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The Structured Path to Making an Online Game

by Charlotte Walker on 06/07/18 10:13:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

From simulation to adventure games, making an online game can be a lot harder than it seems. The process of making an online game is a highly structured one, with each step building upon the last. With the right process, you'll be able to break the entire project into small, incremental steps, reducing the amount of redundant work that needs to be done.

The reality is that anyone with basic computer skills can create a simple game using the right tools, such as the drag-and-drop Scratch software. However, to create a complex and successful game requires a highly dedicated and experienced team, hundreds to thousands of invested hours, and creativity and innovation.

If your goal is to create a game that will become a successful online title, be ready to work in a systematic and organized process that involves collaborating with fellow experts in the game development field.

Here's how you get started:

Begin With a Game Design Document

Before you start any programming or development, you need to create a game design document. A game design document is a lot like a business plan. It's comprised of three major portions:


Part of the 72-page Grim Fandango game design document (Source)

1) Game Concept

What kind of game are you developing? Consider a puzzle game: you would need to define what makes this game special and different from other competitors, what its major themes are, and what audience it's intended for.

With today’s quick development of video games and the many software tools available to game developers, the gaming industry is quickly becoming oversaturated with seemingly similar games. They have the same feel, aesthetics, game-play and point system.

After all, how many more versions of Bejeweled or Candy Crush can be created and reach high levels of success? Although many cookie-cutter versions of these successful games are created, very few manage to attract enough players.

Even Candy Crush is a copy of a prior game, but it’s design and concept surpassed the original’s success

The industry with the most intense game competition is online gambling, which unsurprisingly make up a large chunk of the online gaming market.

Gambling games tend to fit the usual activities of card games like poker and blackjack, slot machines, sports betting, bingo and lotteries. But with hundreds of online casinos competing with other for a piece of the pie, it takes extreme creativity to create a product that presents something different and attracts players.

2) Game Design

This is how the game feels to the audience. In terms of the aforementioned puzzle game, the design could be similar to other popular puzzle games, but with additional features and behaviors that set it apart from the competition. This could be superficial elements, such as a design, or a unique gameplay mechanic.

A great example of this is the highly successful Fornite Battle Royale, a survival game developed by Epic Games. In its entirety, the game concept is extremely similar to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, developed by competitor Bluehole.

Both games are online multiplayer battle games in which characters are soldiers on a mission to kill and survive. Both games start with 100 players, either alone or in squads, depending on the selected gameplay option. Players must scavenge for tools, weapons and armor. And unsurprisingly, winning either game requires becoming the sole survivor.

Fortnite may have been aiming to attract a younger demographics with ‘cuter’ visuals

In the end, there’s only one significant difference between both games: Fortnite features a less violent, cartoonish quality, almost childlike. The animation style is more suited to Cartoon Network than a violent shooter video-game. Surprisingly, this is what made Fornite stand out and surpass PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ success.

PlayerUnknown’s Battleground displays more realistic and violent visuals

3) Technical Design

How does the game achieve its design? The game design may state that the puzzle game will turn in real-time, but the technical design will explain how the results will be calculated, what platform the game will be built on, and what language the game is programed in.

The design can be the most challenging and time-consuming aspects of the game development process, so pre-planning is vital.

The more comprehensive your design document is, the more likely you are to have a successful project. In fact, it's critical to spend as much time as you can on your game design document.

Create a Storyboard of the Game

Once your design document has been completed, it's time to create a storyboard. A storyboard is a set of "screens" that your game is comprised of, outlining the details of the game.


A step-by-step storyboard for a game (Source)

For the above mentioned puzzle game, the storyboard could consist of:

  • The main landing page for the game.
  • The "new user" screen that allows them to register.
  • The "returning user" screen that lets them login.
  • The funding screen, which allows them to add credits.
  • The display, which lets them begin to play.
  • The reaction of the display to being interacted with.

In addition to this, you might have a profile screen, messages screen, or rewards screen -- it all depends on the features that you've outlined in your design document. The goal of a storyboard is to walk you through the process of playing the game, such that a "tester" could look at your screens and get a feel for how the game flows. This will also give you a better idea of how long the development is going to take.

Schedule an Outline of Your Development

An outline should cover the deadlines for major and minor milestones of your development. Your development time is going to be controlled by your schedule, and your schedule will also give you the step by step process for completing your game.

For the sake of creating an organized outline, the steps can be broken into 3 main stages as follows: Pre-production, production and post-production.


Source: Digital Worlds

Be aware that developing a game can be a strenuous process that can take numerous years to put together, particularly if your team is small.

For example, a seemingly simple game of online slots can take up to a year to develop by an experienced team, from the moment the brainstorming begins to deployment. There are about 12 people involved in the process, including game designers, mathematicians, front and server developers, researchers, graphic designers, testers and project managers.

A seemingly simple slots games like Bonanza is highly complex and involves months of development, including creating 3D effects and mathematical computations

The process is detailed and starts from the very basics: the challenge is in creating a unique slots game that attracts the interest of players. So the first step to any outline is to consider market research time to find similarly-themed slot machines or games which already exist in the marketplace.

Once a concept becomes a concrete idea, the process of design, development, quality analysis, debugging, trial testing and marketing need to be added into the outline. But the work does not end there - even after launching a slots game, there is upkeep and further analysis to ensure the game is working effectively.

Test Your Online Game

You may be surprised to find out that testing a game often takes longer than developing it. Testing a game is both to ensure that it is playable and to remove any errors. Playability tests will show whether players enjoy playing the game, or whether there may be some features that need to be added. Error testing will find bugs that is in the game, such as displaying scores incorrectly or not properly distributing rewards.

Launching a game before it’s well-tested and ready to launch can cause a huge headache.

A great example is the successful Indie game Super Meat Boy. The game took over 18 months of non-stop, over full-time programing to put together, but the project was rushed. The design, marketing, negotiation process with producers and tight deadlines added significant stress to the process.

On the day of the PC launch, the developers were inundated with hundreds of bugs, crashes, shutdowns, and more. They received over 2000 emails on the first couple of days, proving how vital extensive QA is pre-launch.

Glitches abound in Super Meat Boy

Though the process of building an online game is a lengthy one, it can also be a rewarding one. There is a lot of time and effort that goes into making a solid game, and ultimately, planning will be the key to success.


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