It’s ok to pull the plug on your game!


This article is written by Ivan Jakubi, game designer of puzzle platformer Bite and Blob which was a part of Machina's incubation programme .

Bite and Blob has left the building

It's a hard thing to cancel your own project on which you have spent years working on. 

It's even harder if you collaborated with people who invested their free time to help you create something.
Each and every one of us worked very hard on the game while keeping up with regular jobs or school, yet we still failed to finish the project. 

Why is that we failed to do so? 

There are many articles on how to make game a success or postmortems on successful games, but those who talk about canceled projects are few and far between. 

So, after some pondering and persuasions from my friends, I've decided to write a short article about my experience on canceled project called Bite and Blob and hopefully, after reading this article, you will leave with some new knowledge about creating games.

How it all began

The year was 2014, my friend and I were fresh out of a game design course at Machina and we were itching to start making or first game.
We saw an opportunity to get some great ideas at the gamejam that was being held at the  Reboot Infogamer, so we applied immediately. 

During gamejam we came up with the idea for Bite and Blob, a 2D puzzle platformer where you can control two characters, a game similar to Lost Vikings with the art style that was inspired by 90s cartoon network shows such as Dexter's Lab, Samurai Jack, Powerpuff Girls etc. 

Our game even won the first place! 

Naturally, our spirits were high and we were pumped to make this our first serious project.
Couple of months later, we made our first prototype build and we presented it at the Reboot Develop conference where we gained invaluable feedback and that was the place where the game gained its final shape, so to speak. 

After returning home from Develop, we documented the whole game in game design document, and we continued to work on it under the mentorship of Lovro Nola, founder of Machina Game Academy.

Source: ArtStation

Where the problems began

We were working remotely, from home, which wouldn't be a problem if 500 kilometers didn’t separate us. Of course, there are teams who can work remotely with ease, especially those who had previous experience in making games. In our case, we were unemployed and amateurs who had no experience in making games. 

That’s where our project slowly started crumbling. 

We kept in touch through Skype calls, but there were times when we wouldn’t communicate for almost two weeks or even up to a month. We worked on the game, put deadlines on what needs to be done and when. 

All of that sounds fine and dandy but just deciding on the deadline simply wasn’t enough. What we failed to practice was weekly meetings to see how the development progressed and to check if we were keeping up with the deadlines. Looking back, it’s such an obvious mistake, but at that time we simply didn’t know better. Because of the lack of communication, the development suffered greatly and the game progressed slowly.


Finding more people

At that time, game was being developed in  Construct 2. I was programming the game while my friend was making the art and animation. I am not a programmer by trade so I had some difficulty in making all the mechanics in the engine work. 

That, coupled with the slow progress of the development, we decided to find more people to add to the team because we thought that the reason why it was progressing slowly was because there are just the two of us, not because of our poor organization skills. 

To some extent though, there was some truth to our claim. 

The game turned out to be a much bigger project than we imagined and we needed help, but we should've organized ourselves before seeking additional help

Nevertheless, we found a programmer and an additional artist. 

We switched to Unity and I started working towards being a producer. The progress of the development sped up quite a bit at the beginning as the programmer, the new artist and I lived all in the same city, so we managed to work together. But, as Murphy once said, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. 

And wrong did it go...

A bad producer

Soon after our first game show off at the Reboot Infogamer 2015, problems started to appear again. 

At this point, the working relationship with my friend started to deteriorate. 

He was falling behind deadlines and I wasn't taking action to fix the problem, as a producer should. However, things escalated, and I won't go into too much detail, but because of his tardiness, doing things at the last moment, I decided, after long discussions with Lovro, to fire him. We split with good intentions and we still communicate here and there, but our working relationship was over. 

Soon the other two started to fall behind deadlines, botching our second time being at Reboot Develop with our game not working at all and me again being too soft to do something about it. 

Before letting them go as well, I managed to find an excellent animator/artist and a genius programmer. With these two, and a second artist getting on the team, things started to look good again. 

We had to start programming the game from scratch and we had a lot of art to rework, but we were on a roll. We worked in the same office once a week where we also held short meetings on what was done and what needs to be done. I even got a job at a great game dev studio - Cateia Games.

Things were great, at least at the beginning.

Bad decision after bad decision

Infogamer 2016 came, the alpha worked and had no major bugs. 

It was going fantastic, people loved the game. We even managed to find ourselves a sound designer and music producer before Infogamer so we had amazing sound effects and a kick-ass soundtrack to boot. 

We returned to the office all hyped to continue to work on the game, and that's whereI came up with an idea that turned out to be a horrible decision.  I recommended that we switch from PNG graphics to Vector graphics using a plugin for Unity.

At the time, it was an awesome idea. 

The vector assets took 10 times less space, we wouldn't have to worry about resolutions and light sources looked amazing when pointed at the vector assets. The problem was, it was a pain in the ass to import the assets to Unity to work correctly. 

I won't bore you with the details but there were technical difficulties which in turn made our life harder and the development slower. And then our personal lives started messing with the development as well. Because of them, our meetings suffered because we simply couldn't meet. Those problems occurred often and the development got even slower, almost to the point of not making any progress at all. 

Year 2017 came and we made one last bad decision, we went on Greenlight completely unprepared.

The failure of Greenlight and pulling the plug

We published the game on  Greenlight couple of months ago. 

We didn't get Greenlit. 

I have a couple of speculations of why we didn't pass, but it doesn't matter now. We failed and the team morale took a huge blow. It was already kind of low at the beginning of Greenlight, but at this point, it was completely destroyed. 

This is when our programmer left the team to work on his own game with a friend, and I was left with the animator Paula and artist Iva. We talked about the departure of the programmer and the future of the game and the team. 

It was bleak but we were willing to push this game through, even though at this point we were sick of the game and we just wanted to finish it. 

We even talked about pulling the plug and start something new, but we didn't came to a conclusion. That's when Lovro called me to have a meeting with him where he advised me to pull the plug on the game and start a new game with my team.

A new hope

The same day I had a conversation with the team, and we decided to cancel the game

I was sad and disappointed in myself for failing in finishing the game in which my team and I spent 3 years working on. 

But I would be lying if I wasn't relieved as well. Things weren't going well, I was frustrated and was growing tired of working on the game, as it was going nowhere. The second we told to ourselves “Let's stop working on Bite and Blob”, I felt like a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders. 

Finally it was over, we can start again. Now we have much more experience on how things work, and now we know what we have to avoid.

Closing words

One journey has ended, but a new one has begun. 

If you are in a position like this, don't be afraid to pull the plug on the project. 

Yes, that means you’ll have to cancel the game you are worked really hard on, but the experience you gained while working on it, won’t be thrown away. In the contrary, this experience will prove to be invaluable when you eventually start a new project. 

And so we're at an end. 

I hope this article will prove useful to many teams that are in similar situations, and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me at jakubi.ivan@gmail.com. 

Until next time, good luck with your projects, but most important of all, remember to have fun while working on them!