12 Recommendations to Get Higher Rates

Posted by (twitter: @dekart1234)
December 13th, 2014 6:01 am

After reviewing multiple games in a short time frame you start to notice certain common patterns. Some games are much easier to test and much more interesting to play while others require much more effort to grasp the idea, which inevitably affects how you rate a game.

In this post I’ll try to describe basic things that you should remember when developing your game for the jam and submitting it for review. Probably these recommendations will help new participants to get better ranks in the future jams, as well as experienced participants to improve their submissions. I’ll use it as my own checklist for my next jam.

Avoid long-standing splash screens and stories

Your reviewers have only a minute or two to test your game, they want to review as many games as possible to get rates for their own games. After few games with nice splash screens you start thinking “Oh, come on, give me the game!” and it spoils the initial impression.

If a splash screen or a story is a must – make sure to make it possible to skip it.

Make controls intuitive

There are many types of games that already have de-facto standart for controls. For example, racing games, platformers, top-down shooters, etc. AWSD and arrows for movement, Space for jump, E or Enter for interactions. If you’ll use these controls – your players won’t have to think what to do in your game, how to start playing it.

On the contrary, if you’ll use some non-standard keys for controls, for example AWSD for movement and (for some reason) X or C for jumps – your players won’t even know that it’s possible to jump in your game.

Describe your controls and rules in plain text

After reviewing multiple games you simply start to read the instructions – it saves you some time. Instead of trying to figure out how to play you simply read the text.

Even if you use default controls – make sure to describe them. You can mention your controls in your submission description at the Ludum Dare website, describe it in your game in some visible place of your game screen, or preferrably both.

During jams people invent new rules for their game, goals vary from game to game, so it’s not obvious how to play your game and what you have to do to win.

Whatever rules your game have – make sure to describe them at the same page where your controls are. Make sure to make the description as clear as possible, use bullet lists, be brief, don’t mix the rules with the game description and story.

Both controls and rules should have sub-headers for easier recognition. Save time for your reviewes, they’ll be thankful.

Add a tutorial if possible

If you have a puzzle game or a game with not-so-intuitive rules – it’s recommended to add a simple tutorial. The tutorial can be a set of easy levels with game rules and elements adding one by one, or texts in your game describing how to interact with certain elements. If you won’t have a tutorial – it’s very likely that many reviewers will simply skip your game or give it average or low rates. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

Add sounds and music

Even simplest audio effects, even beeps and whistles generated by BFXR are better than nothing. Sounds immediately improve your game, give players feeback about certain things happening in the game, create some mood, and make the review process much more enjoyable. Games with sounds tend to recive higher overall rates.

Background music is not that necessary as feedback sounds, but it’s a very good addition – it will give you higher rates for mood and audio.

Difficulty should increase step by step

I’ve seen several games where you start the game and immediately die after few seconds. It doesn’t challenge player, simply frustrates a lot. I’ve seen one game where you had to perform a difficult maneuver of multiple jumps to reach the ‘Start’ button to actually launch the game.

Make sure your game is easy enough at the beginning, it is necessary to let your players get into the game, learn how play, and start enjoying it. There’s nothing wrong if a newbie will pass first level/screen or two without serious challenges.

Also, make sure that the difficulty of your game grows. If difficulty doesn’t grow – the game becomes boring very quickly, within a short review session. I’ve made this mistake with my own game and next time will add a difficulty growth curve from the very beginning.

Don’t forget about people with weak eyes

Many people reviewing your game may have a difficulty reading small texts with low contrast, it may be hard for them to recognize small elements, or distinguish certain color palette. It may also become an issue in case your game uses pixel-bound sizes and a player has a screen with very high pixel resolution.

I’d recommend to bind size of your element sizes to screen resolution, avoid using small texts, and make sure that the game elements are easily recognizable even for people who doesn’t recognize colors well.

There’s a simple trick: make a screenshot of your game, convert its color palette to grayscale in a graphics editor (Gimp, for example), and downsize it to 50% of its original size. Can you still read the texts and recognize elements? If yes – it’s a good sign, if no – you have some work to do.

Remember about laptops

Many players use laptop touchpads instead of mouse, so make sure your game works good enough without scroll wheel, second button, and lagging drag-n-drop. It’s a corner case, but if your game requires drag with right-button pressed or precious aiming – laptop users are less likely to enjoy it.

Add a preloader

If your game take at least a few seconds to launch – make sure to add a preloader bar indicating overall progress of the launch process. At least, add a spinner displaying the game is trying to launch. Without such spinner your reviewers may consider your game failing to start.

If your game is a web game – preloader is a must since it indicates that the game didn’t fail to start yet and simply loads some assets from the web. Also, for web games make sure to load all assets you need before launching the game or your players may experience various display issues.

For example, I’ve seen a game where a texture for an important game object I had to interact with appearing a minute after I’ve started the game. In another game I’ve waited a minute or so before checking browser console to find an error message. Both games got lower rates than they deserved.

Make a web version if possible

Web games are much easier to test, they don’t require to download, un-archive, and launch. People with almost any OS can test them. Make sure your web version smoothly runs in Google Chrome and Firefox, it’s very likely that it will work in Opera as well.

If it doesn’t work in IE – it’s not a big deal because there are not that many developers using IE and they already know what to expect. In any case, mention browsers where your game looks good in your submission description.

Make sure to win your own game at least once

At least two of the games I’ve reviewed were not possible to win – you got stuck at some point. I’m pretty sure such issues can be easily avoided if developer would’ve tried to play their own game from the very beginning till the winning screen.

Describe technologies you’ve used

People are always curious what technologies were used to make a good game and what games were made with thechnologies they’ve used for their own game. For example, when rating games I search for HTML5 games first, then framework I’ve used, then similar frameworks, and only after that I start to review other games. Mentioning technologies and tools may bring you few additional reviews.


Recommendations described above were made after reviewing multiple games during the last jam and few jams before it. Some are based on my own mistakes made in my latest game and previous games. Hopefully you’ve found something useful in them.

Do you have any other recommendations based on your own experience? Please share your thoughts in the comments to this post!

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7 Responses to “12 Recommendations to Get Higher Rates”

  1. Tiago Ling Alexandre says:

    Very nice list! Thanks for sharing, lots of good advice in there! 😀

  2. Aske says:

    The grayscale tip will be very useful. Thanks! :)

  3. alvarop says:

    This is all very good advice, I’ll keep it in mind for next time.

  4. Daid says:

    All good points. I already encountered a few games that required a mouse wheel for no real reason. Which does not work on my touchpad laptop.

  5. McFunkypants says:

    Wonderful! One point: x and c are often used for jump because keyboards cannot handle up+left+spacebar. Try it! No keydown event.

  6. MurderOfPoes says:

    The easiest way to implement tutorials is by implementing a single image or slideshow.
    The (misleading) how to play for Overpopulous is still one of my favorite tutorials I helped design.

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