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Tools are Changing the Landscape of Game Development

The game development landscape has rapidly changed in recent years as barriers to entry for game development have decreased. Tools have not only made development more accessible, but have also increased competition, in turn making tools more important.

Alex Thiessen, Blogger

April 7, 2016

4 Min Read

We often start down a path which we think leads to one place and end up somewhere else. It's something that permeates every aspect of life, both personally and professionally. We have not been immune to this at KinematicSoup. We started working on multiplayer systems and ended up creating a production tool.

Our focus is to create tools that enable teams to be more productive. Scene Fusion is our first tool, enabling real-time, multi-user world building in Unity. We created it because we realized that building games involves very different disciplines working together. Coders want to have as little change as possible while they are working, whereas artists and world builders are much faster if they can work together in real-time. Current tools are tuned for the former way of working, so we are creating tools that enable more of the latter. The trick has been to find a way to do it that works alongside existing workflows.

Game development is a particularly challenging business. There are only a loose set of processes and guidelines to follow, and many new studios are starting up with little to no experience in project management. Building a game is not much different than creating a technology startup. Unless you are working with a known IP, are with a studio that is already well-known and has a following, or you personally have built successes in the past, it's difficult to break into the market.

This is becoming more true now than ever as barriers to entry for the game development space decrease due to an increasing number of tools and a greater number of people getting involved in the industry. This greater market accessibility has also fueled competition for funding dollars, making efficiency and to-market speed more important than ever. Even with an expanding number of funding sources such as crowdfunding, games still require a reasonable amount of up-front investment before they bear fruit. To build a successful studio very often requires a lot of sweat equity. One thing is certain: Getting a product that is polished enough to show investors, publishers, or the world, must done as fast as possible. 

The good news is that the same tools that are leading to increased competition are doing so by helping developers. General purpose game engines such as Unreal and Unity are available, source-control systems are now cloud services that require no maintenance to use, tools such as Slack enable developers to work together from various locations around the globe, and application stores such as Steam, the AppStore, Google Play, and even the Windows Store have provided an instant, global distribution mechanism which requires almost no up-front cost. Small studios now have numerous opportunities to carve out a profitable niche for themselves in this rapidly-growing, global gaming market.

Given this new reality, publishers and investors now look to studios who can take maximum advantage of the existing landscape of tools. It's no accident that many games published now have been built on top of existing game engines, and it's no accident that cloud-based services are nearly de-facto standards in many studios, large and small. Anything that saves time provides significant value, which translates into better games being finished sooner. As gamers, we see this value in the high quality of games being produced by smaller studios.

Tools are becoming more and more important, and are providing more and more value. Accessibility is also very high, with most tools providers offering a free tier to help bootstrap new projects. Modern game studios also have high standards: tools must be easy to use and require little or no maintenance, and good support is a necessity. These standards combined with high accessibility have made a crucible that has produced extremely high quality examples of what tools should be.

The landscape is evolving, and evolving rapidly. As a form of entertainment, digital games is still very new. We are in the process of it growing up, which means there is rapid change. Tools are central to this change. As more and better tools become available, game developers are able to generate better games faster. Studios can run leaner, be more agile, and experiment more now than ever before. This resets the expectations of the market, further entrenching the need for really good solutions. Production, release management, live operations, and analytics tools are becoming ever more essential to the game development process, and ever more effective.

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