What is a Game Production Cycle?
A game production cycle, in simplest terms, is the actions in which it takes to make a video game, from an idea to publishing. A full production cycle takes as long as it needs to create a video. Some short, some long. The length typically depends on the type of video game you are making.
Below are the 5 basic steps you can take to turn your idea into a published video game.
Part 1: Ideas
Ideas come from anywhere. And like buttholes, everyone has one. A good idea is to keep a small notepad or use Google Keep to write down and store your ideas. You will have plenty. Probably more than you know what to do with. Some of your ideas will be great and some will be just awful. But you should definitely keep them all.
Why Keep All of Your Ideas?
Because at some point, you or you and your team are going to get together to come up with your next video game to create. You'll all want to throw in your ideas and work together to create your next masterpiece. Even the bad ideas can help inspire good ideas and while you may not see it, another team member might think of something inspired by your bad idea.
You may also need some inspiration while you are working. Maybe one of your ideas was not a complete idea, but combined with another idea makes it the best idea ever. Another reason is that maybe one of your developer friends is stuck with a blank mind and needs some inspiration. Maybe one of the ideas you have is something you don't want to do, or can't do but your friend can. So you share your idea.
What Not to Do With Your Ideas
There are a few things you don't want to do with your ideas.
One: Like it says above, just like buttholes, everyone has the next great video game idea. Do not email every video game publisher or developer telling them you have the next big idea. AAA developers and publishers won't touch your idea, probably for legal reasons, but also because most AAA's cannot afford to take financial risks. Indie game developers don't want your idea because they are currently working on their own best video game idea ever and probably also cannot afford to take a risk on your idea without up front payment.
Two: Don't jump on LinkedIn, or other social media and ask indie game devs to work on your idea unless you can pay them. Most indie devs are broke and cannot afford to just work on someone's game for free. Offering to pay them for their work now after the game sells is just rude. Experienced developers are looking for paid work or are working on their own ideas. Bothering them may get you blacklisted in their network.
Here's a Few Things You Can Do with Your Ideas
If you are a student, get some friends together and work on the game during your free time. You can all learn the game production process together, and when you graduate you will have a portfolio piece to help you land your first game dev career job.
If you're not a student, but have a great idea for a video game, put it together all the way through the game document part (the next part). Then, start applying for funding so that you can hire a team of developers to help you take your idea to a published game. If no one funds you, that might be your clue that your idea isn't as great as you think it is, or it isn't a good marketable idea to make money off of, and you should move on to a new idea.
Part 2: Game Document
A game document is basically a business plan for your game. It will contain an estimated time schedule for your development cycle, a complete play-through of your game, character descriptions, obstacle descriptions, puzzles, controls, worlds, levels, etc. Basically, this is the "Bible" of your game.
Why is a Game Document Important?
A game document is a great way to help guide your game production team members during the development process. It is especially important if your team is working remotely. You can keep your game document stored on the Google Drive and using Google Docs you can update the game document and it will show who made what changes, and when, to the game document. This game document will be the team's resource for all info that is needed to create your game.
If you plan on getting any funding, a game document will be a good part of your presentation. Many funders for grants or loans will require this document so that they can know exactly what they will be funding. This document also shows that you are serious about creating this game. It shows that you have a professional mindset and are ready to work on the business side of the game production process.
When you enter your game into competitions (and you absolutely should), you will want your game document. Some competitions will actually require one so that the judges can have a better understanding of what you were trying to create versus what you actually created.
If you want to start a Kickstarter campaign or another crowdfunding program, a hardcover color print of your completed game document might be a cool prize for a certain donation tier.
Even if your game only has a game document that is two pages for a small or short game, it's important to have one.
Part 3: Development
This is the part where you are actually creating your playable game. You'll need programmers, artists, musicians testers and plenty of other job roles.
The artists will be creating your concepts, animations, characters, obstacles, and game art assets so that your game will be visually appealing to your consumer. You'll need to decide on an art style or a combination of styles. It could be anything from pixel art to 3D or a combination of a few styles. Just keep in mind that consistency is key.
Your programmers will be creating your game flow and game mechanics. You'll need to decide what programming languages you will be using and what game engine you'll want to use. The Unity game engine is popular with indie game developers because of its large community and low cost to publish using their toolkits.
You can hire a musician, purchase your sounds and music, or make them yourself. Although, if you don't have any musical talent, it's best not to start now. There are plenty of online resources to find musicians for your game production and development.
You will also need to test your game. You can hire people to test your game, allow Alpha or early access to your game and your fans can help you or you can just test it in-house. There's no wrong way to test a game, but if you can, you should get as many different testers to help you find as many bugs as possible. And if you're developing an Android or PC game, you should have it tested on as many different devices as possible.
There are many roles for the game production process. A larger company will have more employees with specialized skills, like lighting or texturing. On the other hand, smaller studios will need team members with a full stack of skills and team members may take on several responsibilities of the game production cycle. Remember, every member of your team is an important part of getting your game to the consumer. Love and respect all of your team members.
Part 4: Marketing
Marketing should be started as early as possible. When you have a playable version of your game to record a YouTube video would be a good time to start marketing your game.
You can do commercials if you have the funding, but as an indie game developer, you probably don't have much funding, if any at all for marketing. At the very least, you should put $100 aside and have business cards and stickers for your game to hand out to people at Meetups, conventions and gaming competitions.
Social media marketing is free but very time-consuming. If you write a developer journal or blog with Wordpress, there are many plugins that will auto-push your posts to your social networks for you. To keep the conversation going, using a program like Buffer, which can help you schedule posts and respond to your fans. Installing the social apps on your smartphone and allowing for alerts will help you respond faster to your fans. Basically, social media is the best way to build your fanbase and keep in touch with them.
Another way to market is by launching a Crowdfunding campaign, like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. These are great because they can introduce you to a whole new market while also getting you some money to help you build your game. These are time-consuming and can become a job all of their own while you're running the campaign, so expect to not be able to get as much game dev work completed during the campaign. You can also put lots of time and energy into your campaign, and not actually get your money if you don't reach your funding goal. If you can, you should probably hire a company to help you with your crowdfunding. But, even if you don't reach your goal, you did at least raise some awareness of your game to a new crowd.
Entering your game into developer competitions is another way to market your game. This allows you to place your game in front of a consumer market, with little to no cost to you. And, if you are nominated or even win, you will get all of that consumer marketing by whoever is hosting the competition, plus you can add the backlink and prize title to your game's web page.
And you should absolutely have a website at the minimum for your game. Web page domain names are very inexpensive (about $15 per year) and you can shop around to find a good hosting service for about $50 a year, depending on what hosting services you need. If you don't know how to build a website, you can hire a designer, or maybe approach a local college with an offer to work with a college student on your website to cut your costs.
Marketing is a lot of work, but you need to do it. Do not live with the fairytale idea that someone famous will accidentally find your game and rave about how amazing it is on the Conan late night show. That doesn't happen and you are living a pipe dream if you think that will happen to you. If no one knows about your game, no one will play it.
Part 5: Publishing
Publishing your game is the best part. All the testing is over. Everyone has turned in their assignments for their part in the game production process. You have completed whatever publishing process the console or system you are publishing on has made you go through. Your game is about to go in front of the public's eye.
At this point, you would have already decided what console, system or device you want to make your game for in the game document. But here are a few places you can publish your games: PC, iOS, Android, Mac, Lynux, Wii, XBox One, PS4, online, Steam and the Gameboy 3DS.
PC and Android are probably the easiest to publish to, as well as the cheapest. With the consoles and iOS being a little more difficult with their standards, and costing a lot more with Apple's requirements and yearly fees and the console dev kits being fairly pricey.
You know you are done, for now. Maybe you will want to create some DLC or an expansion for your game. Or maybe you will move on to your next project. Who knows. If your game doesn't end up making any money, know that you are not alone. You are not the only developer ever to make a game that doesn't make any money. In fact, most indie game developers make financially unsuccessful games.
If your game is financially unsuccessful, sit down with your team and discuss some ways to improve for next time. Usually, the failures have to do with a lack of marketing, but if you marketed your game like crazy, and the game was still bad, maybe you could ask your fans for some feedback. Maybe your pricing was too high. Maybe your game just wasn't a good game. There are lots of reasons why a game is unsuccessful.
Learn from Your Mistakes
The one thing you definitely don't want to do is play the blame game. It's never one person's fault that a game was unsuccessful and if you start blaming people, your team will lose morale and most likely break up. And that's never good. So learn from your failure and make your next idea a winner.
But for now, right at this moment, be happy that you completed your game development project. Just getting your game to be published and put in front of the public's eye is a success in its own right. Whether or not it's a financially successful game is irrelevant at this point. You can worry about that tomorrow. Today, just enjoy the fact that you completed your project.
Get Some Rest
You can probably use a little rest, too. Take a day off. Catch up on the Game of Thrones episodes you've been missing due to work. Go hang out with your friends and family that you haven't had time to hang out with. Your mom probably misses you. Drink some champagne to celebrate a task done.
To everyone, good luck with your game production and development projects.
This is a post by Kendra Corpier, the Youngstown Game Developer CEO, and the #YGD 2017 Lead Organizer. Check out her game marketing and artwork as well as her games on her websites below.