A step-by-step guide on the game development process, from concept to launch.
For video games, it's a long journey from the studio to store shelves. What exactly does this journey entail? What’s the game development process like? Let’s take a closer look at every step, from planning all the way to post-production.
Start by asking yourself key questions about the game you would like to develop.
- What gameplay mechanics should my game have?
- What genre should my game be?
- What art style would be appropriate for this kind of game?
- What is the story of this game? What about the setting, characters and plot?
- What platform will it be released on?
- What’s the target audience?
Proof of Concept
This refers to a demonstration of core gameplay mechanics, story and other elements. It's designed to convince studios and producers that your game is worth making. It also includes:
- Estimated costs
- Technical and team requirements
- Estimated income
- The timeframe for launch
Often, a proof of concept can change drastically during the development cycle. Guacamelee, the 2D indie platformer, had a proof of concept with a complex move set that included fighting game-style combos. The developers removed this layer of complexity to make the game more fast-paced, fluid and fun.
In this stage, a team of writers, designers, developers, and marketers will come together to begin to build the project. This involves:
- Writers developing the story and characters,
- Artists ensuring that the game's colour palette and art style matches the game’s theme,
- Engineers determining the technical limitations of the game
Even though the game starts to take form at this stage, it is important to remain flexible and willing to make changes.
Simplified versions of the future game, prototypes are used to evaluate technical capabilities and game mechanics. Testing these will help to identify major flaws in the design of the game and changes that need to be made prior to production.
Halo went through many changes in its prototype phase, such as being a Real-Time Strategy Game, and having the option to ride dinosaurs, before finding its place as the iconic first-person shooter that millions have come to love.
The longest stage of the development process, production can last anywhere from one to four years on average. During this process, the characters are designed and modelled. Developers create the game world, audio engineers create the game’s sound, and voice actors record the dialogue. Writers will also edit the script process and complete tasks such as naming characters and items in the game.
In this phase of development, the team will often set milestones and goals to reach as they work. Significant portions of a game can sometimes be scrapped after months of work in order to ensure the best product possible. Good collaboration across each department is vital in this phase.
Have you ever seen a game character walk through walls, get stuck or exploit loopholes? To ensure these things don’t happen, developers employ play testers. Play-testers are responsible for identifying bugs, checking performance, ensuring that a game renders correctly and has the right level of difficulty. They also check for mistakes in the script and voice acting. When they’re done, the game should be ready for release.
Now, the marketing begins. The amount of advertising will depend on your budget, so if you are an indie developer, you will need to think of creative ways to market your game, such as utilizing social media
Trailers, reviews, articles, gameplay videos and demos are all common for building hype. Customers can be incentivized to purchase games early by offering pre-order bonuses or providing exclusive content for specific retailers. Sometimes, the public's reaction to your publicity material might force you to make changes to a game.
The most important part of the entire development process is releasing the game itself! Right before the launch, a few minor changes may still need to be made. An example of an important addition late in development was Sonic the Hedgehog’s health system, which creator Yuji Naka added only 2 weeks before the game’s release.
The life cycle of a game does not end at release. You might need to fix bugs, add game-balancing patches, or even release DLC (downloadable content) to keep people interested. Examples of this include additional characters being added to Super Smash Bros. or GTA V’s constantly updated online mode.
The process of developing a game is a long and involves a complex team of individuals working tirelessly to create lasting impact and bring joy to many.