Very often video games and even the entire video games industry are snubbed off as non-serious business or child’s play. Well, if you are one of the people who share that opinion, this article will be an eye-opener for you. Not only is the video games industry a very serious business, it’s a massive concern. Want to know more?
Call of Duty: Black Ops was released in November 2010. Fans in many countries queued round the block to get their hands on a coveted early copy. A lucky few had won tickets to invitation-only release parties that were broadcast live to viewers across the internet. The event had been advertised on billboards, buses and television for weeks. Chrysler even produced a commemorative version of its Jeep. The publishers, Activision, notched up worldwide sales of 650 million dollars in merely the first five days of the game’s release. That made it the most successful launch of an entertainment product ever, and people still kept buying. A month later, the total stood at over 1 billion dollars. Meanwhile, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the current record-holder for the fastest-selling film at the box office in a similar time period, clocked up just 169 million dollars of ticket sales on its first weekend. Moreover, the next instalment of the Call of Duty series (Modern Warfare 3), released in November 2011, set a record of its own, grossing 750 million dollars in the first five days of its release.
During the past two decades, the video games business has evolved from a cottage industry to a fully grown branch of the entertainment industry. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the global video game market was worth around 56 billion dollars in 2010. PwC predicts that video games will be the fastest-growing form of media over the next few years, with sales rising to 82 billion dollars by 2015.
For most people, the video game experience starts at the store and ends on the couch. Few realise that creating a game can be as complex as making a Hollywood blockbuster. Months of planning and preparation, script-writing, casting, character development and massive computing power go into the making of games. In this article, we go through the various phases of the development of a world-class game. Though the process and phases vary from one category of games to another (AAA, casual, mobile, etcetera.), the following steps apply to almost all categories, with minor differences.
Every game begins with a concept. The pre-production or design phase is the planning phase of the project, focussing on idea and concept development. The concept defines what the game will be like and what genre it will be based on. Often concepts come from game designers themselves or are pitched by outsiders. Lately, they are increasingly inspired from other forms of entertainment like popular movies. Other common sources are sequels or spin-offs of existing games and simulations of real-world events. The goal of concept development is to produce cohesive and coherent documentation that describes all the tasks, schedules and estimates for the development team. The suite of documents produced in this phase is called the production plan. The pre-production stage usually also includes the development of a prototype. A great deal of prototyping may take place during pre-production before the design document is complete and may, in fact, help determine what features the design specifies. Prototyping may also take place during active development to test new ideas as the game emerges.
Financing Game development started out as a hobby activity for programmers. Initially, game developers usually financed games themselves. Later on, as the size and development period of games increased, this became increasingly difficult. Today games are financed primarily on the following two models:
a. Publisher financed As with book publishers or publishers of DVD movies, a game publisher is a company that publishes video games that they have either developed internally or by an independent developer. They usually finance the development, sometimes by paying a video game developer (external development) and sometimes by paying an internal staff of developers called a ‘studio’. Established game publishers also distribute the games they publish, while some smaller publishers hire distribution companies instead (or larger video game publishers) to distribute their games.
b. Indie development Independent (indie) games are developed without the financial support of a video game publisher. While large enterprises can also create independent games, they are usually designed by an individual or a small team of as little as ten people, depending on the complexity of the project. These games may take years to be built from the ground up or can be completed in a matter of days or even hours depending on the complexity, participants, and design goal. The indie movement is gaining more and more popularity these days due to the rise of mobile gaming. Most mobile games are relatively small and require smaller teams and less time to develop which is more manageable for indie developers. Once a game is developed, the developers can choose to sell their games to a publisher, share the revenue with the publisher or opt to publish the game themselves. Other forms of financing like crowd funding are also gaining popularity with smaller developers, especially with the popularity of digital/online distribution.
Once the concept of a game has been agreed upon and the financing is secured, the actual development of the game begins. This involves creating the artwork (characters, environments, GUI designs etcetera) and writing the code that brings all the elements together. Depending on the intricacy of the game, the development team can range from two to two hundred people. During this phase the design, programming, level design, art and audio production is finalised. When a playable version of the game has been finalised, the testing department starts its work. The role of testers is essentially to play the game and find any bugs/errors.