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The Scope Problem

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There are people here on Gamedev that have been active for a very long time. I sometimes wish I could ask, or get reasonable data on, exactly how many posts have been put up in the "For Beginners" forum from people who want to make the next great MMORPG. Each one has a million and two big huge industry changing ideas and will not be deterred. They take all advice to start with something smaller generally politely (with some exception), but will not give it up. Each one believes they can do it, that its just a matter of perseverance, time, patience, etc. And after all, this idea is better than all the others, its so good that it is destined to succeed!

I'm sure there are some people reading this and giggling to themselves, but I'm not hear to dump on newbies. We were all there once. That's why the majority of us are here now, as it happens. We all had and still have big dreams and big ideas about amazing games with great features that have never been done before. One of the big steps to learning how to make a game is simply coming to an understanding of the immense undertaking it is to create one from start to finish. One must learn about scope, and one must learn that a scope that is too big will often mean that your game never ever gets finished.

Why am I writing about this, you may ask? Well, I'm struggling with scope myself, right now. The game I am making... its substantial. It's not an MMO or anything crazy like that... but its pretty close to full fledged 16 bit era RPG, and I am all alone. I had some people playtest my game recently, and allow me to quote from one of the more useful feedback emails I got:


So... am I giving up? Scaling back the project? Well... no, I'm not. Why not? Well... because I'm still having fun with what I'm doing, to be honest. My progress continues moving forward, and I'm to the point where I have created something that is almost playable as a game. It's nowhere near being "fun", but I spend a few hours of every day improving, and the iterative process is keeping me going. Every single day, the game is better than it was before, and most of the time its something noticeable. I have a scripted introductory battle (with plans for a brief tutorial). I have in game help menus, battles that can be successfully completed, experience that is distributed, perks that can be selected and added to characters. I'm proud of what I've done so far, and I'm proud of the things I have yet to accomplish but know that I will.

What's the point, then? On the one hand I started this article admonishing newbies for having their head in the clouds, on the other I'm telling people how I ignored the advice of many of the people around me telling me to tone it back. Well, I think my point is that there is a balance point. There is a difference between an ambitious (but attainable) project, and one which is just pretty damned close to unattainable, which is what a beginner trying to make an MMO is.

My point is that scope matters, and trying to run before you can walk will doom your project to failure... But maybe... just maybe, you can run immediately after you walk, no? Maybe you can get up on your feet, take a few steps and say and just start sprinting.

I guess the key is that I'm enjoying myself. If that's true, then just freaking keeping doing what your doing people!
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One way to manage huge scopes is to change the development process you use to build your game. Instead of building everything all at once, why not build the game in small, manageable iterations? The first iteration should be a playable game, with the potential to be released. Want to add more? Start another iteration. Are you done with this game? Well hey, at least you have a completed game! It may not have been as big as you had planned, but at least you finished something and learned some cool things along the way.


Get the game playable. Add to it like a snow ball rolling down hill. Don't worry about the end state, just worry about getting something created, working and playable.

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If you are enjoying your time developing the game than you are doing something very right! :)

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