Tips To Speed Up The Development Process
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Far too little has been said or done about the counter-productive development practices in the video game industry. Veterans of the business have long observed video games have all the problems of a major film production combined with all the problems of launching a small spacecraft. With those kinds of pressures on developers, producers and creative professionals, it is understandable that things might become a little frayed from time to time.
The problem is the frayed state of affairs occurs far more often than "time to time," and the results of what ultimately can be chalked up to bad management are creating a perpetual crisis in the industry. Instead of game development becoming easier, faster and less expensive both in terms of human stress and financial budgets, the practice of getting games off the drawing board and on to store shelves has become the vocational equivalent of warfare, with the hardest working people in the equation continually on the front lines.
Not all is lost, of course. It is possible to improve game development and provide for the welfare of developers at the same time. The immediate problem is a simple one. Getting management and video game customers to listen.
What many managers fail to realize, especially in the technology industry, is that cavalry charges are expensive and limited in number. They are not, nor should they be viewed as a routine battlefield maneuver, to continue the metaphor. They should be deployed carefully and at the right time and place. Otherwise, what a manager might believe is a cavalry charge will turn out to be nothing more effective than a lot of horses running fast, with the overwhelming majority of the damage being done not to the enemy, but to the manager's own troops.
Game developers who are working flat out at top speed and for a maximum hourly schedule on a more or less continuous basis is living proof of bad management. Human beings do not work that way. Diminishing returns immediately take over and despite all the dizzying schedules and pep talks, the results don't match the pain and stress.
The first step in improving game development speed is allowing developers to act and work like human beings.
Video game customers have become accustomed to the idea of every game having innovative brand new technology combined with an immense library of original art, a vast open world to explore and non-stop downloadable updates including new content. It also must run on nearly any device, cost half-price and be in stores right now. Otherwise the developer should be prepared for a months-long campaign of criticism complete with half-hour videos, long comment threads full of complaints, one-star reviews and boycotts.
Games like these come along once or twice every five years. They are not the status quo any more than the SR-71 set the standard for passenger jet travel. Developing video games in this manner would be like inventing a new kind of camera every time a director sets out to make a film. There are no budgets that can sustain that kind of ambition.
To become realistic, games must be reduced in scope. In the game of baseball, one of the most effective winning strategies is for hitters to swing for singles and doubles, not home runs. Two singles and a double score just as many runs as two successful swings for the fence.
The second step in improving game development speed is to design more manageable games with a dramatically reduced scope.
It must become possible and commercially acceptable for game developers to re-use assets. Like a set in a film, once a "world" has been developed, it should be permissible to use that world in more than one game. This would not only allow developers to amortize their investments in game assets, but it would serve both of the previous objectives by reducing scope and taking big chunks out of the project plan for follow-on games in a particular franchise.
While many people lament the idea of sequels and remakes, the fact is successful creative projects are entitled to a second victory lap, since you can be sure the market will be relentless in punishing those projects that didn't quite hit the mark. Starting from scratch and investing 4000 man-years in every new game is simply not sustainable, regardless of how overheated game industry revenues get.
When developers can plan for the ability to amortize their game assets, markets of both efficiency and scale will take over, the business of developing games will specialize, and life will improve for everyone including game customers and fans.