things, and not have to divide my time between my blog & forum and steam and so on. Also it can be a bit of a megaphone effect when you launch on steam, even in Early Access, so I’d rather reserve any press coverage I may be lucky to get until after all those early issues have been wrangled along with help from the early-players.

Beyond that… who knows! The game may prove a success or a flop, and that largely determines what happens. I’m loving working on it, so I can’t see me stopping work on it for ages, even if nobody buys a copy :D If you want to know more about the game we have a website here, and also a bunch of youtube playthroughs here. Let me know what you think.

5 thoughts on Production Line: The current plan

  1. I can’t offer specific advice on pricing, but I can offer a suggestion that may make the early adopters (myself included) feel it was more worthwhile to get in early, especially if the paid alpha isn’t a huge discount off final retail: give us a pointless, shiny exclusive or two. Nothing that really changes the game (because for things I don’t get in early on, I find that incredibly irritating). Random thoughts: Alpha tester credits. A code that unlocks a minor graphical option (A gaudy car color pattern, new factory floor tiles, robots that throw preposterous levels of sparks).

    I’m a bit jealous of Shenzhen I/O backers: they got a physical envelope/letter that represented a letter that the game’s protagonist received. (Using US postal rates, I’m guessing it ran him about $2 each for international postage and printing, $1 domestic.)

    1. Yeah I’m not sure how best to handle the early buyers TBH. Adding names into the credits screen as alpha testers seems the most straightforward way, I only have concerns about that because it feels too easy for me to do :D

  2. Looking forward to purchasing alpha as I have been following this game for a while and very interested in game. One question though, when you do finally get to Steam will purchasing alpha get you a steam key?

    Also have you considered using Humble Bundle widget to host and sell the alpha? Nice to have all my keys and downloads in one place and seems pretty reasonable on their costs (developer gets 95% of sales) and they host the downloads so no bandwidth costs.

    1. I’ll definitely use the humble widget for pre-orders.

      Regarding steam keys, its tricky from a legal POV because I cannot tell anyone when I’m selling something that they will get X, without having X to sell. All my other games are on steam, and getting steam keys is no problem, but just from a legal POV I’m not sure I’m on safe ground to promise to give out keys that don’t yet exist.
      But yup, it should be no problem at all, I just don’t think I can *officially* commit to it :D. I also have a steam account that lets me add the game, so there is no need for greenlight. It should be easy.

  3. I’m not sure how easy it will be for you to do this but I’d implore you to have a Mac build out there as well. I’d love to test this – as a huge fan of Detroit back in the day – and I can’t be the only Mac user who would like to test it.

    This and Shadowhand are two day-one purchases for me anyway, as I’ve met both you and Jake. Please give some love to the Mac guys.

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