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Transitioning from PC-only development to multiple platforms

An efficient transition requires good organization skills and solid knowledge on how consoles development can be done efficiently.

Grigoris Nikiforakis

February 1, 2024

5 Min Read

Game development for consoles has been constantly improving the last 20 years, with leaps in technology marked mostly by each console generation. Combined with the advances in game engines, the hardenships with console development have been reduced to the extent that many studios that make a somewhat-successful AA/AAA game release nowadays, want to expand their playerbase and include consoles soon after, as it is a low risk plan for profit. We have seen many such cases the last few years, but also some popular failures. There can be multiple and complicated reasons why a successful game on PC will fail on consoles and the problems can begin as early as when you start planning about developing and releasing on consoles for your title. The usual premise is that your most recent game was successful enough, you have experienced developers and producers developing games for PC for years, you have secured a budget and most importantly you have an established market. What can go wrong?

Steam has been the most popular store for video games and there is barely any quality control or requirements, as opposed to console stores. The absence of requirements can easily lead teams to adopting a development workflow that is not compatible with the strict development process consoles require. The reason is that there are many requirements the game on consoles has to meet and in many cases there are dependencies on the systems the requirements are in. It is important to organize your tasks according to your team's structure, capabilities and priorities, in order to be in control of the process. Common signs when organization is lagging behind, is finding requirements that are critical and need one of your systems to be redesigned late in development or introduce delays because of dependencies between departments' work. Also failing to meet internal and external dates due to failing to identify systems that require changes, again, due to the requirements.

An organized production overview has to be followed closely by the people that work with the development teams, such as producers and tech directors and manage resources accordingly. Changing from a loosely organized workflow takes time of course, but it is critical to identify this need, acknowledge it and plan in an efficient way that works for your team. Examples of being organized are: keeping track of all critical information for different perspectives depending on the purpose, creating overviews of the work needed per department, defining dependencies and creating milestones. Also making sure that this information is easily accessible to everyone relevant, in order to help identify bottlenecks and dependencies early on and act on them. It is almost certain that you will miss a needed task or misinterpret a requirement, or come across some kind of problem that will affect your milestones or your submission plans. It is extremely important that when this happens, the issue is identified quickly and a solid plan is put together and communicated with the team to address it, adjusting your dates if need be.

The second key parameter in efficient console development is knowledge. Knowledge on all console processes, from development and requirements, to how to QA and plan submission dates. This may seem obvious but for many studios that go through this transition, more often that not critical decisions are made and detailed plans are put together, that fail to consider the mindset required for console development, due to lack of knowledge/experience with consoles. In order to prevent that, it is necessary that the people in high ranks are made aware but also acknowledge this shortcoming as a first step. Then it is vital that the team acts on it, such as adjusting their workflows in a way that has been described in this article. Usually lack of knowledge during planning will fail to identify core work that is needed for the port, or lead to bad estimations from the teams and as a result it will affect the milestones set. Solid knowledge on console development and console processes is harder to obtain than good organization skills, because of the nature of the console requirements. They are defined in a way to be relevant to every game and for that reason the specifics of your game need to be taken into account when reading and interpreting a requirement.

Experience is the best teacher here and the more submissions you have been through, the more likely it is that you are able to understand a requirement, the limits imposed on your game systems and how significant a potential failure of that requirement is. There are certain requirements that a game can afford to fail to some extent and others that will require a resubmission. With announced release dates being common and each submission taking important time, it is crucial that you have a good understanding of your game's state in relation to requirements at any time and especially before submission. When none of the leaders in the team is experienced with consoles, then going through the documentation and the forums is the only way to get some insight. Gladfully, the first parties have improved a lot in recent years and offer assistance (paid and unpaid) at different stages of development, to help every team go through the whole process, no matter how experienced the team is. Ultimately though, in between unmovable announced release dates and digital updates with fixes, it's becoming more common that a game will be released on consoles with too many problems and subsequent fixes will fail to be applied fast or address all the major issues. As a result, the game gets pulled from the store, gets massively refunded, or loses a massive amount of its playerbase.

In summary, when moving from PC-focused development to including more platforms, a secured budget and an experienced team is not enough. An efficient transition requires good organization skills and solid knowledge on how consoles development can be done efficiently. So, it is in the game studio's best interest to accept making adjustments to their workflows, but also it's important that those adjustments are made with the necessary knowledge on console processes. Without those requirements, efficiency goes out of the window and in the worst case, so does a possibly good game.

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