How to make a video game: the 8 stages of game development

A beginner’s guide to video game development

Considering making a video game but don’t have the technical skills or expertise to know where to start? Perhaps you’ve always possessed a keen mind for business, but when it comes to the business of video game development and marketing, you’re scratching your head in confusion.

The good news is that you don’t have to have prior experience in the video game industry to create a successful video game. You just need to understand the simple step-by-step process, as well as the creative and technical team members you need on your side, to get the job done.

Thankfully, we’ve created this in-depth guide to not only reveal the video game development process but also to help you clarify all the questions or hesitations you might have along the way. There are seven key stages in developing a video game.

Let’s take a closer look at each.

The 8 Stages of Game Development

  • Stage 1. Planning your video game
  • Stage 2. Pre-production
  • Stage 3. Production
  • Stage 4. Testing
  • Stage 5. Pre-launch
  • Stage 6. Launch
  • Stage 7. Post-launch
  • Stage 8. Market the finished product
  • The general challenges behind game development
  • Video game developer job description & responsibilities

Stage 1. Planning your video game

Before any video game is unleashed into the world, it must stem from an idea. This idea is formulated during the planning stage, which begins with brainstorming these elements of your video game:

  • Type
  • Key features
  • Format (2D or 3D)
  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Time period
  • Platform
  • Target audience

The next phase of the planning stage is proofing a concept, which takes all of the ideas brainstormed and determines how feasible they are to produce.

Stage 2. Pre-production

This is the stage where the ideas brainstormed in the planning phases are given further thought, including how they might be brought to life. It involves a lot of collaboration, experimentation, and prototyping.

The pre-production stage may involve the following scenarios:

  • Writers and project leads discussing the narrative of the story
  • Engineers and writers discussing technological constraints and how these affect potential narratives
  • Artists and designers ensuring visuals, color palettes, and art styles adhere to what was determined during the planning phase
  • Developers and engineers determining in-game mechanics, physics, and how objects will render on a player’s screen
  • Project leads and multiple departments determining the “fun factor” of the game

Stage 3. Production

The production stage is the one that often has the most time, effort, and resources spent on it. It isn’t unusual for the production of a video game to last months, if not years, as ideas previously brainstormed and discussed are now brought to life.

The production phase involves:

  • Establishing milestones and sprint schedules
  • Designing and rendering character models
  • Implementing realistic audio effects
  • Developing dynamic and immersive environments
  • Recording audio for character voices
  • Writing code

Stage 4. Testing

During the testing stage, the video game is thoroughly checked for quality control. This involves playtesters:

  • Identifying bugs
  • Determining if the game is too easy or too hard
  • Conducting “fun factor” tests to ensure the game was satisfying to complete
  • Conducting “stress tests” to try to break the game or uncover glitches
  • Seeing if any features can be used to exploit the game
  • Determining if the character dialogue is boring or inauthentic

Stage 5. Pre-launch

The pre-launch phase largely consists of marketing your video game to create hype before its official launch. This includes:

  • Releasing a hype video with a mix of cinematics and sample gameplay
  • Offering an exclusive preview of the video game at a major gaming convention
  • Sending early-access Beta copies to video gaming influencers so they can livestream it to their followers
  • Advertising methods, such as print advertisements, T.V commercials, social media ads, etc.

Stage 6. Launch

In the lead-up to the official launch date, the team will work on the following tasks to ensure the game is as polished as possible before it makes it into the hands of the public:

  • “Squashing” both major and minor bugs, with major bugs taking priority if working on a limited timeline
  • Polishing the game, such as adding extra depth or texture visually, or any other tweaks which may seem minor, but help to make the experience more immersive for the player
  • Finally, launching and distributing the video game among the public

Stage 7. Post-launch

Even after the official launch of a game, it isn’t unusual for additional minor bugs to require squashing. Additionally, teams must develop extra content or updates to increase the replay value and appeal of a game.

Post-launch tasks include:

  • Customer support
  • Reviewing bug reports or complaints of bugs in online forums
  • Squashing additional bugs
  • Providing regular software updates for the game and new downloadable content, including new levels, additional storylines, or multiplayer modes

Stage 8. Market the finished product

One key aspect of your video game’s success that you’ll have to master includes its marketing. To successfully market your video game, ensure you have the following:

  • Websites: Ideally one for your video game company and a separate website for each game you produce
  • Blog: This should showcase the development of your video game and allow your target audience to keep updated with its progress. These updates also help to generate more excitement and give your company authenticity and authority.
  • Social media accounts: To promote your company and your current video game project. You can use channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share updates, exciting news, sneak-peeks, and more.
  • RSS feed: This will provide your fans with another method for keeping up to date with news regarding your company and video game
  • Video game trailer: This short video gives your potential players a taste of what they can expect from your video game. You don’t need a finished game to create one, and you can even update your trailer periodically as you create additional material to use in it.
  • Playable demo: A playable demo is vital for sending to journalists, video game influencers, and potential players. It’s also necessary for marketing your video game at conventions. We recommend having a downloadable demo on your website so those interested can gain a better idea about your game.
  • Press kit: If you want your press inquiries to be taken seriously, you’ll need to put together a professional press kit containing everything a journalist, blogger, or influencer needs to advertise your game. This includes relevant game screenshots, videos of critical gameplay sequences, previous press coverage, a one-page summary of your team, and a fact sheet.

To get your game in as many peoples’ hands as possible, there are plenty of places where you can publish your video game. We’ve listed the 13 most popular below:

  • Steam
  • Itch.io
  • Game Jolt
  • Gog
  • Humble Bundle
  • IndieGameStand
  • Kongregate
  • Gamers Gate
  • Game House
  • Desura
  • Google Play
  • Apple Store
  • Amazon Appstore

Each platform has different rules regarding upfront payments, royalties, game formats, and more. It’s recommended that you visit and research each one to determine which platforms are right for your video game.

The general challenges behind game development

While the stages of video game development may seem quite straightforward, it’s important to also note that the process can have its challenges. Thankfully, none of these are too difficult to overcome, especially once you’re aware of them.

Here are the main challenges you may face when developing a video game:

  • Budget: Video games are rarely produced on a shoestring budget and require the financial backing of a publisher, fundraisers, or other investors. It is therefore common for video game developers to have certain aspects of their video game turned down, simply because the budget doesn’t allow it.
  • Time constraints: The challenge of impossible time constraints is particularly true if working with a video game production company, as opposed to bootstrapping your own indie game. Video games can take several months, if not years to create, and sometimes your biggest enemy will be those impending deadlines that may not allow you to fine-tune those tiny, last-minute details.
  • Technology capabilities: It isn’t uncommon for a game developer to have a brilliant idea for their video game, only to realize that technological advancements don’t quite allow for that right now. Even if the technology to bring your brilliant new ideas to life will be available within just a few years’ time, it’s still frustrating having to simplify what you want to make delivering a video game possible.
  • Creative differences: While it’s common for creative differences or interferences to occur between game developers and publishers, for example, it’s important to note that creative clashes can also happen between team members. It’s vital that everyone is able to voice their ideas and collaborate, but at the end of the day, remain on the same page in regards to the final decisions.

Video game developer job description & responsibilities

Now we can dive deeper into how video game development works and what a video game developer does. As the title suggests, a video game developer “makes” video games, but they also play a pivotal role from the concept phase to the actual product launch.

A video game developer role typically includes:

  • Taking the video game designer’s ideas, drawings, and rules, and writing code to turn these ideas into a playable game with visuals and sound
  • Providing feedback to designers and other team members regarding game design features
  • Providing feedback to production staff about technical game qualities and adherence to the original design
  • Providing test specifications to those in charge of quality assurance
  • Consulting with stakeholders to implement online features and determine other game requirements
  • Programming artificial intelligence (AI) for computer-generated characters within the game

While you will likely take on some of these tasks as the creator of the video game, if you don’t have the technical know-how to code and develop the game, you can always hire a freelance video game developer to complete these tasks. 

Understand the difference between a game developer and a game designer

What is a game designer and how does their role differ from that of a video game developer?

A game designer creates the exciting worlds that allow us to immerse ourselves in an alternate reality as we play a video game. They come up with the game’s concepts, characters, setting, story, and gameplay. Designers must then work with artists, writers, and programmers to bring these ideas for the game to life.

So, while game designers are responsible for the overall creative vision of the game, game developers have the technical expertise to implement the game designers’ ideas and bring them to realization using computer code.

Developing a successful video game

As you have learned, developing a successful video game doesn’t require a degree in game development, nor years of technical expertise on your behalf. In fact, by following the simple step-by-step process outlined in this guide, and with the required creative and technical team members on-board, you could have a successful video game on the market within just months.

Developing your own video game isn’t just an exciting and rewarding experience, but it can also provide you with a brilliant step forward in your business and financial endeavors. After all, the video game industry’s profits are set to climb to a whopping $256.97 billion by 2025, and who wouldn’t want to capitalize on that success?

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