The Game Development Process: From Concept to Release

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Everyone wants to create a game these days, the markets are over-saturated from indies to big game studios there are hundreds of games being published every day.

Making a successful game isn’t a walk on the part, sure lots of studios and independent developers publish games on a daily basis but only free prove to be successful because it relies on a lot of external and internal factors.

Game Development Process

If proven successful one game could earn you huge income for the next 10 to 15 years straight and that’s why so many people are trying to find their next big successful game.

Almost all studios I worked for had a system, a process you can call it, to create a game of course each studio had different names for the names of that process but they meant the same thing and had the same deliverables per process.

In this article, I am going to share with you my experience of the game development process, how they start, and what they do at each stage. lets jump right in.

Game Development Stages

Ideation

Without a great game idea, you have nothing, I wish more studios would learn this instead of continuing the same path of copying other successful games in hope of getting some of their audience… it never worked and it will never work.

This is why this stage of game development is very important you need to have a great idea for a game, some people call it a pitch document which is the basic idea of what your game will be about and which genre (RPG, FPS, MMORPG, Match 3, etc…).

Perhaps the most important thing to figure out as well at this stage, is your USP( unique selling position ) you know what separates you from the other 1 million RPG games?

what is unique about your game, why would the player choose you instead of thousands of other options? because the game looks good? that’s a tough battle to win with all the great-looking games out there.

After the idea is born and we know what we want to do, a writer or a game designer starts writing the GDD (game design document) the brief version of it this would be the basis of the full GDD to be made in pre-production.

Usually, after that document is finished it will be presented in front of stakeholders (investors) they either greenlight it or reject it.


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Pre-Production

At this stage we have an idea, we have the start of a GDD, and stakeholders backing us up to make a proof of concept.

Pre-production is a very critical stage, many people skip it or waste time during this phase and then rush into production because they don’t have time anymore, while this phase can either make or break the whole production of your game.

Basically, in pre-production the aim should be the following:

  • Prove your game
  • Be ready to make the whole game
  • Prototyping
  • Answering critical questions
  • Scoping (setting limits to what we want to do)

at this stage we should have a small team of senior staff representing each department:

These people will be the core team that will later expand into fully fleshed-out departments. This small team heads out to Prototype the core game loop, making sure the game is fun, plays well, and is achievable.

During this time these points should be in the making:

  • GDD (Game design document expanded version)
  • TDD (Technical design document)
  • Art Guide
  • Roadmap (made by the production team)
  • 40% of the Backlog is filled with stories

Production should not start before we have a basic 80% version of these documents finished and ready to go.

Recruitment should already be on the go because it takes from 3 to 6 months to fully recruit someone and we cannot afford to wait for that, good talent is hard to find and retain, so the talent acquisition team be headhunting for the best talent.

It’s always good to have 20 to 30% of each department junior level and 70 to 80% senior level, this combination yields the best results in terms of Seniors growing as managers and Juniors giving so much passion and developing their skills to be future seniors.

Production

This is the start of creating the full game with full steam ahead, it’s also the kick-off of the first sprint with the first deliverables to be done.

From my experience Agile methodology works best in game studios, the reason the nature of the game creation process.

Iteration is the best way to create a game, starting with an MVP(minimal viable product) and sprint after sprint layering on top of that more and more features and assets, and at the end of each sprint you would have a working game build to test the progress of your game.

This is why it’s very important as stated before, that in the pre-production stage, a roadmap is made, which is the backlog on a timeline.

breaking down each milestone and each sprint what is the deliverable and how long it will take, trust me when I say this I have seen this go the opposite way, and it’s ugly to have a team consisting of 30 professionals and come Monday and they have no clue what to do or no clue next sprint what will be the objectives and the stories this has to be avoided as its the start of a failing game project.

I want to talk a bit about team structure here, as it’s very important to have hierarchies and everyone should be held accountable for what they do.

Each department should have a director and below the director should be a lead and then under the lead, there should be a team of seniors and below those regulars who help juniors and interns.

here is an example:

Art Director – Lead Artist – Senior Artist – Artist – Junior Artist – Intern Artist

the director reports directly to the head of studio or game director, and the producer comes as the link between all departments and communicates mainly with the leads and reports back to the director and the head of studio.

Playtesting should start not at this stage, if it can start of pre-production I advise it to start at that point, because of how important it is, every build should be tested not only for bugs but also for the fun factor, for how unique the game is.

testing should be done internally and externally, internally through the team and the QA department and externally through online services that hire players that fall in the target audience we want to target and records them as they play, this is very valuable data as these people are fresh to the game and we get to see first-time reactions to what we have been doing for months.

Post-Production

This phase is where we have our game finished and our backlog all in a done state (excluding bugs of course). from this point onwards the polishing and testing stages begin to consider this as the last chance to fix all the assets that need that extra touch, or maybe add those minor assets that weren’t a high priority in the backlog.

Besides polishing and testing, this phase consists of 3 stages in regard to the actual launch of the game and these are:

Technical Launch

Tech launch is a phase that not all studios implement, some studios just merge tech launch with a soft launch in order to save time and push for global release as soon as possible, but from my point of view it’s an important phase to have.

Technical launch is when the game is launched to a specific group of people so the game development team can know if the game works if it loads if anything is preventing the player from actually playing the game. Because remember up to this point the game has only been tested with internal QA team.

Tech Launch shouldn’t last more than a couple of weeks as its purely tech related and we won’t be taking any gameplay data.

Soft launch

You probably heard of this one as most studios have it (except for hypercasual studios), the purpose of this phase is to launch the game in specific countries and in most cases countries that have low CPC (cost per click) so more users can be bought and more data can be gathered.

Our main target countries might not be these countries but at this stage, we just want to gather data about the gameplay, Retention, DAU (daily active users), time spent in-game, etc.. and this phase usually lasts between 1 month up to 6 months.

This is a critical phase because the KPI we extract from this phase will give us a hint if the game will be profitable and if it’s even worth investing UA (user acquisition) money in it.

Lots of games get canceled within this phase simply because they didn’t reach the numbers expected, that’s why some studios spend 6 months in soft launch just trying to fix and push those numbers up in order to save the game from shutting down.

Global Launch

Let me tell you something, not many studios reach this stage and sometimes it’s really a privilege if you are part of a team that reached this stage.

At this point, you have a game finished, polished, tested, and got the right KPI’s necessary to make a profit! so it’s GLOBAL LAUNCH time.

The game will then be published in all countries and in all stores, UA and marketing would be happening simultaneously in order to acquire users and a LiveOps team would be formed and up and running.

LiveOps

LiveOps or live operations is a phase that starts right after the global launch of the game. The main purpose of this phase is to keep the game running and functioning at all times.

Let’s start by defining what is a Liveops team after Production is finished a large chunk of the production team is moved to other projects (in some cases layoffs) and a small chunk remains these are people that are needed to keep the game running.

Developers and Server specialists, Game designers, and a couple of artists would be very close to the pre-production team but with more emphasis on server specialists.

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Beyond keeping the game running the LiveOps team have really important elements and tasks to do:

  • Promotional offers: You can use LiveOps to update in-app purchases and make changes to your in-game economy.
  • New content: there should always be new content rolled out otherwise players will get bored quickly and LiveOps is the best place to release new and updated content.
  • Events: limited-time events to increase player engagement, retention, and eventually revenue.
  • Marketing Bundles: Offering bundles to your users is a great way to make more revenue.
  • Support: You can use mobile game live-ops to offer better customer support and community management.
  • A/B testing: Live-ops enables you to improve your app over time by A/B testing

Conclusion

Alright, this was a brief (not really!) walk through some of the most important phases of the game development process with all of its complexity.

I could write an article about each phase to show how complex and sensitive each phase is and how seriously it should be taken.

Lots of people think making a game is easy but it’s very complex and follows a certain structure, many failed because they dismissed a step or just didn’t follow certain methodologies, or simply because of unqualified managers.

It takes a lot of discipline, respect, and professionalism to run a game production team, my advice to whoever wants to start a game studio is to build the right team and hire the right people those are the ones that will build your game so be careful when hiring your team.

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