In order to best define the game production framework, an understanding of the game industry and how a game gets from concept to release is important. Each chapter in this section provides an overview of one aspect. The chapters are:
Back in the early days of Pong, the development process was simple because one person was usually responsible for the design, code, and art of a game. If additional help was needed, the team was still fairly small and able to manage the workload without much production support. But as games became more complicated, with well-developed characters, worlds, and story lines, and technology that allowed for more graphically intense experiences and deeper
gameplay mechanics, the player’s expectations grew as well. Today, players expect a compelling, emotional, and high-quality gameplay experience, and will be very vocal online about their expectations and disappointments. In order for a game to meet these high standards, many people are involved in the game development process—not just designers, engineers, and artists but also investors, lawyers, marketing and PR
people, community managers, QA
, and many more. The producer is expected to pull all these pieces together and make sure everyone is working together and everything is aligning towards the same set of goals. Any successful game faces many obstacles along the way, and
games that have a producer at the helm are more likely to deal with these obstacles efficiently and effectively.
Thus begins the journey of the producer. While a producer doesn’t generally contribute art, design, or code directly to the game, the production role is critical for getting a game to market. Someone needs to be “minding the store” to ensure that milestones are met, progress is made, and work is not blocked. If you are a new producer, you may be wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into because your team is expecting you to spearhead and navigate this process for them. If you’ve been in the industry for a while, you are probably aware of all the complexities that go into releasing a successful game but still have areas you want to learn about so that you can be more effective at wrangling all the pieces.
Before delving into the specifics of how to manage all these pieces, a general understanding of how the game industry works is useful. Managing the development of a game from concept to release is both a demanding and a gratifying experience. You and your team will put a lot of passion and energy into getting your game to market, and decisions you make about securing financing, determining your revenue model, and distributing the game all have an impact on the production process and ultimately the player’s game experience.
According to the
Entertainment Software Association (ESA 2018), the game industry generates tens of billions of dollars each year and has experienced double-digit growth on an annual basis for the past few years. This translates to a lot of games being made by
development teams around the world. The teams can vary in size from a few to a few hundred people and can take anywhere from a few months to several years to commercially release a game. While the team sizes and complexities of the games may vary, the overall game development framework is fundamentally the same:
Create the Prototype:
This initial phase is where you decide what game you are making, who you are making it for, and what the key
gameplay mechanics are. The work done in this phase has a direct impact on the success of your game. You have more freedom to explore new things and make mistakes because nothing is set in stone. You can make a lot of decisions that will impact the quality of the game. The focus is on “finding the fun” through prototyping and feedback. Part 2
of this book delves more deeply into how you can make the most of creating your pitch.
Once you have an understanding of what you want to make, you need to plan how you are going to make it. How much time and money is necessary? What people are needed for the development team? Answering these questions now puts your game in a better position to succeed. Part 3
provides more specifics on how to create a budget, schedule, and overall production plan.
Assemble the Team:
As you define what game you’re making, you will need people who can help. How do you find these people? How do you organize the team? How do you keep the team happy and motivated? Part 4
answers these questions and more.
Make the Game:
You have the money, the people, and the time, and now the team is ready to create the game. In a perfect world, this phase is simply executing your plan—all the questions are answered, all risks are mitigated, and you have everything you need to make the game from start to finish. The reality is that this phase will have its bumps and obstacles as well. The producer will be putting out fires, reworking plans, and keeping the chaos contained. Part 5
discusses how to navigate the ins and outs of making the game. This includes coordinating all the moving parts and determining when the game is done, and offers strategies for getting a project back on track.
Launch the Game: Finally, the game is ready for the players. Testing finishes up, third parties have signed off, marketing campaigns are in flight, and the players wait in eager anticipation. During the launch phase, the focus is on getting all the pieces in place for customer service, community management, and the live operations of the game. After the game is launched, expect to deal with player feedback, bugs, rolling out new features, and anything else that is needed to maintain the health of the game.
As you can see, there is a lot of planning that goes into making a game, and this is reflected in the process. Note that the first three phases are all focused on planning, answering questions, assessing risks, and generally defining the plan for how to make the game (including people, finances, and publishing partners). Skipping some (or all) of the planning can be tempting; you may want to jump directly to scripting levels, creating character models, and coding cool features since they are probably more enjoyable than planning. Don’t fall into this trap! Save yourself time and headaches later by putting effort into planning and understanding everything that’s needed to get your game in the hands of the players. In addition, there is a fair amount of planning for the game launch. Again, don’t create more problems than needed by ignoring the importance of a launch plan.
The completion of each phase has a direct impact on the final quality of the game, so understanding the goals for each phase is important. By accomplishing the set of goals defined for each phase, you are setting yourself up for success in the next phase. If you don’t understand what the goals are and subsequently don’t complete them, you don’t have a strong foundation for building a successful game.
For example, if teams start in Phase 1 with creating, prototyping, and vetting the concept, issues can be solved before they become bigger obstacles for the final game. If teams jump straight to Phase 4 and start making the game, they won’t fully understand what is being made, which makes it harder for them to agree on the key goals and features. They may also start running out of money or time because they miscalculated the effort required to make a shippable game. There are many stories of games that were never released because the team couldn’t figure out what game was being made, or they ran out of resources.
For purposes of clarity, this book walks through each of these phases from beginning to end before moving onto the next phase. In reality, the transitions between the phases aren’t well defined; there won’t be a clear beginning and end, things will be done in a different order, game features will be changed or removed, people will roll on or off of a project, a game will go through multiple iterations before launch—the list goes on.
Because the phases overlap at various points in the development cycle, thinking about game production as a series of iterative cycles is helpful. For example, your team may create a playable prototype of the basic game mechanics, test them, and then release them to a limited group for feedback. Based on this feedback, you may do a few more rounds of feature iteration and then release the game publicly.
Using an iterative development cycle also means that you will have game features in different stages of development. For example, you may launch a game as what is commonly referred to as a minimal viable product, or MVP for short. This means that the game is released with a minimal set of features that are sufficient for early adopters. As players interact with the game, the publishing team gathers feedback, then utilizes this feedback to improve the next set of features to be released. With this approach, there will always be one set of features in the planning phase, one in the execution phase, and one in the launch phase. If you have established a strong planning and development pipeline, you will be able to juggle all of these feature sets at their various stages of development.
Now that you have a general understanding of how the game development process works, let’s talk about other factors to consider when making a game.