Presentation date: 10/10/2011

When a game is being produced, it has to go through 6 stages of development, and these are: Pre-production, Production, Alpha, Beta, Master and Post-Production. 

Pre-Production
Pre-production is the first initial stage where the main game concepts and features of a game are brain stormed, then discussed in great detail. This is also the stage where the team will create proto-types of various stages in the game; this is to prove that for example, certain mechanics can be implemented into a game correctly, and where they could fit into the game. This team in pre-production usually only consists of core team members, a ‘skeleton staff’. More staff are hired in the next development phase. I found this interesting, as I thought all team members would have a say in a new game title, but they don’t. Usually only their head of department has a say.

A team can also create internally, or outsource, an ‘X-movie’ for the game; this establishes the visual benchmark for the game, and will show the peak of the quality that is wanted in the game.

These proto-types of the game, and ‘X-movies’ are then shown to the publisher in a ‘green-light’ meeting. These meetings are to determine whether a game will be allowed to be created and developed or not. Essentially the publisher can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a game. A game must be given the green-light by the publisher before it can be created fully.
If the game is lucky enough to be given a yes at the green light meeting, the publisher can agree milestones for the entire development of the game. This is agree’d with producers, and usually the leads of departments.

Production

The production stage is the longest development stage as this is where every asset is created, every level is created, everything, and it is all pieced together to create the game. Game features and content are all put together. During this phase milestones are created and schedules are generated as to when each asset/level/script needs to be made for, and overall when the deadline for everything to be done and put into the game is.

Alpha testing

The alpha testing stage of the development cycle is the main bug finding and fixing portion. Alpha testing is only started when the game has been deemed as finished. All the bugs are divided into importance and classes  by the ‘Bug committee’. All the important and game crashing bugs (A-Class) are fixed at this stage. New builds are created weekly for testing.
Focus tests are conducted during the alpha testing; this is to see how members of the public react to the game, and if they come across any bugs.  These testers will be observed and videoed as they are going through sections of the game. The testers will usually give written feedback, or will be interviewed after the testing.
Another feature used in Alpha testing is the team use metrics to find out specific information such as: where do players keep dying, what route do they take to the end of the level, where do players get stuck, etc.

Beta testing

Beta testing is the stage in the development cycle where all the A-Class bugs have been fixed, and there are no major bugs or glitches in the game. Only minor tweaks are made to the game, as changing one small detail in the game could be potentially game breaking.
The bug committee have to go through the bugs which are left in the game, and talk about which bugs need to be fixed before release, or if they can be wavered. They will prioritise the bugs, and see which are worth fixing and which bugs will be rarely found. Not all the bugs are fixed in the beta stage, but this is the last stage that bugs are removed.
Members of the public are also used for this stage of testing; more often than not big games companies will conduct open beta testing on their games which can; draw customers to want their game more, and provide feedback on the game before release.

Master 

At this stage in the development cycle, ALL CHANGES ARE FORBIDDEN! If you change ANYTHING within the game, you could easily risk losing your job, as any change at this stage could potentially break the game, thus forcing development staff to work overtime to fix the game again. The only exception to this rule is if the publisher says that a change can be made.
The finished game is then sent to platform holders, such as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. This is to see if the game has any console-specific bugs within the game.

Post-Production 

Most of the time, this is the resting period for employees who worked on the recently published game. Although, employees can be assigned to new projects within their company.
Usually an analysis of the game’s development cycle is conducted, and a post-mortem of the game is created. This includes features and content that the developers wanted in the game, but for some circumstance they couldn’t get it in. The post-mortem inside the company can be quite direct and have all the information (good and bad) in the game. This is where people complain about their team members, etc. There is also a public post-mortem made of games, however these are much nicer, and ‘flowery’ compared to the internal post-mortem.

As a games design student, I had an understanding of the development cycle previous to this lecture, however I didn’t realise that a game has to go through a ‘green-light’ meeting before it is given the go-ahead to be created. The green light process is an important factor in the development process as if a game’s initial ideas and development are not liked by the publishers, then the game will most likely not receive a green light and be canned. This is when the developers need to either develop the idea further, or introduce a new idea to the publishers. A game is more likely to be given a green light if it is a franchised IP, as it is less of a risk for a publisher as less money will need to be spent on the marketing side of the game. In addition, having new, unique and fun mechanics to show off in a green light meeting can help the game to get approval for further development. I never realised how brutal the initial idea process was, and Jo made me realise how many games don’t get the green light, even if a company spends time on developing the first game-play for the green light meeting.
I also didn’t realise that holidays couldn’t be taken during the Alpha, Beta and Master stages; I can see why, but the thought of the stress is a little intimidating, however I can’t wait till I can be a part of a team during crunch time, as the reward when it is finished must be fantastic!

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