Making games is so easy!

Oof making games is so freaking HARD! It’s incredibly tough, but let’s talk about the overall rough process and then what makes it hard. This will be a rough overview of how games are made (at least in my experience) and the various pitfalls that are constantly being navigated. Hopefully it can give you a bit of insight into the game making process and a bit of empathy as to how much work and effort has gone into your favourite and not so favourite games :).

First off here’s a quick rundown of the phases in a typical game dev cycle and then we’ll go into them more in-depth.

  • Concept
  • Pre-production
  • Production
  • Alpha
  • Beta
  • Finalling
  • Live service/DLC

Concept Phase

At this point you’re trying to figure out what makes your game tick. Why does it stand out in the market space? Why would someone be interested in your game over something else? What’s the vision behind it that will drive the decisions you and your team will need to make for the rest of the project?

You’re going to be trying out some things here that probably won’t work just so you can get a feel for the game you’re making. And hopefully by the end of this phase you’ve got a good idea of the direction you’re heading with the project.

There tends to be two major failing points in this phase.

  1. People leave this phase with an unclear razor or vision. The vision is a bit too high in the cloud or wishy-washy. This makes it really hard to know where you’re directing the project and for the team to be on the same page as to what they’re making and how things should look, act and feel.
  2. People don’t fail fast enough in this phase. This part tends to be a combination of paper design and prototyping in engine so you can test out the feel of the paper designs to see if you’re leaning towards something fun. However if you’re not trying and failing fast enough here you won’t get enough iteration in your concept before you’re force to move onto the next phase (because of deadlines or monetary reasons most likely).

Pre-production

This phase is all about making sure you and your team can actually make the game you’ve decided on in the concept phase. You’re trying to identify what risks you have, how many people you need, how much time you require to finish the game and taking your best guess on a lot of that.

In order to help you make guesses to answer those questions you’re going to be spending time trying to make some content for your game and seeing what pitfalls you run into. Based off that and whatever previous experience you have you give your best guess and do some math to try to figure out how long it will take before you can get the game out the door. Ideally you’re also trying to make sure there are enough systems and tools in place for people to actually start making content for your game.

This can be a really rough phase as a lot of it is guess work. Looking back on a project you can easily see where you should have done something differently, tried not to be so ambitious in one spot and tried to be more ambitious somewhere else. Personally I think the biggest failing that comes out of this phase is that most people are still creating prototype/test content that should never be shipped at this point. However, due to time constraints that kind of content is going to be built on and shipped out the door. This is a phase where most projects come out of it with a load of tech debt that they don’t budget to pay off during their production phase.

Production

This phase you’re trying to scramble together everything that needs to be in the game. You’re trying to create content and organize your schedule so everything that’s needed by someone else is built in the right order so people aren’t wasting time and can have the assets, systems or tools in place when they need it and have time to use them.

It turns out scheduling all of that is exceptionally hard. With teams of any size it can be hard to remember to communicate to everyone else as to what you need and when you need it. That gets combined with downfalls from previous steps makes this phase really tricky to do well and causes a lot of the delays you see in games and a bunch of the ones the public doesn’t hear about. If you don’t have a clear vision from concept, then you might go back and forth on a bunch of decisions which can lead to doing the same work multiple times as you’re trying to figure out what your game is. If you have too much tech debt it might take a really long time to get the systems and tools you need to work and impacting your schedule overall.

This all gets extra complicated when you start thinking about stuff like demos for the various conventions like E3 and PAX. It can be really difficult to have enough of your game at a state where you can build content that looks ready to ship or good enough to show to the public. If that’s the case for your project (it usually is) then your demos might be a bunch of hacks and magic to make it look good. That work then needs to be done at the same time as the rest of the work to actually make the game. Combined with how hard it can be to determine what exactly is appropriate to showcase as a demo of your game to generate the right amount of buzz without adding too much work and everything gets tricky.

To be continued!

This is getting a lot longer than I thought so part 2 soon!

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