The game development pipeline is a lengthy process. In our experience working on everything from AAA titles to smaller-scale projects, a common thread are the stages of game development. Though we’ve seen on some productions that there can be extra layers of complexity to it, the stages of game development remain the same at their core.
We view the stages of game development as consisting of seven phases, and equal effort should be put forward at every step to make a game the best it can be. Each stage is deeply tied to another, and issues during one stage could cause problems later in the pipeline.
Planning Your Game
Every game starts with an idea. Before any graphics, audio, or mechanics can be implemented, the game’s idea needs to be fleshed out, and some fundamental questions need to be answered.
Figuring out what genre of game it will be, the setting, art style, and game mechanics is crucial at this early stage. During the planning phase, it’s common for ideas to change, but it’s good practice to lock down these key decisions early as changing foundational aspects of the game later on in the pipeline could lead to development issues.
Generally included in the planning stage of game development is creating a proof of concept. This should address budgetary and timeline questions, along with publishing and monetization plans.
Pre-production is a vital stage of game development where several important decisions are made. Each major aspect of your game should be examined, everything from its art style to desired game mechanics. Prototyping and storyboarding are common hallmarks of this stage as are decisions around what will be included in the game, and what will be cut.
At this stage, developers will figure out what physics should be used in the game, artists will determine an appropriate color palette for its style, and writers will settle on the script while bearing in mind the game’s mechanics.
With your game’s ideas now more tangible and key decisions made, full production is the next step.
Production is the most arduous stage of game development. The team’s developers will craft the world, including the implementation of lighting and physics engines. Sound designers craft the game’s audio and character models are created and textured.
This phase can be a litmus test of sorts for your game. It’s where your ideas come together cohesively and you start to see each aspect of the game as a whole, rather than as individual pieces. During production, it’s often necessary to make further decisions about changes or cut content. For instance, gameplay mechanics that don’t gel together as well as they did on paper or narrative beats that can’t be fleshed out well enough to do them justice.
The production period varies wildly depending on the project and team size. Modern AAA console titles can take years to come together. For some large franchises such as Call of Duty, developers will alternate to deliver on their yearly release schedule. Independent developers can face long production periods for different reasons. These studios are often just a handful of people fulfilling several roles each, which can naturally extend the production phase.
Testing is Critical
QA Testing is arguably the most important stage of game development outside of production. This stage requires testing every single aspect of the game to ensure that it’s as bug-free as possible. This includes game-breaking bugs and softlock situations where players’ progress can be halted though the game is still technically playable.
Besides these major glitches and bugs, countless smaller bugs and issues are tested and resolved during this stage. Is the game too difficult? Are there pathways to exploit the game’s mechanics that players could uncover? Are the environments solid and are there lingering performance issues? These and other questions must be addressed during testing.
It’s perhaps a misnomer to call testing a phase of game development, as its role extends beyond the development pipeline in modern gaming. While testing might behind during or after the production stage, it extends beyond this, and in some cases, months or years after your title has shipped.
At the pre-launch stage, your game should be in a playable state. This is when your game’s marketing can start ramping up by releasing screenshots, trailers, and even demos or beta tests open to the public.
Naturally, as your game is revealed to the public, it’ll be subject to criticism from gamers and potential players. This is a great opportunity to implement any changes that make sense for the game based on consumer feedback. Reception can be difficult to predict but even negative feedback can yield positive results.
The launch window is an understandably anxiety-inducing period. The release date is coming soon and there is pressure to quash any remaining bugs possible. As mentioned earlier, the testing phase is a core component of the game development pipeline at several points and this is the last opportunity to ensure your game’s as smooth an experience as possible as it gets into players’ hands.
Minor changes to gameplay mechanics are known to happen at this point, but it’s best to avoid doing so if at all possible. The last thing any developer needs is unforeseen challenges just before launch!
Once your game has been released, the post-launch period begins. Depending on the game, post-launch support for it can vary wildly. Most modern titles tend to have several updates and patches to squash any remaining bugs or newly discovered ones.
It’s also common practice for new content, paid or free, to be added after launch. This can range from new weapons and abilities to hours-long expansions bringing players to whole new areas.
Our experience means we understand the value of placing equal value on every stage of game development. Without good planning, every stage can suffer. With a lax testing phase, the player experience can be greatly impacted along with the developer’s reputation.
Looking for world-class game development services or a co-development partner? Get in contact with us today and check out our portfolio, we’d be delighted to help make your game the best it can be!