Game development is a marathon where you are the winner only if you are among the top 10 runners.; once you slip further, you get lost in the crowd. And note that this is not a sprint or a trotting race that will end soon; the development of a video game is a long-lasting process of hard work, much effort, and continuous improvements. Here we’d like to uncover the veil of the game development services to outline how a game is developed, the stages of the development, and some tips for a new game developer in the industry.
Game development statistics
Before diving into the inner world of game development, it is worth outlining the current state of affairs in the market.
More than 50 years ago, gaming started from the primitive black-and-white noughts and crosses and grew into the industry, which is expected to generate $159.3 billion in value in 2020. What had a slight connection to the TV screens in the 1970s has gradually evolved into computer-based games, then mobile games (which currently account for more than half of all products in the market); today, VR/AR solutions filled the market occupying 48% of the total offer. The millennials changed how the industry works and who it focuses on because 20 years ago, the average gamer was a teenager or younger. Now this category takes up only 21% of the total consumer market, with 18-35-year-old people constituting 40% of the market demand.
The top game development companies have also changed a lot. In 2020, companies with 500+ employees on board take up only 19% of the whole industry; the interesting fact is the one-man-armies here have the equal market share – 19%, and there are 15% of companies with only 2-5 employees. The major shift in gamers’ age and competition proves two important thoughts:
- Gaming is for everyone, and the market will only continue to grow in the upcoming years.
- Small teams and any genius game developer have a chance to hit the market big (just consider the success of Thomas Was Alone or Undertale).
What is video game development?
Video game development vs. game design
Before we can take a look inside of the game development, some explanation is needed. Development and design are two words interchangeably used in many articles related to game development services. However, we feel the need to dot the I’s and cross the t’s:
- Game design is the game’s concept: the initial idea, core concepts and strategies, characters and mechanics, aesthetics and narrative.
- Game development, if compared to software development, is the process of programming a game (building its architecture, selecting the platforms, coding language, building the codebase, testing, etc.) However, the truth is, game development also encompasses game marketing and strategy planning for the future of the game, sequels, iterations, etc.
In this respect, a game developer is related to the core definition of the development process. It is a person who works on putting the ‘paper’ design into life. Yet, as you remember from above, some of the top game development companies consist of a single person, and this would be a game developer. In this case, a developer would also work with design and even marketing to promote the product and sell it to the masses.
To sum up, game development in a big company would mean turning an idea into a game, but if you are a one-man army, the concept is significantly broader for you.
Game design (pre-production)
Game design can be regarded as the first stage of game development. It is precisely the time when the whole game is planned: its plot and characters, the mechanisms and tools required, and the global ‘why’ is answered. Here is what you need to consider at this stage:
- Plot (what’s the game about)
- Market and competition
- Monetization (you plan to make it a paid game or a free one with in-game purchases)
- Technology involved (VR, AR, console, controller, etc.)
- Estimated budget
- Estimated workforce required
- Estimated development time
Top game development companies would generally have a game developer, a concept artist, and maybe a producer working at this stage. If you are the heart, the brain, and the hands of the operation, you will need to do it all by yourself. It is also quite beneficial when a project has a Game Design Document (GDD); this is the core of any game. It is a document that tells every involved staff member about their duties and global strategy, helps understand the bigger picture, and guides them further. Even if you are a single game developer from Singapore working on your first game, the GDD can help you set the goals straight and stay organized throughout the process. Without this plan, a project may easily go over budget and eventually fail. Remember also that while pitching your ideas (whether you are a team or a single game developer), you will need a GDD because potential investors always need a reference list.
Here is what GDD needs to include:
- Game concept (at least idea)
- Plot and main characters
- Core mechanics
- Design of levels and world
- Basic artistic sketches
- Monetization strategy
Of course, this is not a constitution that must be followed unquestionably. It is a living entity that changes as the project evolves. Whenever game development services have a GDD, for instance, such a document is updated weekly or biweekly to include statistics and information from the latest development restrains or new features requested by the client.
Production of a prototype
A prototype is the heart of any game. It is a game in a nutshell; it clarifies the core functionality, UX, gameplay, development direction, art direction, and mechanics. A prototype is essential to test the idea and see if it is competitive and worth pursuing. Furthermore, during prototyping, a game developer can also see potential pitfalls. Of course, only placeholders and basic graphics are used to save time and money on development during this stage. Testing is crucial here. Top game development companies like Sony never save on ‘external’ tests in the prototype phase; they are essential to see if the logic adds up, and the product is worth further investment.
Game production (development)
Game development is the stage where the magic happens. At this point, big companies would onboard a project manager who will control a game developer (or several of them), game designers, level designers, game artists, 3D modelers, animators, FX artists, sound designers, QAs. Once the team is full, everyone gets down to work on their part, according to the GDD. Again, a lot will often change from the initial idea or even the prototype since every expert on the team will be working and rewriting the story at least a bit.
Game production can be roughly divided into the following stages:
- Prototype (you already have it)
- First playable where the placeholders are replaced with the actual artifacts
- Vertical slice (demo) is several minutes (up to 30) of your game experience. Most often used for pitching the game to the investors.
- Pre-alpha is basically a ready-to-go game with some refinements left. It is important for the full experience and amends in terms of plot, elements and characters participation, etc.
- Alpha is a complete game that can be played from start to finish. Alpha is for the QA team, not the end-users.
- Beta is a revised version of the game after tests with all assets integrated.
- Final version ready for release and market sale.
The game development stage drastically differs in every aspect for a big company and a single game developer in Singapore. The former is likely to follow all the steps above, while the latter would probably skip steps 3-4 and end up with the alpha right away. There is nothing wrong with this approach because if the team is small and does not have extra resources for a demo or pre-alpha, then it is more beneficial to focus on a good alpha that can also pitch the idea.
Game production (marketing)
Besides pure coding and building the game level by level, there is one more essential aspect of the production stage – marketing. Yes, you read it right; marketing strategies must begin now, and not when the game is 100% ready for sale. By postponing pitches, communication with the potential buyers (consoles), and generally ignoring the idea of marketing, you will be digging the hole of obscurity deeper and deeper. You cannot spend all your time developing a product and then just sit and wait until someone gets interested in it. On the contrary, the production stage is the time to act.
Marketing may involve:
- Working with a game marketing professional (if you are a new game developer in Singapore and need more insight into the market)
- Personal contacting of game bloggers (at least in your country) asking for a test and game review
- Negotiating console deals
- Starting social media accounts and populating them with content
The essential element of game marketing is timing. Once your alpha is ready, it is time to begin your social media and begin working towards more lucrative deals. Starting marketing at the end means losing money since you would have spent quite some time developing a game, and now you will have to wait for several months to monetize your success. Top game development companies tend to begin working on the marketing for their products at least half a year before the launch date; a successful project, like Cyberpunk 2077, can start several (five) years in advance.
The pos-production in terms of development means refining the product, debugging, maintaining its quality, and developing the new features (whenever the budget allows). The latter can help keep the audience heated and interested in the game for a long time.
In terms of marketing, post-production never actually comes. There is no ‘post’ here because marketing strategy is an ongoing effort for any game. Once it has started, it cannot stop.
A tip for a beginner game developer in Singapore
Since you are reading this article, you are not a novice to the world of game development. So the tips like ‘learn to code’ or ‘select a game engine first’ will not give you any new information. This is why, being a top game developer in Singapore, we decided to derive our tip from the personal experience – do not become a copycat.
Copying existing video games can be a perfect exercise to understand how the levels are built, how design works, how to build your own logic, etc. But generally, users are not interested in games that are analogs of the existing products. If you decide to take upon an idea from an existing game, it’s fine; yet, you need to add a new feeling, flow, graphics, plot, etc. in order not to get lost in the market. Check examples of Mario-like games to get the idea.
The game development industry is gaining momentum as you are finishing this article. Investment flows get bigger, market demand pickier, and game developers more inventive. The inner world of game development grows and changes, so if you want to become a part of it today, there is already much catching up on your to-do list. However, remember, this industry values bold and innovative solutions. Twenty years ago, VR was still inaccessible and a concept for crazy; today, it took almost half of all game development world. Be patient and original, and start your marketing early to reach the Everest of the game developing universe.