Game development workflow: pre-production

In this article I want to share my current vision of pre-production stage. I’ll try to explain all steps, so you will learn how to find the idea for a game, how to verify your concept and what you need to do if you want to make a game.

Idea

First of all, we need to write a big list of ideas for games. You can use different techniques for that. Personally, I prefer brainstorming. You have to get a lot of ideas(for example 50). Most of them will be bad, so try to mix them to make a new idea. Then try to take a rest for a day and revise your ideas again on a fresh mind. Drop the worst ideas and ideas, which you can’t implement because of lack of time and money. Select the most promising ideas and go for the next step.

Market analysis

Sounds scary, but all that you need to do is to find games with similar ideas and use sites, like steamspy, to check popularity and revenue for those games. You have to validate your ideas on the early stages because it will be terrible if you will make a game, which nobody needs.

Requirements check

Your idea should satisfy some of the requirements. They depend on the game genre and on many other factors. Personally, I ask myself these questions:

  • Is this idea clean and simple to understand?
  • Can I predict final results and release date?
  • Does this game has interesting gameplay?
  • Do I like this game and want to develop it from day to day, maybe for many years?
  • Do I want to buy this game?
  • Can I make this game by myself(or with a team)?
  • Do I have enough time and money to complete development of this game?
  • How much profit I can get in worst scenario?

If you found answers to these questions, you can go for the next stage.

Gameplay check

One of the most important things in games is a gameplay. The story, graphics, and other things are important, but without good gameplay experience, your game won’t be a good.

So spend a few days by implementing basic mechanics for your game(camera, controls, basic movement, some interesting features from your game). You don’t need to make complete level. Just use basic blocks, which will imitate elements from a real game(if it’s a platformer, then you probably need some platforms to jump). Remember – it’s only a prototype, so you will drop it in a trashcan in future. Don’t spend weeks on this stage, it’s a bad idea for a little team. If you’re not happy with a gameplay, then it will be better to find a new idea for your game.

Concept art and references

In this stage, you will need to find a lot of reference images and make(ideally) some concept art to get a cleaner vision for your game.  If you’re not a concept artist, like me, then you could use quick sketches and write text, which will describe your game, scene or characters. You will need to get enough materials to model your demo level and to understand how other levels will look.

Make a plan

You should write at least a basic plan for your further development process. You should ask yourself these questions for example:

  • What assets I need for my game?
  • How much time I need to create them?
  • Which core features my game will have?
  • Have I enough skills to implement them?
  • How much time and money I need for the next few months?
  • How can I promote my game?
  • Who is my target audience?
  • Monetization model for my game?
  • Platforms for distribution?
  • What will I do for the next day/week/months?
  • Main problems to solve?

There are many other questions, which you can ask yourself. The better plan is, the more chances you have for success. But, again, don’t spend weeks for that. It’s not the final plan. You’re only validating your ideas in this stage so maybe you will drop all your work into a trashcan in near future.

Game design document

In this stage, you should write the basic game design document. No need to write a big opus on 100+ pages. Write at least 10 pages with main concepts and ideas for your game. Personally, I found good examples for game design document in this book: “Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design by Scott Rogers”. You also probably need to write art design document, if your game contains a lot of visual content. It will help you to structure your vision and share it with other people.

Story

In this stage, you need to write a basic story for your game. Write only global details, which you can show to the public. How will you tell the story to the player? Maybe by using decorations? Text? Characters? Or there is no story at all? How much time you should spend on this stage depends on your game genre and on your idea.

Level design check

Ok, now you got enough materials and you can start work on your first demo level. You probably will show this level to the public, so it must be good. In this stage, you also need to validate visual style of game. If you selected a style, which required a lot of resources to implement it and you don’t have them, then you probably need to make changes in your concept( the little team, for example, has little chances to make graphics like in AAA-games for a reasonable amount of time). Your goal is to make a playable level(or parts of it), which you can show to the public, so they can imagine the final look of the game.

Promotional materials

In this stage, you should write an interesting description for your game, create a good trailer and make some good screenshots. Maybe you should even have to create a little playable demo(which is optional). Your goal is to make enough quality materials for your potential players, so they can see that your game is what they want to play. This stage is really important, so you need to spend enough time making good content for the show. Even if your idea is good, you won’t get enough attention if you will make a bad presentation of your future game. I also recommend you to speak with other people(like friends and colleagues) and ask them what are they think about your promotional materials. Try to share your concept with people, who never played games. Try to show it to professionals in game development industry. You also need to build a simple website for your game, where you will publish these materials. Press kit is also a good idea. If everything is ok, you can go to the next stage and make a public announcement.

Game announcement

Congratulations! You made a hard work(and you probably will drop it into the trashcan after that stage). It’s time to make a public announcement for your game to see the reaction of potential players and mass media. You can publish your concept in Steam to verify it. You can try to contact with mass media and show them your work. If you’re lucky, then maybe they will write about you and you will spread your concept around bigger auditory. You can create pages on different websites like IndieDB. Remember – your goal is to verify your concept and get feedback from other people.

Processing the results

If after game announcement stage you will see that nobody needs your game, then there are no reasons to continue development. If you get 50/50 positive/negative feedback, then you can continue development, but you need to make a lot of changes in your game concept, based on reviews, which you got in the previous stage. If your game is good and people want to play it, then it’s time to begin production stage for your game.

Conclusion

In this text, I tried to describe main steps of pre-production stage in game development workflow. They may be different for different peoples, studios and games. But the main goal for that stage is to find the idea, make a vision of the future game and validate the game concept before you will start development process of your game.

 

Ruslan Nazirov

I am 26 years old developer. I had a solid experience in programming and used to be a java developer for four years. Now I’m working on my projects and games, based on Unreal Engine 4.