DevBlog: Games take Time

Are you a hardcore gamer with thousands of hours of playtime on your Steam account for your favourite game? Well, no matter how much you played it, I am quite certain it took more time to make it. So, how much time does it actually take to make a game of your own? What if you even want to publish it? At least for my hobby projects such as Network Traders I can give you some insights.

You may have had an idea for a cool game floating around in your head for some time, and maybe now is a good time to begin implementing it. But before you start, try to get a realistic picture of the time you have available. Do you work in a full time job? Do you have family who would like to see you sometimes? Or even if you are a student, what if exam season starts and you need more time to study? Try to get a number for the hours a week you can spend on your project, then try to match it with the scope of your project.

The Bare Minimum

But what do you need to consider for estimating the scope of a game project? Have a look, e.g., at Coopong For Kids, a game that I wrote purely as a demonstrator for such questions. The core game loop is that of classic Pong. Implementing it in Unity takes about half an hour. But doing it in a pretty way, with a main menu, different backgrounds and paddle styles, a tutorial and nice rewards at the end of a match, you can easily add a week or two of full-time work, let’s say 50 hours.

Then you consider publishing your little game. You realize, the playing field does not fit all screen sizes, and you need to tweak this and other issues. You need to research about and write a privacy statement, add Unity analytics because you are a curious person, and start setting up your Google Play Store account.

I reconstructed the complete development process from my Mercurial repository, and would estimate a total of at least 100 hours of work before the first version of the game went online. It took until revision 59 when the increase to version to 1.0.0 finally marked the publication date.

The Time Frame of Network Traders

Network Traders is a different caliber altogether. It features a quite sophisticated game loop, player communication, server infrastructure, a progression system, and some more. Since it is so much more complex than Coopong was, I started tracking everything in JIRA right away. The result is the beautiful “Cumulative Flow Diagram” you can see below.

Cumulative Flow Diagram from JIRA showing issues over time in Network Traders
Cumulative Flow Diagram showing issues over time in Network Traders.

Unfortunately, I did not track the amount of work per issue. My best guess is that a feature took about 4 hours in average to implement. With about 150 issues completed, that makes more than 600 hours so far. Eleven months into the project, I am now at a point where I started an internal test track in Google Play Store for friends and neighbours. The game is barebones. Progression only exists in written form, and only partially. But it can be played, and people can tell me what they think about it.

The game is far from complete, but that’s not necessary anyway. I plan to go live as soon as possible with an Alpha version, and go step by step from there. However, I cannot say yet when this is going to happen.

Coming back to my introduction: maybe you wondered about the statistics in my Steam account, and I shall not disappoint you. The top scorer here is FTL: Faster Than Light with 177 hours. But if I added up both Civilization titles in my library, V and VI, that would be the winner with 190 hours. Fortunately, my Steam account only goes back to 2014. I don’t want to know how many hundreds or even thousands of hours the Civilization franchise cost me in my lifetime – thanks for the good times, Sid!

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