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The art of full-cycle game development

Full-cycle game development is a complex, multi-staged process that requires a highly-skilled and experienced team. But there is much more to it - take a look!

All You Need to Know About Full Cycle Game Development

Each high-quality digital product requires tons of time for planning, prototyping, developing, and testing – all done by competent people. Game development follows this pattern as well. However, it partially depends on what kind of a project you are making and how. A simple F2P game with primitive or premade assets can be completed surprisingly fast and thrown to the market in no time. But with more complex titles, full-cycle game production takes much more effort, so not every dev studio is fit for the task. Let us explain why.

Why is full-cycle game development a job for professionals?

Game development is a lengthy and tiresome process, especially if you are working on it from the very beginning to the release. It is incredibly hard for newcomers to compete with heavyweights of the industry, not to mention that the odds of reaching the top are practically nonexistent. However, it is still possible to create your own games with the help of outsourced specialists.

Outsourcing studios provide a wide range of services, from basic game design to full-cycle game development. The latter starts by describing the game’s concept and ends with an analysis of the audience's reaction to the final product. Post-release support is also a common thing for game studios.

Modern technology has become incredibly varied and sophisticated. It takes at least 50 seasoned developers to create a successful game. Most of them will have their own tasks and specialization (animation, coding, sound engineering, concept art drawing, etc.). Therefore, not every outsourcing partner can cover all your needs when developing a project from scratch. Missing even a few critical specialists in your team will force you to seek additional contracts, spending more time and money in the process.

Also, don’t forget that players are spoiled by a huge number of gaming platforms, devices, and AAA titles. Their expectations must be taken into account when developing a game. Knowing the audience and following the latest industry trends are the key to success. Not every studio has the luxury to develop and polish every aspect of the game because they lack people or expertise. Full-cycle game development is like a chain with multiple links, and if one is flawed, the quality of the chain degrades. So you must consider only those masters that can take care of all links at the same time.

Stages of the end-to-end game development

The process of game development is not quick. The amount of time required to deliver a finished product depends on the project scale, budget, and your dev team size. It takes at least 1-2 years to create an average game, while AAA titles usually need at least three years or even more. These numbers are not carved in stone, obviously. For example, the remake of Resident Evil 3 took three years to make by a competent game studio. On the other hand, complex independent projects like Disco Elysium take over four years. Why so long? Because they went through all stages of full-cycle game development with limited human resources. What are these stages, you ask?

1. Creating a concept
The very first step is where a dev team invents the game’s concept and starts thinking about the game design basics. The most important task at this stage is to write a Game Design Document that includes the project’s vision (a detailed description of the future game as a commercial product) and concept (basic information about all aspects of the game).

2. Making a working prototype
Every game requires a prototype before starting an actual development. Something that looks good on paper might be less exciting in reality. A prototype is needed to evaluate core gameplay features, test various ideas, tinker with game mechanics, choose a game engine, and analyze other key technical aspects.

Just remember that during this game development stage, you must focus exclusively on those features that need actual checking. Also, keep in mind that your prototype must be simple in realization because it will be scrapped after serving its purpose. Mediocre developers have a bad habit of copying temporary infrastructure into the main project, which does not do any good in most cases.

3. Compiling a vertical slice
After you are done with prototyping, you need to create a minimal viable product or a piece of the game with all its features. It must be a small piece that demonstrates the variety of core gameplay. In vertical slices, the game development focus shifts towards those game elements that have the most impact on the game and how it is played. It does not mean that all other basic features must be left out, though. Include them too, but don’t spend too much time on their polishing. Crude representation is okay here. At the end of this stage, you must have a playable area/level that demonstrates the variety of content and features.

4. Game development
Now you need enough content to fill your game with. This includes all kinds of creative tasks, from modeling and drawing to coding and testing. All features that were planned earlier and approved for the final product must be added to the game before it goes into the beta-testing phase. The amount of work at this stage is tremendous. On big projects, it usually takes a year or more to prepare and integrate everything.

All developers participate in creating content for the game. Writers do dialogues, and artists prepare visual materials, sketches and illustrations. Programmers do feature coding, managers analyze the game design and make changes, and so on. Having a full-stack development team makes managing all this creative “chaos” much easier.

5. Closed beta testing
Now you have a product to show to people outside of your inner circle of devs. These testers are still loyal to the product or brand, so there are no guarantees that the target audience will react the same way. During the beta, you need to detect as many bugs and flaws in game design as possible. The game must have all key features at this point, enough content for extended gameplay sessions, and integrated tools for gathering/analyzing data.

6. Open beta testing
Let the testing continue! But with more people involved in the process. This is how you test whether your game is truly optimized. Every new player becomes a quality assurance asset. Depending on their feedback, you may either continue towards the release with minor fixes and changes or start adding more features if the crowd is not satisfied.
Example of an open beta release
7. Release
Congratulations! The full-cycle game production process has reached its final stage. Time to concentrate the efforts on marketing while your core dev team is busy with fixing detected bugs and polishing the product. Game designers may focus on minor gameplay tweaks.

What makes a good full-cycle game development studio?

The short answer: loving games and having skills backed up by years of dev experience. A studio that has a bunch of successfully released projects that were developed from scratch is definitely worth your attention. They surely have all game development processes streamlined – from ideating to post-release support. Moreover, they most likely know how to make games fun to play and enjoyable, which is vital for any business project.
Good outsourcing studios have all full-stack capabilities to keep everything under one roof. This way, they will never go looking for external specialists in the heat of development. A diverse team of creators ensures that all aspects will be covered and performance levels will not drop. Additionally, you will have the flexibility that is so crucial for full-cycle game development.

Also, pay attention to communication with the potential dev partners. Studios that provide game development services must be open and eager to help even before you sign a contract with them. Starting out with a small project consultation followed by portfolio examples is a smart way to check whom you are dealing with.

Reach out to Argentics

If you are looking for a studio that will take care of everything from A to Z, then Argentics is here to provide game development services! Our dev team has creators for any task. We work in this industry because we love games, love innovating, and setting trends instead of following them. We offer top-notch game development, well-designed and well-researched. The team is ready to start on your mark, so don’t hesitate to contact us anytime!
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