It seems like these days, anyone under the sun can create a video game if they wanted to. With free video game maker tools such as Unity and Lumberyard becoming more and more accessible, even to those not in the professional game development industry, we’re seeing more and more people creating games, taking on video game careers, and joining game companies. Which is well and truly awesome, because if more people are creating games we get a larger variety of games to play!
If you want to learn to make your own game all the tools are already at your disposal, some of which are free, like the previously mentioned Lumberyard as well as Unity. But what exactly goes video game development process? The process of creating games isn’t exactly a walk in the park, especially for more ambitious projects.
We’ve put together a general overview of the video game development process that goes into creating games, done by both larger game companies as well as smaller, indie game studios. The development process may vary of course, depending on the game studio in question but the basics are right here!
GAME CONCEPT AND PLANNING
Usually, video game creators start out with a rough idea; say you want a Mario Kart-esque racing game with dog breeds or an FPS-type game with ninjas who use guns or maybe even a game adaptation of Battle Royale. It can be as creative or as mundane (Hi, Street Cleaning Simulator) as the game creator wants it to be. There will be restrictions of course: more established game companies might want to practice caution with crazier ideas, but creatively, indie developers will have little to no barriers save for technical limitations when creating games.
After the idea.. comes the story. A plot-line that will propel the characters forward, something that will inspire action in the player; a princess to save, a civilization to restore, a carton of milk to buy. Basic assets needed will be determined at this stage. A detailed plan of action will typically be made by the game studio. This will most likely include expectations, project goals, limitations the team might have to consider, team members needed, the budget required, etc.
It goes without saying in order to make your own game you will likely require some kind of a budget. This isn’t necessarily needed all the time – a lot of games out today have been made with the free video game software mentioned at the beginning. More ambitious games, including some indie ones, will still need funds to work with. Whilst big game companies tend to have deep pockets for approved game projects, and these days, it’s not uncommon for games to need tens of millions of dollars- bigger and more polished games cost hundreds of millions (GTA V for example).
Why so expensive you might wonder? In creating games, there’s art to be hand-crafted by legions of artists, quality tests to be done by big focus groups, and a big chunk of the budget goes to marketing. From advertising on multiple mediums like television or the internet to hosting crazy Fallout Vault parties, game companies will do whatever it takes to make sure people know about their game and buy it.
The downside to bigger budgets is that the developers tend to take fewer risks with their games- rather than waste millions of dollars they play it safe and cater to what their established target would want to see. You could call it a proven sales recipe. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of new releases being either remakes of old games, or new games being almost the same but with a different skin.
On the other hand, indie game companies typically have to get funding through other means to fund their video game, with crowdfunding on sites like Kickstarter becoming a popular way of doing so. With the advent of crowdfunding and the creation of sites like Fig, where established video game developers who’ve had success with crowdfunding will mentor and advise aspiring developers creating games after hearing their pitches, more channels are opening up for fresher ideas.
After, or sometimes even before funding, a team of video game developers is assembled. This is where various video game careers come in and the average video game designer salary is about 20USD per hour.
A typical game development team is usually composed of:
- Concept Artists for the visual representations of the original idea, providing the aesthetic base and the tone the game will be going for.
- Animators to make sure every model moves and behaves according to what is intended.
- Assistant Producer ensures that everything in the project runs smoothly and according to plan and that the game will be finished and polished in the given time-frame.
- Audio Engineer for music, character voices, and sound effects.
- Creative Director responsible for keeping the overall tone, aesthetic and quality of the game consistent.
- External Producer work externally. They’ll handle all things commercial.
- Game Designers design all the core game-play elements.
- Game Programmers design and create said code to run the game. Led by a Lead Programmer.
- Game Artist for the design of characters, scenery, objects, etc. They are usually helmed by a Lead Artist.
- Level Editors to create the interactive backdrop characters will explore.
- Marketing Executive to make ensure that the game is well exposed to the market.
Before pre-production goes anywhere, the game studio establishes a set of restrictions and guidelines as a way to keep things in line. Games based on existing IPs will have rules to adhere to. For example, a WWE game will entail a set roster, what the wrestlers and commentators will have to say and which moves are to be used. Brand-new IPS usually have more freedom when it comes to creating games, but technical restrictions and such are still noted.
Next, the story-line is solidified and storyboards are created. During this stage, makers and artists sketch out what they want to see happen in order: scenes, actions, key dialogue, challenges, etc. Depending on the game, storyboards might even be bigger than the ones made for movies, especially if the game isn’t linear, or has multiple routes and endings. During this stage, character and environment creation are also done by the concept artists. Characters might have to undergo several redesigns until the game creator is satisfied. After all, Final Fantasy’s cute Chocobo didn’t always look so cuddly.
All of this is compiled in one mighty, Holy Doctrine: the game design document. The game design document is essentially a blueprint that contains all design elements the team will have to follow and implement in the production stage: storyboards, scripts, character designs, etc. With all that set in stone, the game studio can move on to production.
Branching out from the core members, large teams are brought together to get down to the gritty work of game-making. Under the guidance of the producers and assistant producers, the art and programming teams work hand-in-hand to realize concepts and churn out the actual game.
Some of the tools commonly used for modeling by game companies to create a video game are Maya and 3D Studio Max. Common engines used include Unity, Cocos2d, Adobe Air, Unreal Engine, GameMaker: Studio, Construct 2, Clickteam Fusion, Stencyl, Lumberyard and more. And while the artists are busy creating models and designing every visual and audible element of the game, from UIs to the soundtrack, programmers are hard at work coding so that the elements the creative team make behave the way they should in-game. This includes the game library and artificial intelligence (AI). The latter dictates how objects and characters react to player interaction and prompting.
Think of it this way: if a game were a body of sorts, the creative team is responsible for the exoskeleton, whereas the programmers will make sure everything is in tip-top shape inside.
After a rough version of the game has been created, the video game developers hand it over to the production team for hardware optimization, which is basically making sure the game runs well on the consoles or platforms they’re intending to release it on.
After all of the sweat, blood and tears that go into creating games, an alpha version of the game is birthed!
This is where the test department comes in! And like we mentioned earlier, the test department can get pricey. After all, it’s their responsibility to detect any game-breaking bugs and glitches, or anything that could be changed to make the game easier or more appealing to play. It is through alpha testing that the game studio collects additional data. Said data will then be used by the video game creator to address the project’s biggest issues, and to make the necessary tweaks to fix them.
After alpha testing and the ensuing changes, a beta version is made, which will then be handed back to the test department. This version is typically scrutinized with a more critical eye for smaller problems because the severe ones will most likely have already been addressed during alpha testing. Issues are whittled down, often through several beta tests.
It is not unheard of to still discover larger issues during beta testing, though, nor is it impossible for them to slip through altogether and end up in the finished game. Luckily, we have patches for that.
Eventually, the final version of the game has been completed and polished. The game studio’s job doesn’t end here, though: game patches for leftover bugs and issues will have to be made, and additional marketing will have to be done.
Marketing is an important part of creating games. How is anyone going to play the game you created if they don’t even know it exists? Or if they don’t get excited enough to want to try it out in the first place? Why would you make your own game if no one is going play it?
There are many platforms game companies use: television appearances, cross-medium advertisements like mentioning the game on shows or having it played on popular internet segments like Conan’s Clueless Gamer, launch parties, free mobile versions, integration into digital distribution platforms like Steam, YouTube LPer promotions and whatnot. The sky is the limit with marketing, but like previously mentioned, it usually takes a big chunk out of the budget. Advertising can get expensive but the creative game designers can find ways to cut down this cost tremendously. At the end of the day, though, you get a finished product you and the game development team will likely be very proud of. And after that? On to the next project!