Lean Game Development

17 min. read

This presentation will debunk myths about lean startup methodologies and game development. Join Katherine de Leon for a crash course on lean development, based on Eric Ries’ Lean Startup product management and development methodology. She will outline the innovative lean production process at GSN that allows the 40 person studio to launch more than 25 games per quarter while addressing common myths that have prevented game developers from applying a lean methodology.

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

2 Key principles
“A learning cycle of turning ideas into products, measuring customers’ reactions and behaviours against built products, and then deciding whether to persevere or pivot the idea.”
Minimum-Viable-Product (MVP)
“The version of the product that enables a full turn of the Build-Measure-Learn loop with a minimum amount of effort and the least amount of development time.”

The methodology “favours experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional ‘big design up front’ development” to ultimately reduce risk and enable data-driven decisions

Get to market fast
With a MVP
Validate Product Market Fit
Then Iterate
Fail fast, fail often to learn from mistakes.

Lean Process

Lean Game Development
Market Research
Competitive Analysis
Team Interest
Live Operation
Pitch (25% fail)
High level overview of the concept
Description of Market opportunity
Competitive advantage, Key differentiator for your game?
Get user feedback at this level already, ask your target audience if they like your idea
Prototype (50% fail)
Validate a single hypothesis
Test single concepts
Collect qualitative and quantitative feedback
1 Month development time
MVG (Minimum Viable Game) (75% Fail)
Smallest game you can make to validate your idea
No more than 6 months
Publish the MVP! Get feedback
Setup KPI before hand


Myth 1
Really players cant see past the lack of visual polish
Myth 2
Games without enough content will bore players
Skinnable Slots
Myth 3
You can only launch once so sandbox to be sure
Myth 4
Ship too early and you will hurt your brand

Reuse wherever possible (Tech and art)
Analyze quantitative and qualitative data
Prototype to validate a hypothesis
Your players are more sophisticated than you think, polish is not important at this stage
Validate the core game loop, add content later.
Content will not save a bad game mechanic, it can only enhance an already good one
Content matters AFTER you achieve product/market fit, not before!
You cannot afford to sandbox your game
You cannot validate the core game mechanics without feedback
Players are more forgiving than you think
If you lose the first 10k people that play your game, so what! You are in a hits-driven business. Your market is 200M+, not 10K
Ship early and keep working!
Nobody is taking 2 years to build a game anymore, get out there!
Players want to be part of the games you create
Create a contextual environment for testing new games (Beta community)
Use early games to build lasting relationships and loyalty with your players
The internet is participatory. Games should be too
Build experiences that resonate with the psyche of your audience by including your audience from the start
Execution is the most important competitive advantage!
Include survey in the game

Harvard Business Review
Business plans rarely survive first contact with customers. “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
No one besides VC requires five year plans to forecast complete unknown. These plans are generally fiction, and dreaming them up is almost always a waste of time.
Start-ups are not smaller versions of large companies. They do not unfold in accordance with master plans. The ones that ultimately succeed go quickly from failure to failure, all the while adapting, iterating on, and improving their initial ideas as they continually learn from customers.
One of the critical differences is that while existing companies execute a business model, start-ups look for one

3 Key Principles
founders summarize their hypotheses in a framework called a business model canvas. Essentially, this is a diagram of how a company creates value for itself and its customers
“get out of the building” approach called customer development to test their hypotheses. They go out and ask potential users, purchasers, and partners for feedback on all elements of the business model, including product features, pricing, distribution channels, and affordable customer acquisition strategies. The emphasis is on nimbleness and speed: New ventures rapidly assemble minimum viable products and immediately elicit customer feedback. Then, using customers’ input to revise their assumptions, they start the cycle over again, testing redesigned offerings and making further small adjustments (iterations) or more substantive ones (pivots) to ideas that aren’t working. (See the exhibit “Listen to Customers.”)
agile development eliminates wasted time and resources by developing the product iteratively and incrementally. It’s the process by which start-ups create the minimum viable products they test

Business Canvas
The business model canvas lets you look at all nine building blocks of your business on one page. Each component of the business model contains a series of hypotheses that you need to test

Listen to Customers
During customer development, a start-up searches for a business model that works. If customer feedback reveals that its business hypotheses are wrong, it either revises them or “pivots” to new hypotheses. Once a model is proven, the start-up starts executing, building a formal organization. Each stage of customer development is iterative: A start-up will probably fail several times before finding the right approach.

  1. Founders translate company ideas into business model hypotheses, test assumptions about customers’ needs, and then create a “minimum viable product” to try out their proposed solution on customers.

  2. Start-up continues to test all other hypotheses and tries to validate customers’ interest through early orders or product usage. If there’s no interest, the start-up can “pivot” by changing one or more hypotheses.

  3. The product is refined enough to sell. Using its proven hypotheses, the start-up builds demand by rapidly ramping up marketing and sales spending, and scales up the business.

  4. Business transitions from start-up mode, with a customer development team searching for answers, to functional departments executing its model.

Quick, Responsive Development
In contrast to traditional product development, in which each stage occurs in linear order and lasts for months, agile development builds products in short, repeated cycles. A start-up produces a “minimum viable product”—containing only critical features—gathers feedback on it from customers, and then starts over with a revised minimum viable product.

The lean start-up methodology makes those concepts obsolete because it holds that in most industries customer feedback matters more than secrecy and that constant feedback yields better results than cadenced unveilings.

What Lean Start-Ups Do Differently
The founders of lean start-ups don’t begin with a business plan; they begin with the search for a business model. Only after quick rounds of experimentation and feedback reveal a model that works do lean founders focus on execution.

Hyper-Casual Game Genre

Make Games Cheaper/Faster
Stop rewriting code. Engine reuse, library reuse, etc.
Stop chasing bleeding edge graphics. Chase unique aesthetics instead.
Embrace tools
Embrace procedural content, of all sorts, just don’t count on it being the answer to everything
Embrace systemic game design rather than content-driven design. It is harder to do but makes for games that have longer life with less content.
Embrace prototyping. Make your game playable and fun before you have any art. Stop writing big design docs.

Fail fast, fail often
Lets say you have to send out 1000 letters, you have 2 options:
Create 1 letter, and finish,
Create assembly line?
Option 1 is fail fast, as its an end-to-end process. Creating the assembly line also takes time, which a person forgets to think about

End-to-end with the entire process is much better!, as you can identify any failure points sooner.
“Supercell is organised as a collection of small, independent teams, called cells, tasked with developing new games or building new deep features for existing games”


Gram Games
Gram develops minimal and “lightweight” hyper-casual games that tick all characteristics

The company’s founders’ commitment to the Lean Startup methodology and data-driven decision making is what makes it unique.

In order to ensure a constant flow of original game concepts, Gram dedicates every Friday to developing core game MVPs. The MVP consists of a very simple (but working) prototype of the core game idea as well as a video highlighting the gameplay.
Gram allows two of these Prototyping Fridays before the MVP needs to be uploaded to Google Play to evaluate product-market fit. The goal is to measure key performance indicators (KPIs), such as interest in the game (click and conversion rates) and retention (early engagement rates) of users by doing paid UA, utilising the gameplay video.
If the measured KPIs are below a given threshold, the concept will be killed and the focus will shift to the next MVP. On the contrary, if the early engagement rates look promising and the conversion rates of the videos result in low initial user acquisition costs, the developers start iterating on the game and try to increase the metrics by starting another Build-Measure-Learn loop.
The very best MVPs evolve over time into real games and go into soft launch, which is mainly for testing the monetisation and long-term retention of the game in different geographic regions. One of the most important factors for ad monetisation is the amount of ads that are being served to a user on a daily basis. On top of increasing the retention, additional KPIs are added, such as the amount of average daily sessions by users and the session lengths.
Less is more
Given the flood of new content popping up in app stores every day, it becomes increasingly important to start making data-driven decisions to evaluate product-market fit early on.


Execution Labs
Build the MVP
As the goal is to create player engagement, it’s important that the design and visuals are pretty and pleasant enough. To go faster, don’t reduce or compromise the quality of the graphics, but rather reduce the amount or variety of graphics produced.
Fixing the development time to 6 months forces to focus on what really matter for the game to be good. Some game are tested early with paper prototype.
Continuous and Regular Feedback
Test the game every other week with 10 to 15 players. Regularly player come to the Execution Lab to play with the prototypes. This provide the game developers precious qualitative feedback, on top of the quantitative tracking already in place.
Limited launch on test markets
Launch the v0 on test markets, similar enough to your target markets but with a smaller population – typically Canada, NZ, AUS or Finland.
Meta-game comes later
The initial focus is on the core loop. The goal is to test and iterate so the core become fun and engaging. The meta game comes later. The meta game will insure the longer term retention and repeated play.

Alexandre confirmed that to build a game, programming is the most time consuming activity, followed by graphic design and game design.

So as far as reducing waste, programming should be the place to look next.

How will we use this new know

Create a Beta community
Which we can ask to test games and validate ideas.

Action Items.
Create a Beta community page on our site.
Signup page.

“Welcome to GAME_NAME, We created this game during a 48 hour hackathon, so it’s very rough, if you like the game idea and give us positive feedback, we can create a complete attractive, full featured version of this game.

Enjoy the game!

  • XGameDev”

Our Processes

Use existing code
Create DLL as much as possible and put them in a location where we can easily get to them
Create templates (dont sell them)
Not unity templates, but rather Shell scripts, which takes DLL from above and generates unity projects.
Use very basic art and sound
Only include the necessary features
If the feature you’re building isn’t required for the player to run the game and complete the experiment, then you don’t need it. Don’t build a save game system, variable graphics settings, or even a starting menu into your MVG. Each of these features wastes your time, increases the number of things that can break, and doesn’t contribute to your core goal. Just put the level online and let players have at it.
Find Testers
Measure the results

Lean + Agile + DevOps
Ueas the Lean methods with Agile and DevOps… what does this mean?

Setup BitBucket with 2 branches, master and develop
Setup Pipelines for NodeJS projects or Unity Cloud Build for unity projects.
Plan, what you building this sprint (Agile)
Build the core gameplay mechanics first! Need to figure out if the gameplay is fun
Commit code
Ask people to playtest


The Lean Startup



User Testing:

GSN Games

Supercell investors

Harvard Business Review

Pocket Gamer




B2C - Business-to-Consumer





Making Games More Cheaply

Game Engines

Source to games

Open source games