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TidbytesA failed experiment, but one I'm glad I tried

Tidbytes, now defunct was an experiment in appropriating the webcomic format for interactive games. I was releasing a new tiny game every 2 weeks, embedded in-browser, keeping to around 5 minutes of gameplay. There's always been a lot of weird, absurd, or funny things I want to make that doesn't necessarily fit what most people think of as a 'game'. These ideas work better as short one-offs. I don't think the world needs a 40 hour long version of Jeff Goldblum Staring Contest, but I could be wrong. Maybe that's exactly what the world needs.

Anyway, I shut it down on March 1st of 2014 because it had clearly failed, but I'm still really happy I tried it. It was a hard decision to make, but one that really made sense when I thought about it. Since I like lists, here's a list version of what worked and what didn't.

What worked:

I got way better at rapid prototyping. This may not sound like something super useful, but I'm still new at this whole game design thing and it's vastly increased the speed at which I can get something playable. I really like jamming, and it's a great asset to be able to suck less at it.

I made two games I really liked. Clone and Busey are two little games I really like showing people. They're both so weird and watching people react to them is really enjoyable.

I got better at scope. This is kind of true with every kind of game jam though, since working in the constraints always pushes you to be more conscious of how to actually finish something.

I finished a lot of things. Finishing things is it's own skill in and of itself, and beyond that it just feels GOOD to be able to push something out into the world and see people interact with it. Having that feeling so often was pretty great.

Experimentation is rad. It was a different format than I'd seen before, and it was fun to play with that. Even little things like custom .css files for holiday themed games that I released around christmas was a fun little thing to mess with.

What didn't:

Nothing had enough polish. Sure, they'd be "finished" but there were too many times that when I hit the big red "FUCK IT;SHIP IT" button I felt uneasy and full of regret. Beyond that, there's only sound in ONE of the games and sound is such a huge part of making any good game.

I made a bunch of games I didn't want to show anyone. Yeah, I know, finishing something in and of itself is pretty cool and there's only so much one can expect from a game that's so tiny, BUT I hit this point where I didn't want people to see what I had done. There's also that saying that you're as good as the weakest piece in your portfolio, and in this case that was pretty weak.

I didn't get to explore anything too deeply. Which is really unfortunate because there was a thing or two that I wanted to do that wouldn't have been too much more effort, that would have made the game way better. But since there was that self-imposed 2 week deadline, a lot of stuff slid and the work was weaker for it.

My main project was suffering. Tidbytes was supposed to be a side project while I work on my big deal thing that will hopefully eventually make me (and more importantly, the rest of the people on my team) money. I kept having to stop work on it because the demands of the time limit were strict and more clearly defined than the longterm game.

No one knew what the hell it was. Despite talking about it and promoting it quite a bit, no one seemed to have any idea of what was actually going on, that it existed in the first place, or why it was cool.

Separating it from my main "identity" made it way less visible. I feel like splitting all the things up into segregated categories of things ended up backfiring instead of being good for organization purposes. Turns out the entire audience of tidbytes was exactly my existing audience, and it really made no sense to make it a completely different site or identity.

The takeaway:

I think this really helped me redefine my priorities and figure out my "voice" quite a great deal. I'm now set on quality over quantity, but I am still a compulsive creator and have sort of outgrown the need for an arbitrary time limit to force me into sticking to making things. This way, I can release a thing I actually like around once a month, focus on making my main project that much better, and be proud of what I'm putting out into the world. I still love the format of short comedy games and I'm gonna keep making them till my eyes bleed, but I feel like I've gotten enough perspective to realize I could optimize myself and my work in a direction that will result in better games all around. Why stay on a ship if you know it's sinking? All in all, I think it was a good exercise. Everything is a process of figuring out who we are, no? Games are iteration as much as game developers themselves are.

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