The process of developing a video game is labor-intensive and involves game design, art, programming, gameplay, and audio. This process is subdivided into sections that require game developers, writers, designers, project managers, and other important team members to work collaboratively in achieving the tasks set out in the development of a video game.
Game developers and designers come up with the game design, which contains the framework of the game’s basic concept, aesthetics, vision, as well as the story and characters. After outlining all the above aspects, the next part is to create those elements and bring them to life. This is done through various software development processes and stages that include audio, art, and gameplay. The production of a commercial video game usually involves seven stages of development.
Stage 1: Planning
Planning, as it is for any project, is a key factor when working with time and budget estimates. Developers with poor production methodology are likely to run over budgets, waste time, or even create games with a large number of bugs. Overall, planning is key for both individual and corporate projects.
First and foremost, the planning stage is where all preliminary estimates, as well as the idea of a video game, have to be brainstormed. Here, the developer lays the foundation for the video game development by outlining the budget, game characters, production platform, the target audience, and whether the game should be in 2D or 3D. These aspects form the basis from which scripts are written and game design document is formulated. Some of the key questions to answer during the planning stage include, but are not limited to:
- What game type are we producing?
- Who is the target audience?
- What characters should we include?
- What key features should the video game have?
- What is the cost estimate?
- Do we possess the technological ability to develop this game?
- Do we have a timeframe?
Stage 2: Pre-Production
Next up, the developer begins the secondary planning phase that deals with design formulation. This phase is called pre-production. This stage focuses on idea or game concept development. Ideas are brainstormed and documented to form a clear framework that outlines the goals, tasks, time estimates, and schedules that every development team member has to work within. The documentation produced during this phase is referred to as the production plan – which contains three key documents, namely:
- High Concept – this is a brief description of the game that can be outlined in one or two sentences. Usually, it is a brief response to: “What’s your game about?”
- The Pitch – also known as the game proposal, a pitch is a brief document that highlights the selling points of a game and details how profitable the game would be if developed. For external or multi-company sponsorships, a pitch is served as a proposal to publishers to approve funding for the game developers.
- The Concept – this is a game plan that details more steps than the pitch. The concept is a written document that outlines the game genre, key features, gameplay description, game setting, storyline, production platform, production team, marketing analysis, as well as the risks.
Stage 3: Production
This is the most labor-intensive part of the video game development process as it involves the actual development with all hands-on deck. Team members thoughtfully brainstorm and tie loose ends of the story. Among others, the team members carry out the following tasks:
- They define the game mechanics and balance.
- Gameplay pace is established.
- The gaming interface is defined.
- They build scenes and gaming levels.
- They write program codes.
Production, being the most complex stage, requires all team members – each with established roles – to work to bring the game concept to life. All components of the game, as outlined in the pre-production phase, have to be designed expertly. Furthermore, the characters, game settings, scenes, the game’s level of difficulty, and other fundamental aspects of the game have to be designed realistically for the gameplay to be fun.
The role of developers during this stage is to write countless lines-of-source codes and code concepts into interactive visuals and sounds in order to bring all pieces of in-game content to life. Moreover, 2D or 3D game graphics and characters are built and programmed to interact as rendered in the original storyline.
The game producer or project manager is responsible for the coordination among team members. By doing so, they ensure the project hits the ground running, avails resources, assigns roles, and as well protects the project from running into risks. And as stipulated by the project manager, the following tasks are assigned as follows:
- Game designers build characters, carry out digital editing and create gaming rules.
- Audio designers create authentic sounds to ensure tones and voices made by characters convey real emotion.
- Level designers create captivating gaming environments that are suitable for different playstyles.
- Project managers set milestones and create team schedules to enhance accountability.
Stage 4: Testing
Once all the game concept pieces have been brought to life, next up is what is referred to as Alpha release. To ensure the game is ready for this stage, all its features and gameplay mechanics have to be tested for quality control using a play tester. Testing serves to help the game retain a fun factor. It takes many hours to test, polish, and iterate game functions before it can be ready for Alpha or beta release – which is the first time it goes public. And by doing so, the playtester will help the team point out:
- If all visuals are rendering on the screen.
- Any buggy areas and levels.
- If characters get permanently stuck in one spot of the game.
- If there are any other gameplay features to use and effectively exploit the game.
Stage 5: Pre-Launch
For many gaming studios, this turns out to be quite a stressful time. The anxiety stems from self-doubt that may creep in as you worry about the critical acclaim from the public to your functional video game.
But before going formal with a Beta release, your first functional product requires some form of marketing to have media attention. After all, how else can your target audience learn about your product release?
Stage 6: The Launch
The month leading up to the official release of your video game is characterized by the squashing of bugs to polish the game. Overall, developers are often fixated on polishing the game as much as possible in anticipation of positive reviews from the public. This involves minor iterations that could have been pointed out during the pre-launch stage. But these minor changes can make a difference when it comes to developing a more immersive and interactive game.
Stage 7: Post-Launch
Depending on the reception of your video game by the public, the post-launch stage is one of the most exciting moments for video game developers. If the critical acclaim was mainly positive, then this is the time video game sales are at an all-time high. And even then, you still have work to do.
Similar to pre-launch, the post-launch months are spent identifying and squashing bugs. Most of the issues addressed by gaming studios during this stage are derived from player reports, reviews, complaints, and comments posted on online gaming forums such as Twitch. But the most important aspect as anticipated by gamers is for gaming studios to provide support and software updates for the video game.
The Bottom Line
Developing a video game, contrary to popular opinion, is as involving and resource-consuming as any other project. From the game concept and pre-production to its launch, a game’s production plan contains all the fundamental aspects of the game, as well as the framework and guidelines for the team to work on the development and maintain the project vision from start to finish.