What are the main stages of game development?

You wake up one morning and have an idea for the best video game ever. You can picture it in your mind, you’ve told your friends about the plot, and you’ve even come up with a few ways that the gameplay would be unique. Perhaps you’ve even drawn a logo and sketched out a rough look for the main character. For most of us, that’s where the idea stops. It’s a fun daydream, but that’s all it will ever be.

For some people, however, that’s only the beginning. The rise of indie studios has made game development accessible to more people than ever before, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The process of creating a video game is an intensive and time-consuming one with many phases.

Here is a look at the main stages of video game development and what each stage entails. With a greater understanding of game development, you may be able to pull together a team that can make your next great video game idea a reality. 

Planning

Once you have an idea for a game, the planning phase begins. During the planning phase, all of the important questions about what the game will be are answered. The genre, art style, gameplay mechanics, and game engine all need to be decided during the planning phase or the rest of the phases will be more difficult and slower.

The planning phase isn’t always a long one. For example, online slot machine games that are directly inspired by the classic Vegas pokies already have an aesthetic and gameplay established.

Pre-production

Pre-production is where the hard work starts. This is when storyboards are created and the full scale of the project is laid out. It’s also the phase during which all of the talent is hired. Artists, developers, game engineers and writers are all brought in during this phase. It’s essential to choose the right people or your project will break down during development.

Production

The production phase is when the most intensive work on the game is done. This is when the game is created. All of the pieces of the puzzle come together during production, which means that while it’s the most difficult phase, it’s also the most exciting and fun. Production requires a lot of long days and nights – and also a lot of celebrating as each milestone is hit!

Testing

After production comes the testing phase, which is when you make sure that your game is playable and works the way that you expect. This is the phase in which you hope to find all of the bugs, glitches and potential exploits and fix them.

Rushing through the testing stage can be tempting, especially if production has taken longer than anticipated and the expected release date is creeping closer. This is never a good idea; just look at how much bad press glitchy video games get, even years after their initial release.

Pre-launch

The pre-launch phase is when your most intensive marketing campaign happens. Marketing before the game is launched is how you build up hype and get people excited to play your game. It is also when you release a trailer for the game or even a demo version. 

It’s important to use pre-launch feedback to improve your game if necessary.

Launch

During the launch phase, you and your team handle all of the little last-minute fixes that are absolutely essential. It’s also the time to make any small improvements that have been flagged by reviewers, beta testers and early access players. 

Once all that is done, it’s time to release your game to the world! Given the many steps involved in the process, it is not unusual for games to launch later than expected and exceed their budget.

Post-launch

Your game has launched and it’s out in the world! This is incredibly exciting and can be a huge relief. You’ve been working on your game for months – perhaps even years – and seeing it released is a huge accomplishment.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the work is done, however. Players are great at finding bugs and exploits, so you’ll need to stay on top of updating the game to fix them, especially in the early days after launch. 

Post-launch is also the time when you can consider the updates and additions you’d like to add to the game. Downloadable content (DLC) is a great way to keep players engaged as time goes on and to add content back in that didn’t make the original cut for whatever reason.