Who would have thought that Pong (1958), the very first video game, would lead to the creation of the tenth art?
In 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States recognized video games as a new form of art, making it the tenth form of art just after comics. If nowadays, the debate is still open to recognizing this new art, one thing is more certain: the money that the gaming industry brings is massive.
In 2019, the gaming industry made more than $150.2 billion in revenue (Marketwatch). But how exactly are video games created? What are the different game development stages to follow to create the next revolutionary video game?
It’s dangerous to go alone! Take a look and read this article!
Diving into the gaming industry
Creating a video game is more art than science. Games come in many forms and scales, and seek to address many concepts. It is not a simple product to be made on a production line: each work is unique and will have its own needs and priorities in terms of its creation.
Sadly enough there is no real magic formula for guaranteed success, you will have to adapt to your project and follow your own game development stages.
However, there are some basics to build on. After more than 60 years of history and experience, the video game industry has developed its own methods to guide developers, serving as the backbone for many creative and often, chaotic projects.
Neither SquareEnix nor Nintendo will tell you how to create the perfect video game, however, there are some fundamental steps to follow in order to structure your projects the right way.
The 8 game development stages
To create and develop a new game is a gigantic challenge in different aspects. Depending on the size of your company and the number of collaborators, you will surely need to organize yourself and your teams correctly.
Whether you are a big company or a small one doing indie games, we highly recommend you using project management software.
1 - The high-concept
The high-concept stage is the very first stage that all gaming companies should go through first before starting a project.
This stage is realized by game designers and the goal is simple: to find what will the game consist of. That is to say, to find the gameplay (the way to play it), the themes approached, the universe, and the scenario. Will your game be a mobile app? Will you target console players?
An excellent starting point might be to try to place your project in the broad boxes of the video game genre. There are several classic categories in which games always fit, like movies that belong to a certain type. These categories can be:
- Action games: survival games, fighting games,
- Action-adventure games: survival horror games like,
- Adventure games: visual novels, interactive films,
- RP (role-playing) games: MMORPG, RPG,
- Strategy games,
- Sports games...
… and so many more genres possible! It’s up to you to choose what direction you will take and to document yourself to discover even more possibilities.
2 - Pitching your project
The pitching of your project stage is often not mentioned because it is an obvious part of preparing your project. Your project’s pitch is the first time when you will start selling your product. Your objective is to find the funds to start the production of your project. You will need to convince the audience of the ambition and seriousness of your plans.
As a gaming company, you will have a choice to make. To be independent or to develop your project with a gaming editor.
As an independent:
- You will need nobody but your teams to work on your project. However, if you need funds you will have to find financial aids from your state or launch crowdfunding campaigns (like a Kickstarter).
With a gaming editor:
- Everything is financed by the editor from the beginning to the live updates. This is why and where your pitch should be important. You should convince the editor to trust your project and plans.
3 - Pre-production
The pre-production stage is where all teams meet to discuss what is possible and what isn’t for the development of the project. Developers, artists, engineers, managers will all collaborate to set up the most elaborate plan and try to find where each piece of the puzzle could fit.
Since all major departments are in action, this is also the time for creation. In this context, creation means:
- Artists will start sketching visuals, select the AD (artistic direction), design future characters…
- Writers will begin the creation of the narrative of the story, the universe in which the game takes place. They will also create the characters: their backgrounds, their personalities, their objectives.
- Engineers and developers will meet and see what is possible to create technologically speaking, see how many levels in the game there will be.
This is the perfect time for each department to communicate and share their ideas, so they can decide what is and isn’t possible, and if changes and processes are feasible.
4 - Production
A video game is basically the combination of different technical and artistic skills blended into one coherent project. This is why very often the production of a video game is not really done linearly but in a layered way: the staff is divided into sections each working on key aspects in the fields they master.
The production stage is often one of the most difficult parts as it is the moment where ideas and concepts are forged. Efforts and resources are mostly spent at this stage as it is one of the most challenging ones.
5 - Testing
As the name says it, this stage is about testing the game. As you develop a game, you will certainly meet problems such as bugs or glitches.
More than this, you need to test if the environment, the features of your games work properly. This stage is here, so you can work in a performing environment. You should have one or several dedicated persons to test the development of your projects in order to obtain direct feedback.
6 - The pre-launch
Nowadays, the pre-launch phase has been really recurrent in the gaming industry. This phase is really stressful for a company, as it is the very first time you will reveal what you have been working on for months or years to the public gaze.
Often called “alpha test”, “beta test” or even “early access”, all these situations are crucial moments where you distribute your game to your customers so they can try it. The aim is not only to have more feedback but also to market your product. By giving people a glimpse of what you can offer, you start marketing your product and give them the feeling that they need to discover what’s next.
You need to create the “hype” around your game so people will naturally speak about it. This is what we call: a word of mouth strategy.
7 - The launch
Today is the big day! The launch stage is what you have been working for all this time.
With all the feedback you collected from the different test phases you conducted, your game should be ready to launch and fully operational. Before the launch, your teams should be focused on fine-tuning minimal details of your games: the textures of the clothes, a more detailed and large landscape, these kinds of things.
8 - Post-launch
The post-launch stage should be a quieter time for team members. The game has been launched and is (fingers crossed 🤞) successful. What your company has to do now is to follow and keep the game updated, to fix glitches and potential new problems that your customers can meet or discover.
Nowadays, it comes as a matter of course to release new content, often called DLC (downloadable content), free or buyable. The aim of DLC is to reset the lifecycle of your product in order to extend it and keep the game feeling fresh and new.
Marketing in the gaming industry
The marketing of video games follows the classic codes of sales promotion, but it also has its own specificities. For example, many platforms are now only virtual. We can mention Steam, or the Google platform recently launched to compete with Valve's store, Stadia.
The goal of video game marketing is identical to other fields: to promote, increase sales, expand the market and gain visibility. This is done through several means, including big video game events such as E3, during which publishers announce their new releases.
In general, the communication managers are solicited by their marketing director. Artists can also be involved in the production of visual material dedicated to marketing.
Take the control(ler) of your projects!
You now have collected all the precious gems to create the next new popular video game! If it is your first game, you should not expect direct success. It took years for certain games like Among Us before getting popular! So, be patient!
Remember that it is always better to work in a team than alone throughout the game development stages. You can significantly reduce your workload and time spent working if you share the work between a programming team and a graphics team, not to mention a writing and music team. Having good project management software will definitely help you in the future!
So, are you ready to become the new protagonist of the gaming industry?