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The Third Ludum Dare October Challenge

Ludum Dare was originally a 48-hour game development competition. Given a theme, you have 48 hours to create an entire game using no pre-existing assets. In recent years it has grown into a huge phenomenon, expanding into a dual-event that occurs three times annually. There are also Mini LDs each month between the major events. And of course, there’s the awesome community that drives it that seems to get bigger and bigger.

Two years ago, PoV launched The October Challenge, which pushed developers to do more than simply create a game. Your task for this challenge was to take your game project, finish it, and put it on the market before the end of the month. Then, when you’ve earned your first dollar, you’ve completed the challenge.

The third October Challenge is here, and it’s a good opportunity for you to learn what it takes to “go pro” in game development.

When the first October Challenge was announced, it came at a perfect time for me. I had recently quit my day job to go full-time, but I had no real plan for how to proceed. I was thinking about how much time I should spend on any one game. Do I try to release lots of small games over the next year, or should I concentrate on making one or two really great games? I didn’t want to churn out crap, but I also didn’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket. After all, I only had so much savings, and the larger the game, the more time I would have to spend on it, which meant the more money I’d burn through. Where’s the optimal balance?

It was also immediately after August’s Ludum Dare #18. The theme was “Enemies as Weapons” and I had created my most ambitious LD48 game, “Stop That Hero!”

I really liked what I had come up with, even though it took me 72 hours to finish so I had to submit it to the LD Jam instead of the main compo, which meant less people played it. Still, the feedback was pretty good, and I was already thinking about polishing the game up and selling it as my first major commercial project. The question was how long I should spend on the updated/better version?

The October Challenge helped answer the question for me. I had a month to finish the game and get it out there.

Unfortunately, I made some major mistakes. I completely rewrote the game from scratch, attempting to learn how to create component-based game objects. I had never written a full-fledged game architecture before, and I was using up a big part of my month building an engine rather than a game. I was trying to make it as data-driven as possible, which made it difficult to settle on a solid vision for the game. And due to my lack of progress, I hit a real funk that I couldn’t shake for awhile. You can read more about what went right and wrong in the Stop That Hero! October Challenge post mortem.

I was determined to sell my first copy, but it clearly wasn’t happening that October. That month, 20 people submitted entries in which they earned their first dollar through pre-orders, ads, or sales. Over the next year, I continued to work on the game, and I sold my first pre-order and earned my first $1 on September 30th, 2011, one day before the next October. I’m still working on it, and you can try out (and purchase!) the current version of Stop That Hero! today.

It took a lot longer than I originally expected, but without this challenge, I don’t know how long I would have gone before figuring out my real strengths and weaknesses as a game developer. I clearly had a lot to learn, and I still do.

So if you’re interested in running your own indie game development business, I would highly recommend participating in this year’s October Challenge. There’s more to running a game development business than developing games, and this challenge is an excuse to find out what’s involved.

Are you participating?