This was originally posted on 6/6/2013.
My cofounders and I were sitting in the Mission on a sunny morning, eating crepes and talking with a survey and testing guru about testing business assumptions for our new startup.
"I would be hesitant to sink more than a week or two into the idea without data from customers."
My cofounders and I traded sideways glances. The truth was that we had been working on our new startup for 4 months already. We had been play testing our game for more than a month, but it would be a while before it was ready for a beta launch .
Our meeting left us feeling uncertain, our previous startup had a minimum viable product ready to ship inside a month; why was this taking so long? It didn't hit us until later on when we were speaking with more experienced game devs.
"You have something ready to play in 4 months? That's great."
We had been operating on the assumption that like a B2B startup website, we could throw something down in a week or two, go to customers, test it, and begin iterating. But games defy MVP release schedules. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in 2D Boy's illuminating blog series about developing World of Goo. It's true that they churned out their first version in a week, but their first game tests (which occurred several months into development) were a mess. At CodeCombat we understand that all too well, unfortunately.
Games must be fun. The primary business assumption of any game is "users will like playing it." It's almost guaranteed that users won't be satisfied playing a two week old MVP. In fact, that's sort of the definition of a minimum viable product: it's rough, unpolished, and easy to change. If you're doing it right, the MVP is difficult to take seriously. By contrast, the quality standard for games has been raised so high that it's often not enough to slap something together to gauge user interest.
The takeaway we've learned is that startups with experience building websites need to step back and redefine their MVP expectations when building a game. It takes longer to make something fun rather than just functional, and unfortunately games are defined by the first term, not the second.