Video game development
is the process of developing a video game. The effort is undertaken by a developer, ranging from a single person to an international team dispersed across the globe. Development of traditional commercial PC and console games is normally funded by a publisher, and can take several years to reach completion. Indie games usually take less time and money and can be produced by individuals and smaller developers. The independent game industry has been on the rise, facilitated by the growth of accessible game development software such as Unity platform and Unreal Engine and new online distribution systems such as Steam and Uplay, as well as the mobile game market for Android and iOS devices.
The first video games, developed in the 1960s, were not usually commercialised. They required mainframe computers to run and were not available to the general public. Commercial game development began in the ’70s with the advent of first-generation video game consoles and early home computers like the Apple I. At that time, owing to low costs and low capabilities of computers, a lone programmer could develop a full and complete game. However, in the late ’80s and ’90s, ever-increasing computer processing power and heightened expectations from gamers made it difficult for a single person to produce a mainstream console or PC game. The average cost of producing a triple-A video game slowly rose, from US$1–4 million in 2000, to over $5 million in 2006, then to over $20 million by 2010.
Mainstream commercial PC and console games are generally developed in phases: first, in pre-production, pitches, prototypes, and game design documents are written; if the idea is approved and the developer receives funding, then full-scale development begins. The development of a complete game usually involves a team of 20–100 individuals with various responsibilities, including designers, artists, programmers, and testers.
Games are produced through the software development process Games are developed as a creative outlet and to generate profit. Game making is considered both art and science. Development is normally funded by a publisher. Well-made games bring profit more readily. However, it is important to estimate a game’s financial requirements, such as development costs of individual features. Failing to provide clear implications of game’s expectations may result in exceeding allocated budget. In fact, the majority of commercial games do not produce profit. Most developers cannot afford changing their development schedule mid-way, and require estimating their capabilities with available resources before production.
The game industry requires innovations, as publishers cannot profit from constant release of repetitive sequels and imitations.[neutrality is disputed] Every year new independent development companies open and some manage to develop hit titles. Similarly, many developers close down because they cannot find a publishing contract or their production is not profitable. It is difficult to start a new company due to high initial investment required. Nevertheless, growth of casual and mobile game market has allowed developers with smaller teams to enter the market. Once the companies become financially stable, they may expand to develop larger games. Most developers start small and gradually expand their business. A developer receiving profit from a successful title may store up capital to expand and re-factor their company, as well as tolerate more failed deadlines.
An average development budget for a multiplatform game is US$18-28M, with high-profile games often exceeding $40M.
In the early era of home computers and video game consoles in the early 1980s, a single programmer could handle almost all the tasks of developing a game — programming, graphical design, sound effects, etc. It could take as little as six weeks to develop a game. However, the high user expectations and requirements of modern commercial games far exceed the capabilities of a single developer and require the splitting of responsibilities. A team of over a hundred people can be employed full-time for a single project.
Game development, production, or design is a process that starts from an idea or concept. Often the idea is based on a modification of an existing game concept. The game idea may fall within one or several genres. Designers often experiment with different combinations of genres. A game designer generally writes an initial game proposal document, that describes the basic concept, gameplay, feature list, setting and story, target audience, requirements and schedule, and finally staff and budget estimates. Different companies have different formal procedures and philosophies regarding game design and development. There is no standardized development method; however commonalities exist.
A game developer may range from a single individual to a large multinational company. There are both independent and publisher-owned studios. Independent developers rely on financial support from a game publisher. They usually have to develop a game from concept to prototype without external funding. The formal game proposal is then submitted to publishers, who may finance the game development from several months to years. The publisher would retain exclusive rights to distribute and market the game and would often own the intellectual property rights for the game franchise. Publisher’s company may also own the developer’s company, or it may have internal development studio(s). Generally the publisher is the one who owns the game’s intellectual property rights.
All but the smallest developer companies work on several titles at once. This is necessary because of the time taken between shipping a game and receiving royalty payments, which may be between 6 and 18 months. Small companies may structure contracts, ask for advances on royalties, use shareware distribution, employ part-time workers and use other methods to meet payroll demands.
Console manufacturers, such as Microsoft, Nintendo, or Sony, have a standard set of technical requirements that a game must conform to in order to be approved. Additionally, the game concept must be approved by the manufacturer, who may refuse to approve certain titles.
Most modern PC or console games take from three to five years to complete, where as a mobile game can be developed in a few months. The length of development is influenced by a number of factors, such as genre, scale, development platform and number of assets.
Some games can take much longer than the average time frame to complete. An infamous example is 3D Realms’ Duke Nukem Forever, announced to be in production in April 1997 and released fourteen years later in June 2011. Planning for Maxis’ game Spore began in late 1999; the game was released nine years later in September 2008. The game Prey was briefly profiled in a 1997 issue of PC Gamer, but was not released until 2006, and only then in highly altered form. Finally, Team Fortress 2 was in development from 1998 until its 2007 release, and emerged from a convoluted development process involving « probably three or four different games », according to Gabe Newell.
The game revenue from retails is divided among the parties along the distribution chain, such as — developer, publisher, retail, manufacturer and console royalty. Many developers fail to profit from this and go bankrupt. Many developers seek alternative economic models through Internet marketing and distribution channels to improve returns., as through a mobile distribution channel the share of a developer can be up to 70% of the total revenue and through an online distribution channel owned by the developer almost 100%.
The history of game making begins with the development of the first video games, although which video game is the first depends on the definition of video game. The first games created had little entertainment value, and their development focus was separate from user experience—in fact, these games required mainframe computers to play them. OXO, written by Alexander S. Douglas in 1952, was the first computer game to use a digital display. In 1958, a game called Tennis for Two, which displayed its output on an oscilloscope, was made by Willy Higinbotham, a physicist working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. In 1961, a mainframe computer game called Spacewar! was developed by a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology students led by Steve Russell.
True commercial design and development of games began in the 1970s, when arcade video games and first-generation consoles were marketed. In 1971, Computer Space was the first commercially sold, coin-operated video game. It used a black-and-white television for its display, and the computer system was made of 74 series TTL chips. In 1972, the first home console system was released called Magnavox Odyssey, developed by Ralph H. Baer. That same year, Atari released Pong, an arcade game that increased video game popularity. The commercial success of Pong led other companies to develop Pong clones, spawning the video game industry.
Programmers worked within the big companies to produce games for these devices. The industry did not see huge innovation in game design and a large number of consoles had very similar games. Many of these early games were often Pong clones. Some games were different, however, such as Gun Fight, which was significant for several reasons: an early 1975 on-foot, multi-directional shooter, which depicted game characters, game violence, and human-to-human combat. Tomohiro Nishikado’s original version was based on discrete logic, which Dave Nutting adapted using the Intel 8080, making it the first video game to use a microprocessor. Console manufacturers soon started to produce consoles that were able to play independently developed games, and ran on microprocessors, marking the beginning of second-generation consoles, beginning with the release of the Fairchild Channel F in 1976.
The flood of Pong clones led to the video game crash of 1977, which eventually came to an end with the mainstream success of Taito’s 1978 arcade shooter game Space Invaders, marking the beginning of the golden age of arcade video games and inspiring dozens of manufacturers to enter the market. Its creator Nishikado not only designed and programmed the game, but also did the artwork, engineered the arcade hardware, and put together a microcomputer from scratch. It was soon ported to the Atari 2600, becoming the first « killer app » and quadrupling the console’s sales. At the same time, home computers appeared on the market, allowing individual programmers and hobbyists to develop games. This allowed hardware manufacturer and software manufacturers to act separately. A very large number of games could be produced by an individual, as games were easy to make because graphical and memory limitation did not allow for much content. Larger companies developed, who focused selected teams to work on a title. The developers of many early home video games, such as Zork, Baseball, Air Warrior, and Adventure, later transitioned their work as products of the early video game industry.
The industry expanded significantly at the time, with the arcade video game sector alone (representing the largest share of the gaming industry) generating higher revenues than both pop music and Hollywood films combined.The home video game industry, however, suffered major losses following the video game crash of 1983. In 1984 Jon Freeman warned in Computer Gaming World:
Q: Are computer games the way to fame and fortune? A: No. Not unless your idea of fame is having your name recognized by one or two astute individuals at Origins … I’ve been making a living (after a fashion) designing games for most of the last six years. I wouldn’t recommend it for someone with a weak heart or a large appetite, though.
Chris Crawford and Don Daglow in 1987 similarly advised prospective designers to write games as a hobby first, and to not quit their existing jobs early. The home video game industry was revitalized soon after by the widespread success of the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Compute!’s Gazette in 1986 stated that although individuals developed most early video games, « It’s impossible for one person to have the multiple talents necessary to create a good game ». By 1987 a video game required 12 months to develop and another six to plan marketing. Projects remained usually solo efforts, with single developers delivering finished games to their publishers. With the ever-increasing processing and graphical capabilities of arcade, console and computer products, along with an increase in user expectations, game design moved beyond the scope of a single developer to produce a marketable game. The Gazette stated, « The process of writing a game involves coming up with an original, entertaining concept, having the skill to bring it to fruition through good, efficient programming, and also being a fairly respectable artist ». This sparked the beginning of team-based development. In broad terms, during the 1980s, pre-production involved sketches and test routines of the only developer. In the 1990s, pre-production consisted mostly of game art previews. In the early 2000s, pre-production usually produced a playable demo.
In 2000 a 12 to 36 month development project was funded by a publisher for US$1M–3M. Additionally, $250k–1.5M were spent on marketing and sales development. In 2001, over 3000 games were released for PC; and from about 100 games turning profit only about 50 made significant profit. In the early 2000s it became increasingly common to use middleware game engines, such as Quake engine or Unreal engine.
In the early 2000s, also mobile games started to gain popularity. However, mobile games distributed by mobile operators remained a marginal form of gaming until the Apple App Store was launched in 2008.
In 2005, a mainstream console video game cost from US$3M to $6M to develop. Some games cost as much as $20M to develop. In 2006 the profit from a console game sold at retail was divided among parties of distribution chain as follows: developer (13%), publisher (32%), retail (32%), manufacturer (5%), console royalty (18%). In 2008 a developer would retain around 17% of retail price and around 85% if sold online.
Since the third generation of consoles, the home video game industry has constantly increased and expanded. The industry revenue has increased at least five-fold since the 1990s. In 2007, the software portion of video game revenue was $9.5 billion, exceeding that of the movie industry.
The Apple App Store, introduced in 2008, was the first mobile application store operated directly by the mobile platform holder. It significantly changed the consumer behaviour more favourable for downloading mobile content and quickly broadened the markets of mobile games.
In 2009 games’ market annual value was estimated between $7–30 billion, depending on which sales figures are included. This is on par with films’ box office market. A publisher would typically fund an independent developer for $500k–$5M for a development of a title. In 2012, the total value had already reached $66.3 billion and by then the video game markets were no longer dominated by console games. According to Newzoo, the share of MMO’s was 19.8%, PC/MAC’s 9.8%, tablets’ 3.2%, smartphones 10.6%, handhelds’ 9.8%, consoles’ only 36.7% and online casual games 10.2%. The fastest growing market segments being mobile games with an average annual rate of 19% for smartphones and 48% for tablets.
In the past several years, many developers opened and many closed down. Each year a number of developers are acquired by larger companies or merge with existing companies. For example, in 2007 Blizzard Entertainment’s parent company, Vivendi Games merged with Activision. In 2008 Electronic Arts nearly acquired Take-Two Interactive. In 2009 Midway Games was acquired by Time-Warner and Eidos Interactive merged with Square Enix.