We explore how video game development works, looking at the various stages, as well as the skills you’ll need to get started.
The video games industry is massive, spanning different formats, technologies, and genres. Estimates suggest that the global market size was valued at around $151 billion in 2019, and it’s forecast to grow by about 12.9% over the coming years. But how do you make a video game?
We explore the game development process, looking at the skills you’ll need to make your own video game. We’ve also picked out some courses and resources that can help you on your way to becoming a game developer.
What is game development?
Let’s start by looking at a definition of game development. It’s a fairly broad term that can mean slightly different things depending on the circumstances, game studio, and individual. However, game development is essentially the process of designing, creating, and releasing a video game.
The process of game development can have many different stages, including generating concepts, designing characters and environments, building worlds and mechanics, testing features and releasing a finished game.
The scope of game development can vary greatly. For example, an indie developer may be a small team of people (or even a single individual), while a games studio may employ hundreds of professionals across different specialisations.
Timescales can also vary significantly between projects – a AAA studio game can often take years to plan, design, build, and release, sometimes costing many millions of dollars. Indie games can be built for much less and in a much shorter time.
Of course, making a video game is about creating something fun, and huge budgets and multi-year development cycles don’t guarantee success. In fact, the best-selling video game of all time, Minecraft, was initially built in six days by one person.
What does a video game developer do?
As you might expect, the role of a video game developer varies significantly depending on the type of game they’re working on and their area of expertise. As we explore in our open step on a day in the life of a video game developer, on an average day, a games developer may be responsible for a vast range of tasks.
The overall goal of a game developer is to bring an idea to life, from the conceptual stage to the release and often beyond. However, the exact tasks will often depend on your area of expertise. In our open step on the job roles in the game development industry, we outline some of the responsibilities:
This role focuses on devising the structure of a game, including its mechanics, systems and gameplay.
Those who work on coding for video games will build the specifications outlined by the designers, as well as creating tasks for other developers.
Whether a game uses 2D or 3D art, it requires talented artists to make models and textures, as well as user interfaces.
Game animators take the art produced by artists and add structure and depth to them, determining how they move within the game and interact with environments.
Game writers work on scripts for voice actors as well as on-screen text and other narrative elements.
Music and sound effects can often make or break a game. Those working in this area create and implement audio elements to games.
Producers will usually project manage the development process, ensuring everything is running to budget and schedule.
Quality assurance teams test the game to identify any bugs that need fixing before a game launches.
To make sure a game can launch on various distribution platforms, product managers ensure that everything is up to standard.
Part of a successful game development process is getting the finished product in the hands of gamers, which often requires marketing efforts.
Why create your own video game?
If you’re an aspiring video game creator, it’s unlikely that you’ll have access to your own team or have the backing of a publisher. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own video game from scratch. Before we get to the ins and outs of the process, let’s first look at why you might want to get started in the first place:
To develop your skills
As you may have already guessed, you’ll need a variety of different skills to create a video game. Although you might start out by creating a text-based adventure game in Python, you may have aspirations to code a more complex game with mechanics, graphics, and sound.
Creating your own game can help you learn some valuable new skills. Whether it’s learning how to use game development engines such as Unreal or Unity, mastering character design, or simply completing a project, this challenge can help you grow.
To be creative
Many avid gamers will dream of their ideal video game. While you might not be able to build it from scratch yourself, you can certainly use your game creation efforts to test out ideas and be creative.
As a medium, video games give you unprecedented freedom to develop your ideas and create something entirely unique.
To build a portfolio
If you have aspirations of working in the video game industry, creating your own game can help to demonstrate your skills, competencies, and interest in the field.
By building your own projects, you can show that you have an understanding of the game development process, as well as the skills and dedication required to see your vision become a reality.
Find out more about starting your career in the video game industry with our online course from BGI and the National Videogame Museum.
How to make a video game: step-by-step
We’d love to give you a detailed breakdown of how to build your ideal game here, but sadly, there are just too many variables. The exact process depends on the type of game you’re going to make, the scope of the project, your resources, and the amount of time you have.
However, we can give some general guidance on the kinds of things you should be doing, thanks to our open step on making indie games. These steps of the game development life cycle can help you understand some of the challenges you must address when making a game:
Develop a concept
First things first – you’ll need to come up with a basic premise for your game. Think about the type of genre you want it to fall into, what platform people will play it on, and what sort of mechanics it will feature.
If you’re entirely new to the process, then a course on an introduction to game programming could come in useful here, giving you some of the essentials of how the process works. It’s a good idea to start small with your first game, keeping your scope and mechanics simple.
Work on your design
The next step in making a video game is to start fleshing out your design. Here, you can think about what you want it to look like, as well as the skills and resources you need to achieve that goal.
With our course on video game character design and development, you can explore what makes a great game character and how you can create your own.
Choose an engine
Depending on the scale of your game and your programming skills, you’ll likely want to use specialist software to create your video game. The current choice among indie developers is Unity, an engine that newcomers can use for free. However, there are plenty of others to choose from depending on your ambitions.
Game engines like Unity can help you find elements such as pre-made character models and environments, as well as a host of tools that can help bring your ideas to life.
Design a prototype
This early stage is where you will try to build test scenarios and systems that can help you see how gameplay might work. The aim here is to figure out if the player’s main actions and decisions in the game are fun over a significant period of time.
You might want to add some art and animation into some small elements of your prototype to see if it matches your expectations and vision. Our course on creating expressive video games will help you learn the artistry and technique needed to create brilliant games.
Refine your ideas
Once you’re happy with your prototypes, you can start focusing on the main production of your game. At this stage, you’ll create and test the different features that will make up your game.
When your game is in production, you’ll create the levels, narrative, audio, and mechanics. Whether you focus on perfecting one element at a time or creating a first rough draft is entirely up to you.
Test your game
At the end of your production, you should have a playable ‘alpha’ version of your game. This is essentially a first iteration of your project that you can start testing and refining. Alpha projects will often change significantly, especially if there are elements that don’t quite work or look right, or significant bugs.
The aim is to eventually get to a ‘beta’ version of your game, which is when it’s at the stage for external testing and feedback. Again, at this stage, you can still make refinements and improvements to your game.
If your aim is to distribute your game to others (rather than have it as a project for yourself), you might want to consider how to market it. Ideally, you want to foster a community of players that are enthusiastic about your game.
In reality, you can start this process fairly early on in the game development process. You can use social platforms such as Discord and Reddit to reach people who might be interested in your game and even offer them the chance to play early builds of your title.
Once you’re happy with your game, you can even think about launching it on the appropriate platform. Of course, you’ll then have to think about fixing any new bugs that are found, as well as potentially adding more content.
Getting started with game development
If the process of making video games professionally sounds appealing, but you aren’t sure where to start, we’ve got some tips and info to help you get started. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the skills that can be useful for a career in the games industry:
You’ll need an array of hard and soft skills to work as a professional games developer. Some of the most important ones include:
- Programming knowledge. Your level of expertise will depend on the type of role you’re aiming for. Having an understanding of the principles of programming, as well as languages such as Java and C++, can help.
- Design skills. Those looking to be hands-on with the creative side of things will need to have 2D and 3D design skills.
- Creativity. Video games are a creative medium, and you need to be able to think creatively to develop your ideas and concepts, as well as solve problems.
- Communication. Game development is rarely a solo venture. You’ll often have to collaborate with others to make your vision become a reality, making communication and teamwork skills essential.
Although they’re not essential, industry-recognised qualifications can be a good way of moving into the games industry in general.
Of course, the exact qualifications you might consider will depend on the jobs you want to apply for. For example, a computer science qualification could be a useful place to start for more technical roles.
Ultimately, experience is one of the most valuable assets when it comes to finding a job in game development. If you can prove that you can make your own video game or have a detailed understanding of how games are made, you’re likely to stand out from the crowd.
You don’t even need to have full games to showcase. You could create a portfolio of prototypes, concept art, game mods or other game assets to demonstrate your skills and understanding.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how to make a video game. By knowing the basic stages of game development, you can start planning your own projects in this fascinating industry.
By starting small, you can gradually build your skills and knowledge, helping your ideas find form. If you’re focused on a career as a game developer, these early projects can be the basis of your portfolio when applying for jobs.