Do Minecraft, PUBG: Battlegrounds, and PokemonGo have anything in common? These gaming giants have undergone a systematic approach encompassing five stages of game development.
While every development cycle is unique, this structured framework provides developers with a guiding light, navigating them through the dynamic and unpredictable world of game creation.
Before we dive deeper into each stage, let's explore some fascinating game development statistics worth knowing. These insights shed light on the immense effort and innovation that drive the gaming industry forward.
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6 game development statistics worth knowing
It’s clear the video game industry is going from strength to strength. And shows no signs of slowing down. Stay ahead of the game with these six enlightening game development statistics for 2023:
- Global Gaming Powerhouses: China and the US reign as dominant forces in the international gaming markets, showcasing their influence and robust player bases. (Source: Newzoo)
- US Gaming Market Worth: The US gaming market's worth stands at a staggering $106.8 billion, underscoring its status as a thriving and lucrative industry. (Source: IBISWorld)
- Mobile Gaming Revenue: Mobile gaming takes the lead, accounting for over half of the total gaming revenue worldwide, reflecting the increasing popularity of gaming on mobile devices. (Source: Newzoo)
- Xbox Live Users: The Xbox Live community boasts an impressive count of over 100 million users globally, demonstrating the immense reach of Microsoft's gaming platform. (Source: Microsoft)
- Free-to-Play Games Rise: Free-to-play (F2P) games continue their remarkable rise, generating a remarkable $70 billion of market revenue annually, highlighting their compelling business model and widespread appeal. (Source: SuperData Research)
- Game Development Team: Additionally, a successful game development team can vary in size from 1 to 30 game developers, emphasizing the versatility of project teams and the potential for achieving greatness with diverse team structures. (Source: Unreal Engine)
Game development stages
The planning stage is a critical foundation that sets the course for your game development journey, often underestimated by some. Paying close attention to the following aspects ensures a successful and well-thought-out game project:
- Game Budget: Begin by carefully estimating the budget for your game development. This financial roadmap helps determine how much you can invest in the development process and how many features you can include in the final product. Ensuring a balance between expenditure and potential profit is essential.
- Gaming Platform: Decide on the platform for which you will develop the game, be it console, iOS, Android, PC, or cross-platform. According to Statista, smartphones hold a leading position in the importance of gaming platforms for future growth, closely followed by consoles, PCs, and VR.
- Game Genre: The chosen genre significantly influences the scale of your project and the size of the development team required. Your budget will also play a role in this decision. You can either build an RPG, puzzle, simulation, adventure, action, or RTS, or you can make an indie game or a high-budget AAA title.
- Intended Gameplay: Define the player's interactions with the game world. This involves designing the mechanics and establishing the plot and characters. Create achievements, quests, and level logic while shaping the player's avatar or characters according to the storyline. Balancing simplicity with diversity in in-game content is vital for future growth.
- Monetization Strategy: How are you going to earn through the game? Are you going to sell your game, have in-app purchases, or monetize through ads? Consider how you plan to earn through the game. Will you sell the game directly, include in-app purchases, or monetize through advertisements? Carefully evaluating the most suitable monetization approach aligns with your game's objectives and target audience.
Pre-production serves as the concept documentation phase of game development, laying the foundation for the entire project. During this crucial stage, game developers craft the initial design and outline various sub-processes to ensure a well-structured and successful development journey. Several key aspects are addressed in the pre-production phase, including:
- High Concept: A succinct one-line description, known as the 'high concept,' captures the essence of the game's core idea and sets the stage for the entire development process.
- Pitch: Similar to a marketing pitch, the game 'pitch' answers the fundamental question of why the video game has the potential to be profitable and popular, showcasing its unique selling points.
- Concept: The comprehensive concept documentation phase covers essential elements, such as the game's genre, gameplay mechanics, features, storyline, target audience, development schedule, levels, required team members, and hardware specifications.
- Game Design Document (GDD): The GDD serves as a detailed blueprint, describing the gameplay elements, game design, and concept art. During this phase, the development team prepares rough sketches for storyboarding and level designing.
- Paper Prototyping: In this phase, features and gameplay ideas are described using written prototypes. Programmers and designers use testbed tools and Rapid Application Development (RAD) tools to create prototypes, facilitating early testing and iteration.
The duration of the pre-production stage varies significantly, ranging from a week to a year, depending on the project's complexity, available resources, and financial constraints. Typically, pre-production accounts for up to 20% of the total production time, ensuring a solid groundwork is laid before moving into the subsequent stages of game development.
During the pre-production stage, the game development team is relatively small, comprising a producer, programmer(s), and a concept artist. In some cases, a single person may handle multiple roles in a one-person operation.
- Concept Artists: Concept artists play a pivotal role by establishing the project's tone through early artwork and sketches that align with the game's theme and genre. These visuals serve as a visual guide, providing a shared understanding of the game's overall look and feel. Ensuring visual coherence is essential; for instance, a dark and sinister game should not feature bright, summery colors.
- Developers: Developers focus on solidifying the game mechanics, physics, and how the game processes models and objects. Collaborative decisions with artists, writers, and engineers may be necessary, particularly when script or gameplay elements are affected.
- Video Game Producers: Producers handle the business aspects of the project, particularly the financial management and marketing strategies. They are responsible for overseeing the budget and devising plans to effectively sell the final product.
- Project Leads: Project leads act as mediators, balancing the demands of each team, making final decisions, removing obstacles, and ensuring everyone remains aligned with the project's vision.
- Writers: Writers play a vital role in shaping the game's narrative, characters, and world. The script's content directly impacts the artwork, mechanics, and environments that need to be created, making collaboration with other team members crucial.
The information collected and refined during the pre-production stage becomes the cornerstone of the Game Design Document (GCD), which serves as a comprehensive blueprint for the video game development process. The GDD outlines all aspects of the game, including gameplay mechanics, storylines, characters, levels, and art direction.
From the GDD, the game development team proceeds to create the video game prototype. This prototype is a crucial step in the development process as it allows developers to test the viability of the game idea. It serves as a raw test that assesses functionality, user experience, gameplay, mechanics, and art direction in a practical context.
Prototyping during pre-production is essential to identify any potential issues or shortcomings in the game concept early on. By testing the game idea in its early stages, developers can make informed decisions about whether to proceed with the project or explore alternative ideas. Many game ideas do not advance past this stage, saving time, effort, and resources that can be channeled into more promising projects.
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Quote: “Almost everything in a video game is a conscious decision. This includes every character, environment, object, as well as the look, colors, sounds, level of difficulty, rules and point-scoring system.” - Dejan K., Game Developer from Index.dev talent pipeline
Production is the central stage of game development, where game developers bring the vision to life by creating critical elements of the game. This phase involves crafting 2D/3D models, sound effects, level designs, and other essential components. Programmers play a crucial role in writing the game's source code, which runs on game engines like Unity, Unreal Engine, and others.
Key sub-processes in the production phase include:
- Game Design: Game designers collaboratively work on the visual, written, and technical aspects of the game. They shape the art, storyline, levels, and gameplay design to create an engaging experience.
- Programming: Game programmers closely collaborate with designers to implement, execute, and test the game's code. Their expertise in programming languages like C++, C#, Java, and Python enables them to customize the game and eliminate bugs.
- Level Designing: Level creators work with designers to develop elements of video game levels, ensuring they align with the overall game progression and challenge players appropriately.
- Game Art Designing: Graphic artists utilize 2D and 3D art development tools, such as Blender 3D, Adobe Photoshop, and Autodesk Maya, to craft the game's visuals.
- Audio Production: Audio producers create sound effects, in-game music, and voice-overs to enhance the gaming experience.
The production phase is the longest and most active period in game development. It is crucial to meticulously follow the agreed-upon Game Design Document to mitigate risks. Different team members have specialized roles, such as game designers handling mechanics, level designers arranging challenges, artists creating visuals using specific software like Maya or Photoshop, animators bringing characters to life, and programmers powering every feature of the game. Sound engineers are responsible for creating all audio elements, including sound effects, voices, and music.
Additionally, during the production phase, there are seven crucial production checkpoints that mark the progress of the project:
- Prototype: The initial test of the game, conducted in pre-production, to assess its viability and potential. Some game ideas may not progress beyond this stage.
- First Playable: This milestone provides a better understanding of the game's look and gameplay. Placeholder assets are replaced with higher quality ones, and the game's visual style begins to take shape.
- Vertical Slice: A fully playable sample of the game, typically ranging from a few minutes to half an hour, which serves as a demonstration to pitch the game to studios or investors. It offers a hands-on experience of the game's core elements.
- Pre-Alpha: The majority of the game's content is developed in this stage. Significant decisions are made at this point, which may involve cutting certain content or introducing new elements to enhance gameplay.
- Alpha: The game reaches a "feature complete" state, meaning all main features have been implemented, and the game is playable from start to finish. While some art assets may still need to be added, the core controls and functionality should be fully functional. Quality assurance (QA) testers focus on identifying and reporting any remaining errors.
- Beta: During this phase, all content and assets are integrated, and the team shifts its focus to optimization rather than adding new features. The goal is to fine-tune the game's performance and polish it for a smoother player experience.
- Gold Master: The game is considered final and ready for launch. It has undergone extensive testing and refinement, and all elements are in place for the official release.
Testing is an essential phase in game development, where dedicated video game testers engage in repetitive in-game tasks to ensure Quality Assurance. Their primary objective is to thoroughly test the gameplay aspects and meticulously report any failures, crashes, glitches, or errors they encounter during their playthroughs. Automated testing tools are also employed to expedite the testing process, while regression testing helps prevent functionality issues arising from code updates.
During testing, the game undergoes scrutiny to identify potential problems, including:
- Solid environments: Examining whether players can walk, break, or phase through different parts of the environment. They check for any peculiar behaviors, such as walking through walls or other objects.
- Rendering and performance issues: Ensuring that all game objects and environments appear as intended and at the appropriate times. Looking for any visual glitches, pop-ins, or framerate drops, especially during high-intensity scenes.
- Exploits: Assessing whether players can exploit game mechanics to gain unfair advantages, which may compromise the game's balance and fairness.
- Softlocks: Evaluating the game for any situations where players can become unintentionally trapped or stuck, affecting their overall gaming experience.
- Difficulty: Analyzing the game's current difficulty level to ascertain whether it is appropriately challenging or requires adjustment to provide a more balanced gameplay experience.
- Scripting and acting errors: Carefully reviewing in-game dialogues to ensure correct spelling and the use of the best voice actor performances.
The testing process spans all stages of game development, with QA engineers assigned various tasks, primarily conducted during the production stage. Testers engage in stress tests to push the game to its limits, aiming to identify and address potential issues that could affect gameplay.
As the game progresses through pre-Alpha and Alpha stages, comprehensive testing focuses on evaluating game mechanics and functionalities. During the Beta stage, extensive stress tests are conducted to ensure the game's overall playability and stability before its final release.
Once a video game is launched and made available to players, it enters the crucial 'post-production' or maintenance stage. During this phase, the gaming studio undertakes continuous monitoring to ensure the game's stability and performance meet the highest standards. End-users play an essential role by detecting and reporting any glitches, bugs, or issues they encounter while playing the game. These reports are valuable feedback that helps the gaming studio identify and address potential problems.
To improve the game's performance and address reported issues, the studio releases regular updates known as 'patches.' Game programmers play a critical role in this process, as they need to make changes to the game's code to create stable patches that fix the identified in-game bugs and errors.
Studios strive to maintain the game's quality and user experience by regularly releasing updates that meet the technical requirements of various platforms. As platforms themselves undergo updates and changes, it becomes essential for game developers to adapt and optimize the game accordingly.
Moreover, many gaming companies also take the opportunity to enhance the gaming experience for their players by updating in-game content and introducing exciting new mechanics. This constant stream of fresh content keeps users engaged and invested in the game.
The post-production stage requires continuous maintenance and regular testing of new game versions to ensure that the game remains stable, enjoyable, and free of critical issues. This dedication to maintaining quality and responsiveness to player feedback is crucial to the long-term success and popularity of the video game in the ever-evolving gaming industry.
Take your game development career to the next level
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