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Development Phases

Concept, Production, Live, Sunset?

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Introduction

This article breaks down the common lifecycle phases of a game development project. These are not set in stone rules, very little to anything is "set in stone" with regards to game development or any other creative industry but you will find these phases and definitions fairly common.

Phases

Concept

In this phase the objective is to define the idea or "concept" of the game. Its a good idea to start the bones of your "Pitch Document" here which we talk about in the Design Quick Start article. In short you want to think through what it is you intend to build with some measure of structure. This can be as in depth or loose and fast as makes since for you and your team. Many "concepts" where born out of "hackathons" or "game jams" but even those had formal concept phases to solidify that initial spark into a coherent concept.

Planning

An important aspect of your "concept" is your plan to deliver it e.g. how will you source the required skills, budget, time, etc. Everyone has a ton of game ideas, most of those will prove to be inviable in the planning phase either do to internal (budget, time, etc.) or external (market viability, technology, etc) limitations.

Preproduction

Here is where you build out the project you will produce. Each projects preproduction will very depending on the nature of the concept driving it but in short this phase will include activities such as:
  • Storyboarding
  • Proving technological capacity
  • Identifying required skills and how you will source them
  • Prototyping "vertical slices" of the game e.g. figuring out if its doable and most importantly fun in as quick and dirty way as you can.

Production

Produce the game. This involves taking the rough and ready output from the previous phases and building it out into a complete and quality product. Our guides on Design, Development and Testing can help you understand the typical activities that will happen in this phase.
Production is an umbrella term that means all the stuff required to produce the game so this includes testing and pre-launch (alpha, beta, etc.). When this phase ends we typically say "the game has gone gold", meaning the game is ready for release. Many games these days will have some sort of "soft launch" such as Early Access or open betas as such the line between "Production" and "Live" can become blurred.

Live

Starting with your full launch and ending when you stop support, live is the operation of your game. Its important to understand that "live" is just as much hard work if not more so than all of the previous phases combined. The activities common here depend a lot on your game, community and you as a developer, the following are examples of common activities:
  • Marketing and Community Management
  • Additional Content
  • Balance and "break fix"

End of Life

Also called "Sunset" or "Maintenance Mode (sort of)" ... this is how you end your game's official life. Its very important to think of this early, how will you end support for the game in a way that respects your user base's investment in it.