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  • How a Game Gets Made: A Game's Journey from Concept to Store Shelves

    [05.28.09]
    - Brandon Van Slyke

  • From part to whole. At various times throughout the project, the team should get together to review and critique the most recent build. It's at these points that the people working in the trenches can take a break and assess the game as a whole, allowing them to see what their teammates have been up to the past few weeks.

    Not only does everyone get to have their work constructively critiqued, but they can also point out and discuss their contributions and progress, which might not have any visible effects on the game. For example, if someone made a new effects-rendering system or wrote new documentation outlining a narrative for a cut scene, their contribution might not be readily apparent -- but it is important, and these meetings allow everyone on the team the chance to acknowledge those kinds of contributions. More than anything, though, these meetings are meant to maintain open communication among the team and enlighten everyone on the current status of the project.

    When does testing start? Quality assurance (QA) testers are usually integrated toward the middle of production, although leads are on the project from the beginning. During the beginning of production, they're often busy getting the bug tracking software set up and testing each build to make sure all known issues are recorded and assigned to the proper person on the development team.

    At about two-thirds of the way through production, additional staff will be brought on to fully test the game. It's at this point that the team should have the majority of features implemented. Now it's time to refine everything and squash any and all bugs that come your way.

    Home stretch. Once the game reaches alpha (a near complete phase), things will seem to be shaping up nicely. The staff will report bugs at a record pace, and the developers will be resolving them just as fast. The only item left is to market the game and get it on store shelves!

    Postproduction

    Congratulations, the game is complete. That must mean all the work is done, right? Well it is -- for the development team. It's now time to find out who steps in and what happens after the game is finally made and on its way to store shelves.

    PR and marketing. While the developers have been toiling away designing boss battles and drawing up finite state machines, the marketing staff on the publisher's end has been busy figuring out how they will position the title once it's complete.

    Marketing sometimes has significant influence on how well a game is understood by both critics and fans, and their work is often the first thing to make an impression on a potential customer. For instance, they coordinate exclusive reveals with industry magazines and popular video game web sites, as well as manage the deployment of television ads and tie-ins with other consumer products.

    Publishing and distribution. Along with funding the development of the game, the publisher also handles regional localization, creation of the game's manual, and orchestrates manufacturing of the final packaging. When the final build of the game is completed (that version is called the gold master disc) and sent off to be printed, the publisher has usually lined up a distributor to handle getting the game onto store shelves.

    Once the game has been printed and orders have been made, the game is ready to be shipped to your local retailer, where it's hopefully enjoyed by everyone who's decided to check it out.

    Wait, there's more?

    Even when a new game is finally released, it sometimes isn't finished. With the rising number of high-speed internet enabled consoles and the ever-growing adoption of digital distribution, developers are now regularly being tasked with creating additional downloadable content to help extend the life of their titles. Downloadable content can include anything from additional characters and costumes, to new level maps, and even interviews with the developers. A lot of the people who are hired during the course of the project are likely to be retained to create these additional features.

    If the work gets outsourced, it's important that the studio developing the downloadable content has the ability to communicate with members of the original development team. This is especially true as issues arise and they learn to work within the constraints of the data. A wiki is often created as a way of chronicling important need-to-know information and is usually made accessible in situations like these.

    Earlier I mentioned the fact that team sizes fluctuate -- what happens if the company doesn't need you any more when it's working on the downloadable content? What happens when your role on the project is finally complete? Throughout the project, and especially near the end, tasks and roles come to an end and it's time to start work on the next one. It's at this time that managers and team leads reshuffle staff and place them either on the studio's next game, move them laterally to another project they have in development, or in more unfortunate cases lay them off.

    And there you have it! That's more or less how a modern day console game gets made. Now that you understand a little more about the process of bringing a game from concept to completion, it's important to reiterate that teamwork, communication, and proper planning are essential to creating a game in today's competitive environment. Now what are you waiting for? Get out there and make some games!

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    Photos by Jacob Bøtter and Rob West, used under Creative Commons license.

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