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Outsourcing vs Co-Development: Which Strategy Suits Your Game Studio?

In 2024, game development studios are increasingly adopting collaboration, allowing teams with different expertise to bring the best to the table. This collaborative approach is particularly advantageous for studios bringing their first game to market. Co-development has emerged as a strategic approach for streamlining the development process and achieving success. This article will explore the benefits of co-development projects and how they can empower studios to launch their treasured game efficiently. Additionally, we will answer the questions: "What is co development" and "What is outsourcing development," providing a clear understanding of these concepts.

Understanding Co-Development and Outsourcing

A dynamic field like game development means studios often face the challenge of choosing the best approach to bringing their creative visions to life. When you look at the surface, co-development and outsourcing may seem identical at a glance, but each offers distinct advantages and use cases.

  1. Co-Development Definition: Co-development in game development is a collaborative process where multiple teams work together on a single project. Each team typically handles different parts of the game, using their specific skills to achieve a shared goal. This way, the specific prowess of each developer is being taken into consideration, which leads to a well-rounded final product.
  2. Outsourced Development Definition: Outsourced development involves a game development company hiring an external team or studio to handle specific tasks or entire segments of the project. This can range from art production and animation to programming and quality assurance. The main company oversees the project but relies heavily on the external team to deliver the required elements.

Co-development is most commonly applied to large complex projects where only some teams have the necessary skills. For instance, one co-developer might focus on creating the game engine while another specializes in crafting detailed character models and environments. This strategy is often used in projects with tight timeline constraints — by working simultaneously, it speeds up the completion.

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Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=JEwPx-aDfqg

In contrast, outsourcing is for companies that need to delegate specific tasks while retaining the ability to evaluate the contractor's work. As an example, a game development studio may outsource the asset creation for a game to an art studio specializing in game art. When cost becomes a priority, outsourcing is in place, as it can be more economical to hire external developers from regions with lower labor costs.

Summarizing, in outsourcing, the customer company maintains full control over the tasks, with the contractor simply fulfilling clearly defined instructions without sharing their vision. Conversely, co-development involves a partnership where the customer company relies on a partner to solve key issues, such as developing the architecture of a gaming application when the customer lacks the necessary competencies. This approach fosters long-term relationships and collaboration, making it distinct from outsourcing.

Benefits of Co-Development

Creating a successful video game requires more than technical skills; it demands a harmonious blend of creativity and collaboration. See how game co development facilitates this blend.

Collaboration and Partnership

Co-development encourages close collaboration between development partners, creating a synergy that leads to more innovative and high-quality games. By working together, studios share knowledge and expertise, enhancing the overall development process. This teamwork is supported by:

  • regular communication, which keeps all parties informed and engaged;
  • joint planning sessions, which ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding project goals and milestones;
  • integrated workflows, which streamline operations and reduce bottlenecks.

Partners frequently make choices and handle problems collaboratively, ensuring that all aspects of the project are in sync and that any concerns are remedied fast. This collaborative approach enables various game components to work fluidly together, resulting in a more unified and polished end product, ultimately leading to greater success in the competitive gaming industry.

For instance, CD Projekt Red collaborated with the co development studio to create "The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt." This collaboration allowed them to blend complex gameplay mechanics with stunning visuals seamlessly. The co development partnership was key to the game's success and helped build a strong, ongoing relationship between the studios.
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Source: https://www.thewitcher.com/ua/en/

Create Engagement

One significant advantage of co-development is the level of creative control and ownership it offers. Unlike outsourcing, where external teams may only execute predefined tasks, video game co development involves active participation in the entire creative process from start to finish.

This is essential because it reduces the number of revisions needed. While strict mood boards or guidelines can help, giving artists creative freedom leads to smoother workflows and enhanced innovation. Artists produce their finest work when they have the freedom to be creative, which is more gratifying than simply following directions. On a broader scale, it allows the team to create mood boards and define the project's overall style and feel, making the entire development process more enjoyable for all parties involved.

Successful co-development projects, like Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, demonstrate how shared creative ownership can lead to critically acclaimed games. Naughty Dog collaborated on this project with Bluepoint Games, which is well-known for its remastering expertise. Bluepoint Games collaborated closely with Naughty Dog to ensure the remastered collection preserved the original's creative concept and quality. This effective co-development endeavor produced a critically lauded product that appealed to fans and critics.
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Source: https://www.dealabs.com/magazine/decouvrez-la-uncharted-the-nathan-drake-collection-a-prix-casse-sur-ps4-et-ps5-49332

Efficiency and Sustainability

Co-development is often more effective and sustainable than outsourcing. The development process becomes more streamlined, unified, and adaptable to shifting needs and challenges by combining various studios' broad skill sets.

  1. Programming: Advanced coding skills for creating game mechanics, optimizing performance, and ensuring cross-platform compatibility. This includes writing efficient algorithms, debugging complex code, and implementing new features as needed.
  2. Art and Animation: Expertise in crafting high-quality assets, including character models, environments, and animations, which bring the game world to life. Artists and animators use the latest tools and techniques to achieve stunning visuals.
  3. Design: Proficiency in game design principles to develop engaging gameplay mechanics, levels, and user interfaces. Designers focus on creating intuitive and enjoyable player experiences, often incorporating feedback from playtesting.
  4. Quality Assurance: Rigorous testing processes to identify and fix bugs, ensuring the game runs smoothly across different platforms.
  5. Project Management: Effective coordination of multiple teams and tasks keeps the project on track and within budget.

Integrating these diverse skills enhances the efficiency and quality of the development process. As it was with “Destiny”. Bungie worked with High Moon Studios to develop "Destiny." This co-development model enabled Bungie to leverage the specialized skills of the co-development studio, allowing for concurrent development on different aspects of the game. This approach made the development process more efficient and resulted in a well-rounded and polished game.

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Source: https://www.ign.com/articles/is-destiny-2-worth-playing

Co-development case studies show this approach ticks many boxes, from collaboration and partnerships to creative ownership and efficiency. By combining the resources and expertise of more development partners, studios can produce high-quality, innovative games that stand out in the competitive gaming industry

Challenges in Co-Development

To effectively use co-development, it's crucial to be aware of the potential pitfalls that can arise. It’s time to explore how effective management, clear communication, and strong coordination can make or break your co-development project.

When multiple studios are involved, there are inherent risks in co-development that must be managed carefully. One of the primary challenges is the distribution of responsibilities. If roles and tasks are not clearly defined and agreed upon, it can lead to confusion, duplication of efforts, and missed deadlines. Each studio may have its own working methods and priorities, making it essential to delineate who is responsible for what aspects of the project to avoid overlaps and gaps.

Effective co-development communication and coordination are paramount to prevent misunderstandings and ensure all teams are aligned. Managing resources and expectations in co-development involves several key strategies to ensure everything runs smoothly and efficiently:

  1. Specify precisely what each co-development team will work on to avoid overlap and cover all project areas. Additionally, well-defined roles establish clear boundaries for what is expected and who is ultimately held accountable, fostering accountability and ownership.
  2. Make sure all studios share the same vision and goals for the project. Regular meetings and planning sessions help keep everyone on the same page, ensuring alignment and coherence.
  3. Adopt standardized tools and platforms for project management, communication, development, and other operations-related aspects. This will allow anyone to share updates and progress while facilitating collaboration and efficiency.
  4. Set up regular check-ins and progress reviews to track the project's status. This helps identify and address issues early, preventing delays and budget overruns, and keeping the project on track.
  5. Allocate resources based on the effort required for each task so that all teams can handle their responsibilities. Carefully manage the resources to balance the workload and ensure the best performance across all teams.
  6. Establish strong communication channels with regular updates, video conferences, and collaborative tools. Clear communication keeps everyone informed about the project's progress and any changes, promoting transparency.
  7. Create procedures for addressing disagreements, such as having a chain of command for decision-making or using a third-party mediator to help resolve conflicts before they escalate into bigger problems.
  8. Identify potential risks early and develop strategies to mitigate them. Prepare contingency plans for technical difficulties, resource shortages, or delays, ensuring project remains resilient and adaptable in the face of challenges.

Ubisoft uses multiple studios worldwide to develop its Assassin’s Creed games. This distributed development model requires precise coordination and clear communication. By implementing standardized tools and regular progress reviews, Ubisoft ensures that all studios are aligned and any issues are promptly addressed, leading to successful project completion.
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Source: https://accelerationeconomy.com/cloud/how-video-game-development-drives-digital-twins-technology-for-manufacturers/

By following the detailed strategies mentioned and learning from successful co-development case studies, studios can manage resources and expectations effectively, ensuring a cohesive and high-quality final product, while fostering innovation and collaboration.

Comparison with Outsourcing

Co-development and outsourcing present different financial and operational dynamics that can significantly impact development. Understanding why companies outsource or collaborate helps recognize each approach's specific benefits, potential drawbacks, and unique challenges.

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Therefore, the reasons for outsourcing are:

  • access to specialized skills;
  • cost-effective in the short term;
  • flexible staffing and scalability;
  • faster turnaround times.

Reasons for not outsourcing include:

  • risk of miscommunication;
  • difficulty maintaining quality and consistency;
  • potential security and confidentiality issues.

In conclusion, both outsourcing and co-development process have their advantages and challenges. By carefully considering the financial, operational, quality, and consistency aspects, companies can make informed decisions that align with their project goals and ensure successful outcomes.

How to Choose the Right Co-Development Partner

Co-development partnerships encourage deeper collaboration and integration, ensuring that all teams work harmoniously towards a unified vision. This results in better overall outcomes and more innovative solutions. Also, co-development is a method of growing a long-term relationship that can, in turn, increase project continuity and mutual understanding, benefiting both parties in the future through sustained cooperation and shared success.

Choosing the right co-development partner is crucial for leveraging the advantages of co-development over traditional outsourcing. Here’s how to do it effectively and ensure successful collaboration:

  1. Look for a partner with a proven track record in your specific area of need, whether game or application development. Ensure they have the technical skills and industry experience necessary for your project. Additionally, consider their adaptability and willingness to innovate.
  2. Proper communication is one of the prime keys to a successful co development partnership. Ensure your partner operates with healthy communication, incorporating a schedule for regular updates, clear-cut documentation, and options for collective feedback and stakeholder discussion. Regular video calls and collaborative tools can enhance transparency and trust.
  3. Review their past projects and client testimonials to gauge their reliability and quality of work. They offer real-life business examples that can give you an idea about their problem-solving skills and how they manage complex projects.
  4. Ensure the potential game or application development partner aligns with your company culture and values for smoother collaboration. A good cultural fit can lead to better teamwork and a more harmonious working relationship, ultimately contributing to the project's success.
And remember to plan a demo call with the studio. Nothing makes the picture more transparent than direct communication. Discuss your project needs, see their capabilities, and gauge how well you can work together. Start your co-development journey with Argentics and unlock the full potential of collaborative game development. Your vision can become a reality with the right partner, driving innovation and achieving outstanding results.
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