Video Game Development Process

How successful games are made, from start to finish.

Video game development

Anyone with hands-on experience in the video game industry knows the simple fact: game development can be chaotic. But while no amount of planning can fully safeguard you against production bottlenecks or impending deadlines, undertaking a project without a plan is a sure way to fail.

Whether you are an AAA game studio or an indie game developer, having a structured game development process is paramount. Let's dive deeper into what this process looks like.

What is video game development?

Game development is the process of developing a video game, from the initial concept to the finished product.

Depending on the game and the studio undertaking the project, this process can take anything from a few weeks to over a decade. It can involve thousands of designers, artists, programmers, writers, and testers, or be carried out by a single indie developer.

Game design vs. game development

Game development and game design are two different terms, though they are often used interchangeably:

At many smaller game development studios, the same team members wear many hats and are responsible for both fields. At larger companies, however, design and development are often handled separately.

Stages of the game development process

The game development process can be broken down into three main stages.

Pre-production

Pre-production is the planning phase. You may have an amazing idea for a game, but to successfully turn it into a reality you need a detailed plan of action.

The first step is to create a game design document (GDD). It will serve as a blueprint from which your game is to be built. Here's an example of a game design document created in Nuclino, a collaborative documentation tool for teams:

Game design document example

Game design document example (Artwork credit: Stephane Wootha Richard)

During this stage, the writers, artists, designers, and developers collaborate to determine the scope of the game. That includes coming up with ideas for how the game will function, its characters, its look, and its story. The most basic questions that need to be answered are:

The answers to these questions become the backbone of your game design document. Some details are likely to change over the course of the game development process – keep your GDD as a living document and let it evolve together with your project.

Game development storyboard

Game storyboard example (Credit: Ubisoft Entertainment)

During the pre-production stage, it’s also common to prototype the environments, characters, control schemes, and other in-game elements. A lot of effort is invested into worldbuilding. Ideas are fleshed out in the form of storyboards, concept art, interface mockups, and so on, to see how they look, feel, and interact with one another.

Production

The production stage of game development is when your studio takes the concepts created during pre-production and turns them into source code and various assets. It's where the bulk of your time, effort, and resources go.

During this stage, several teams work in parallel:

Game development character models

3D character model examples (Credit: Maryna Chemerys)

Post-production

After the final version of the game is released, it enters the final stage of the game development process – the post-production. The main purpose of this stage is game maintenance, which mainly includes:

No two games are the same, and even seasoned game development studios with hundreds of games under their belts often struggle with last-minutes changes, tight deadlines, creative differences, and other challenges. This is the nature of the industry. There are many things that contribute to a game’s success that are not under the developer’s immediate control. Which is all the more reason to make sure you take care of the things that are. And having a structured game development process with clear deadlines and production goals is the most straightforwards way to do it.

Nuclino: Your team's single source of truth

Nuclino

Nuclino is a unified workspace that helps you organize all of your team's work in one place. Instead of digging through the chaos of files and folders and drowning in endless meetings and notifications, Nuclino allows your team to break out of silos and collaborate more thoughtfully.

Try it for free

Image credit: Fez, Polytron Corporation

Character illustration