The 10 Worst Game Production Mistakes

Game production is something where you can always learn something new. Sometimes the lessons can be really dramatic, and sometimes they can be very tiny. Here’s the 10 worst game production mistakes that came to my mind.

#1 – Changing plans
I’ve mentioned this in the past (and you can rest assured I will mention this also in the future): changing plans is by far one of the worst mistakes there is. It’s okay to revise and update plans – and adjust them, as long as you move towards the goal you’ve set. If on the other hand in one week you are doing a casual 3-match game and the next week you decide to do a million dollar MMORPG, something is wrong.

The more you change your plans – the more it might require time. For example, let’s suppose you’ve thought about having 3 male characters in your game. Your artists have just finished modeling one. Suddenly you come up with an idea of having 7 female dwarves in the game instead of the male characters. 3 male characters are trashed, and new work begins. That’s wasting time

Be careful when changing plans.

#2 – Not having specific and clear objectives
This mistake is pretty much as serious as the previous one. If you don’t have clear idea on what you are doing… then you will eventually waste time in doing useless tasks. You will spend time on useless emails. You will waste time coding useless modules. You will waste doing “something” which might never be used in the actual project.

The way to overcome this mistake is to make definite objectives. Even if the goals would be small, that’s fine. It’s much better to aim to something than not having a clue what you want. This lesson goes with life in itself.

#3 – Not firing people early enough
Even hobbyist teams should be aware of this mistake (or perhaps I should say: especially hobbyist teams). Years ago I remember I wasted time with people who couldn’t produce the results they promised. There were always some excuses (ranging from hard drive failure, to lack of internet connection to simply vanishing) – and some people never got done anything.

I believe getting rid of “bad blood” is crucial. It’s extremely difficult to do – but something that must be done.

If you work with your friends, that’s fine – as long as you make clear that your friends actually need to do something if they want to be part of the team.

#4 – Not giving clear instructions
I’m probably doing this still, but I try harder. Clear instructions are must to have. Giving “artistic freedom” is okay (and I try to give that as much as possible), but you have to define what you want – and define it clearly. Use videos, images, notes, text – anything to make sure that your message is received. Ask the other person “if there’s anything that is unclear” or “if there’s anything he would need to know more”.

Giving clear instructions will save everybody’s time.

#5 – Assuming others will know what you mean
This is related to the previous mistake, but still something to consider. There have been times when I’ve given pretty clear instructions, but after some time I have had to ask why the task wasn’t done – and the answer was something like this: “oh, I was waiting Mr. Other Artist to first do his job – I thought that’s how you wanted it”.

Basically I was assuming something that I shouldn’t have. If your team members don’t have a clear idea if something needs to be done (or haven’t done what “you expected them to do”), then first examine your own actions before judging the other and blaming “how he couldn’t do the job”.

#6 – Not enough resources
Lack of resources are problem for all projects. Not having enough money, time or the right people is problematic and must be overcome somehow. Sometimes these problems can be fixed by simply cutting features (a very good option actually), and taking action to arrange the necessary resources. Money doesn’t come automatically, so budgeting it is needed.

While there isn’t simple solution to this problem, you can still try to estimate your resources before the project so you can decide whether to start working on it or not.

#7 – Wasting money
This mistake can lead to the previous problem. If you waste your money to useless tools that get you nowhere, you are not heading to the right direction. By defining what you really need (getting stuff that you need “now or very soon” instead of buying stuff that you “might need in a distant future”) and getting it when needed, you will have better chances of not wasting your money.

#8 – Not spending enough money
Yet another mistake: I’ve seen people who work part time to earn $500 a week, spending 2 years to a game engine that they could have bought for $200. If they would have taken couple of extra days to work harder at their jobs – they could have saved 2 years in making the engine.

Same goes with physics libraries, network libraries, art, sounds, music – $100 might sound “expensive” for hobbyist, but if you look at your own hourly income, you may realize that by spending some money, you can actually save tremendous amount of time – and money!

#9 – Not learning from mistakes
This is the mother of all mistakes: making mistakes is fine, repeating them not. It’s okay (and necessary!) to make mistakes. That’s the greatest way to learn and improve. Making same mistakes over and over on the other hand is not needed.

Make lots of mistakes, and learn from them. That’s something they call living.

#10 – Allowing artists to help in game design
As soon as you give artists the opportunity to design something to an ancient kung fu game, they come up something like this:

A pig.

Yeh, that’s what our modelers came up when I asked if they could “create a prop that could be broken in the game”.

A pig.

(…to make sure I leave no doubts, I wasn’t serious about this last tip – it was actually a great idea that really helped to make gameplay better. It’s a mistake NOT to ask others for game design ideas.)

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. JJ, I could have put “constantly change plans”, but I basically explained it in the text: “changing plans is by far one of the worst mistakes there is. It’s okay to revise and update plans – and adjust them, as long as you move towards the goal you’ve set.”

    papamook – :)

    Otávio, I’m starting to think #12 could be “tell your readers about pigs and hear their ideas” ;) Thanks for the comments (and sharing your experience)

  2. I disagree with #1. If you stick to your plans, then there’s little chance the game will be fun in the end. It would make more sense to say “not planning for changes”. I think working in iterative process is far better than sticking to one single plan (aka waterfall). And for sure, it’s impossible to plan everything. I dunno, maybe you should have said “do not change vision” or “goals” rather than plan.

  3. Nice article Juuso.
    And hey, a pig is breakeable… think of Unreal Tournament… well, you could explode the corpses :P But I guess you were not looking for exploding pigs…

    About removing the “bad blood”, much truth in that. I remember when I was in a hobbyst team, trying to create a mmorpg (I know, I know… we were using realmcrafter and we had about 20 or so fellas, some of the things were actually progressing quite well!). The main issue perhaps was that the project leader was not, well, a leader.
    I hoped out of the project as soon as I realised that it wasn’t going anywhere, because no matter how many scripts that I made, they would be useless without the proper art and management.
    A month or so later, it all collapsed and that same team disappeared.
    Kudos for my guts for telling me the right thing!

    And on #9, a friend of mine says that to make a mistake is human, but to repeate it is just stupid. I always giggle at that :P

  4. Good stuff, as always.
    I think theres also a reverse of #1, ie ‘not changing plans soon enough!’. Sometimes you think of an idea — or entire project — that seems great at first, but you soon realise it is not so fun/too complex/too expensive right now, but hang on to it for dear life. You know its a dodo, but cant let it go (often due to the work you put in already).
    Or maybe its just me… and I should stick to #1 !

  5. I like #8 very much. I know a team that is making their own engine and I keep asking myself: Why? A decent commercial engine can be bought for 200$ Instead they are wasting a year or two doing an engine that probably won’t be as good anyway.

    All commercial game engines have their downsides but making your own is just way too time consuming.

  6. Great article, thanks.By the way #10 was hilarious :D Maybe it was a “piggy bank” money box to break who knows? :D

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