Ahead of his Develop:Brighton talk, the developer behind promising title Lost Words discusses why devs must keep pushing for innovation

Mark Backler: ‘People are crying out for new experiences’

Coming up with an innovative new idea can be a daunting challenge for developers? With so much already done before, where do they even start?
Figure out what you want to make, why you want to make it for and who you’re making it for. Then take inspiration from anything and everything around you.

How did you come up with the inspiration for your game Lost Words? What makes it innovative?
It uses words in ways I haven’t seen any other games do before. It started off for The Ludum Dare game jam with the theme ‘minimalism’. I originally wanted to make a Tetris inspired game where you were dropping words instead of blocks and then had to jump your character up them to reach a goal.

However, when I ran the game before having gravity on the words and the character dropped down onto a floating sentence, I liked that idea much more than my original one and ran with that instead. The story came from that: the diary made sense because of the game’s use of words and I knew I wanted it to be a topic that could potentially help people overcome real world issues. 

With so many chart-topping games, particularly on mobile, reskinning and recycling the same mechanics, why even strive for innovation? Why is it important?
It makes you stand out – people are crying out for new experiences and high quality titles. It’s hard for new developers and IPs to get attention from players and the press, but if your title is different and actually has unique hooks then people have a reason to get excited, talk about and share your game. That in turn will make marketing your title much less of an uphill struggle and it will ensure that any money you do spend on marketing will go a lot further.

Is innovation enough? What else do developers need to focus on, other than a quirky new idea, in order to come up with a high quality game?
Polish and execution. It’s all well and good having great ideas but it takes a different set of skills to execute them well. Every game is made up of hundreds or thousands of small decisions on what to do or not to do – attention to the little details makes a massive difference to the feel of a game.

Following on from this, I don’t think enough developers playtest their games on other people these days and when they do, they often don’t do it early or frequently enough. They want to make sure the game is just right before they show it to people but by that time it’s probably already too late to fix the sort of issues that playtesting will illuminate.

When will devs know if an ‘innovation’ isn’t going to pan out, and why should they be willing to scrap it?
It depends on a lot of factors like how good the idea is; how much you believe in it; how hard it will likely be to achieve; your available time and budget; the skills of the team. I don’t think there’s a magic formula – ultimately you just have to go with your instincts and what you feel is right. 

Life is too short to do something that you don’t believe in. Make something you’re passionate about and put your whole self into it.

Mark Backler is the founder of Sketchbook Games. He will be discussing more about the need for fresh ideas during his Develop:Brighton session ‘Increase Your Innovation’ on Wednesday, July 13th. You can find out more at www.developconference.com.

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