A Blueprint for Successful Game Development

Allison Bokone
Allison Bokone
Last updated on November 21, 2023

At Assembla, we’ve been working with game developers for a long time, and we’ve witnessed common struggles across the industry, like delayed game updates, missed release dates, and the frustrated player base that follows. Here are some best practices we’ve seen studios use to successfully launch their games.

Practice Excellent Communication

Clear and effective communication is the cornerstone of successful game development. It ensures that team members are on the same page, fosters collaboration, and minimizes misunderstandings that can lead to delays or mistakes. Here are some ideas for how your game development team can practice excellent communication:

  • Maintain open channels of communication: Use team messaging platforms such as Slack or Microsoft Teams to quickly exchange information in real-time.
  • Encourage regular team meetings: Schedule regular team meetings to foster collaboration and keep everyone informed about project updates.
  • Establish clear roles and responsibilities: Define roles and responsibilities so that everyone understands their tasks and knows who to ask if they have questions about a specific area.
  • Document important discussions and decisions: Document important discussions, decisions, and agreements made during meetings or other communication channels. 
  • Foster a positive and respectful communication culture: Create an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their ideas, providing feedback, and addressing concerns.

Apply Software Engineering Best Practices

GameDeveloper.com has a great article that goes into detail about how software engineering practices can be applied to game development. The four best practices it focuses on are: iterative development, manage requirements, manage change, and verify quality. We’ll give a brief overview of things to consider in each area, but check out the original article for a deeper dive.

Iterative Development

While a game might not be as easily broken into smaller cycles of development as other software projects, iterative development can still be used to improve a team’s output and decrease risk to the project. During iterative development a team goes through the full software development lifecycle (SDLC) – requirements gathering, analysis, design, implementation, testing, and final delivery – just on a small subset of the overall project. For a game, this could be designing one level at a time, one area of a map, or one part of the story. 

Breaking down development into these smaller phases reduces the SDLC timeline for each phase, which means teams will get feedback on their release more quickly and multiple times – rather than once near the end of a large project. This feedback allows the team to course correct early, and  future phases can incorporate those changes during the initial planning of requirements and designs, rather than having to go back and change things if the whole product was designed up front. Because “fun” is so subjective, iterative development gives teams many opportunities to test out their ideas and make sure that the game is still on track to be entertaining.

Manage Requirements

Of course, all of this iterative feedback can lead to many changing requirements or additional new ideas that get sparked along the way. If parts of the game are confusing or just not fun for users, requirements might be eliminated, which can cause a ripple effect of changes to other parts of the game. Prioritizing and managing requirements, therefore, becomes an important part of getting your game to the finish line.

Having a clear game vision is the first step to creating clear priorities, as all requirements should contribute to the vision in some way. The vision should include not only what the game and player experience is about, but also what the company’s business goals are and how the studio defines quality and user experience for the game. Having clarity about high level goals allows teams to evaluate how requirements are contributing to those goals and make prioritization decisions based on their analysis.

Manage Change

Requirements are not the only things that change during development. Sometimes what sounds like a great idea on paper is not easy – or even possible – to implement. In these cases everyone might need to reconsider how that part of the game will work and make changes so that the requirements are technically achievable. 

Early on it might be easy to manage these changing requirements with a quick conversation or meeting and changes to the planning documents, but as the project progresses and becomes more complex it’s important to have a change control process in place. Change control processes raise visibility of changes and include documentation guidelines so that everyone knows what changed and why, and can evaluate the impact to their areas.

Verify Quality

This is an area that has changed a lot over the years with the introduction of test driven development, betas and pre-releases of games, and now the introduction of AI-assisted tools that can give suggestions for how to improve your code. What hasn’t changed is that the later an issue is found, the more expensive it is to fix, so identifying problems early is important. Having clearly defined quality goals and a repeatable process for testing and getting user feedback also makes verifying and tracking quality easier. 

Another key aspect of quality is how “fun” the game is. It’s important to stay in touch with players throughout the development lifecycle to solicit feedback and verify that the game’s entertainment value is where you expect. The earlier you start testing for “fun” the more easily you can make any adjustments needed to ensure an entertaining final game.

Focus on Organization

Creating and maintaining well-structured game design documents is essential for a successful development process. Game design documents outline the game’s concept, mechanics, story, characters, and more. They serve as a reference for the entire development team and help ensure that everyone is on the same page. That is why it is important to keep design documents up to date and organized, so you can minimize confusion, maintain consistency, and effectively communicate your vision throughout the development cycle.

Project Management Software

Project management software plays a crucial role in organizing and tracking game development tasks, schedules, and milestones. Centralized project documentation stored in a project management software can serve as a repository of requirements and design decisions that everyone can refer back to and update as things change. This enables teams to effectively manage their projects in areas such as:

  • Task and resource management: Project management software allows teams to break down their projects into smaller tasks and assign them to specific team members. 
  • Scheduling and timelines: With project management software, you can create detailed schedules and timelines for your game development project. 
  • Collaboration and communication: Project management software allows for discussions, file sharing, and commenting on specific tasks or project elements. 
  • Progress tracking and reporting: Project management software allows team members and stakeholders to track the completion status of tasks, identify any overdue or pending items, and generate reports on project performance. 
  • Transparency and accountability: By using project management software, teams can have visibility into task assignments, progress updates, and changes made to the project.
  • Security: Communicating about your project within project management software adds an extra layer of security and prevents details from leaking to the outside world.

Plan for Marketing and Post-Release

Marketing and building excitement for a game launch can be one of the more challenging areas for new studios, particularly smaller ones that may not have a dedicated marketing person. Planning your marketing strategy early allows you to identify gaps in expertise your team has while you still have time to find a solution – whether that’s hiring additional employees or training existing ones in new areas – before you go to market. Post-launch strategy and planning, including community and social media approach, should also be discussed early and regularly so those plans evolve with other changes in the game during the development cycle.

Improve Your Game Development Process with Assembla

In the dynamic and competitive world of video game development, following best practices and utilizing the right tools is crucial for success. Assembla is an all-in-one platform that combines project management, version control, and collaboration tools specifically designed for game development.

With features like task tracking, code repository hosting, and team collaboration, Assembla simplifies and streamlines the game development process. By centralizing your development activities on a single platform, you can enhance team productivity and deliver high-quality games more efficiently. If you’re ready to level up your game development process, get started with Assembla today and experience the benefits of streamlined project management and collaboration tools tailored for game development.

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Allison Bokone
Allison Bokone
Allison Bokone is an instructor at Miami University in Ohio for the Computer and Information Technology department, specializing in process and DevOps. Prior to teaching, Allison worked at Microsoft for 18 years, first as a Technical Writer, then as a Program Manager and Director at Xbox. In her last role she was a regular contributor to MicrosoftGameDev.com.

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