Polish takes (a LOT of) time

My brother wrote me an email recently saying “You should make a game like Angry Birds, it’s so simple and they make heaps of money”. Hmm…

I’ve always been keen on making games, it’s what got me interested in computers when I got my first computer (my beloved C64). And I definitely want to release a game on iOS and Android one day. But when my brother wrote “it’s so simple” it got me thinking about how people are often blind to all the effort required to make a great product like Angry Birds.

It seems to me that many people (software developers included) have trouble estimating the time it takes to develop software that has “polish”. Polish is the term I (and many other people in software) use to describe all the little things that make the difference between mediocre and great software. Because these things are seem so small and inconsequential by themselves it is easy to gloss over them when estimating how long it takes to make something shine.

Let’s look at the “simple” Angry Birds for a moment. Some small things that you might miss if you only glance at the game:

  • Instead of starting off “healthy” and then popping when damaged, the pigs slowly transition from healthy to almost dead looking more and more battered until they pop.
  • When all the pigs are finally destroyed the remaining birds do a victory dance
  • The amount of noise made my the birds and pigs drop off as they are sacrificed / destroyed
  • The pigs blink their eyes
  • The game remembers how many stars you got for each level

And these are just the first five things I could think of. There are dozens of other little things that the developers have added to the game. Each of these things would have taken hours of thinking, developing, testing and THEN refining to polish to a nice and shiny result.

These things really make a difference to the user experience. It really is a case of the sum being greater than it’s parts. They make the game a joy to play, so much so that people want to tell their friends about it. This is word of mouth marketing at it’s best. Get 10 people playing, they tell 5 of their friends who then tell 5 of their friends until the whole world knows about a “simple” little time wasting game.

This was how Angry Birds it became such a huge success. Without all those little things, all that polish, people would not have become so enamoured with the game and we wouldn’t be discussing it today.

So when you are estimating how long something is going to take (especially for a green fields project) try work out the level of polish the result requires, because if you don’t you’re going to get a nasty surprise.