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  • The State of Game Development: Part 1

    - Brandon Sheffield

  • Production

    This data comes from a survey that was taken at GDC in San Francisco, and shows what developers think of their production capacity - what are their strengths and weaknesses. This means all the data is self-submitted, like our Salary Survey. Most of the respondents were programmers or project managers at U.S. development studios. Most were also senior-level developers, so should have a good picture of how their studio is doing, but may also be somewhat biased toward thinking senior management is doing a good job! Ignore the conflicting figure names here, as these charts were cropped directly from Game Developer's pages. We did not ask for any regional information for this survey.

    Figure 4: Production survey results.

    In this figure, we see that these companies' self-perceived strengths hover around production, innovation, and work-life balance. In 2012, companies perceived that their pitching ability increased heavily - likely because pitching to traditional publishers is becoming more difficult as that business changes into a more digital world, so in order to be successful, you simply have to get better at pitching.

    In terms of weaknesses, it's amusing to see that an equal number of people chose innovation as a weak link! Perhaps more interesting is the perceived difficulty in polishing and delivering, which shows that while many companies start out smooth, they have trouble finishing the job.

    Company leadership appears to have gotten better from 2011 to 2012, and in the 3rd graph you'll see that preproduction and mainline production have as well. But again, this survey was answered mostly by senior management.

    Another part of the survey, not pictured in chart form, dealt with how much strengths and weaknesses affected the studios respectively, and whether fixing those weaknesses would be beneficial. The ultimate takeaway from the survey was that fixing problems has a greater impact on improving a studio than its greatest existing strengths do. That is to say, don't just focus on your strengths, make sure you fix your weaknesses first.

    Triple-A and casual tools

    Back in May, 2011, we did a survey of company studio heads, tech leads, and those who purchase technology for studios in the triple-A and casual spaces. This should give you an idea of what tools people are using in their games across the industry. Though the data is over a year old now, it's the most recent survey on he subject. (Again, please ignore the figure names on the images themselves.)

    Figure 5: Engines licensed versus used.

    In Figure 5, you'll see that the vast majority of casual game developers are licensing engines, while a significant percentage of traditional developers still prefer to roll their own. By traditional I mean triple-A developers of PC and console content.

    Unity and Unreal are the clear winners here. The disparity you see between people licensing engines and people using engines is likely from indies who are not actually paying a full license fee at this point, or folks who are just trying the engines out. We'll get into that more later. But you can clearly see that most developers are at least dabbling in licensed engine use right now, which probably means you should download those free trials and poke around.

    Figure 6: Preferred technology building methodology.

    Figure 6 shows further evidence that more traditional developers want to make their own tools, because the games are more complex and so greater control is preferred.

    Another big difference between traditional and casual is in how much automation there is in the production process. Talking to traditional developers responding to our survey, 67.4% use continuous integration systems that start new builds on a build farm each time someone checks in code - systems like Jenkins or CruiseControl. 69.6% are using automated build systems of any kind. On the other hand, only 12.4% of casual developers used automated build systems. Lastly, in Figure 7, we've shown the top 5 middleware for both traditional and casual game developers.

    Figure 7: Top middleware used.


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