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Design & Style

How Video Game Development Works: 8 Key Roles Explained

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jun 10, 2020 • 4 min read

Game development is as much about programming the player’s brain as it is about programming the game itself. From developing a triple-A (AAA) title for Nintendo to creating an indie game with a small team, there are many elements of development that must work in tandem to produce a successful game.



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8 Key Roles in Video Game Development

Depending on the scope of the game, a development team can feature dozens of role-players or consist of a sole person. Here are the key roles in video game production:

  1. Concept artist: A concept artist sketches the initial look and tone of the video game, creating a visual representation of the idea for the art department in the early stages of development.
  2. Producer: A video game producer handles the business and marketing side of game development, including budget management.
  3. Project manager: A project manager oversees all the developmental processes, ensures milestones are hit, serves as the liaison between the design team members and the executives, and anticipates any potential problems or risks they may encounter.
  4. Game programmers: Game programming involves writing the code for the game, building the game engine, and producing playable versions for prototyping and eventual release. They implement the game mechanics, create the user interface, add music and graphics, while developing necessary algorithms that help the game run smoothly.
  5. Game designer: Video game designers develop the storyline, characters, dialogue, as well as all the rules of the game. Designers determine the difficulty of gameplay, as well as the type of obstacles the player will encounter.
  6. Game artists: Animators, 3D artists, and FX artists are all responsible for developing the look and feel of the in-game assets. Sound designers and audio engineers are also integral to the process, as they will create all the noises heard in-game, from the opening theme to the sound effects of the menu.
  7. Level designer: A level designer creates the levels and missions in a video game. Level designers draw inspiration from the concept art and the game design document (GDD), to create a believable environment, establish the boundaries of the game, and maintain a style consistent with the game’s objectives. Level design is where the physical limitations of the world are established.
  8. Quality assurance (QA): The quality assurance team tests a game over the course of its development. Quality assurance testers, also known as video game testers, will play through a title multiple times, making detailed reports of any bugs or crashes they experience. Quality control tests ensure that gamers will not encounter any glitches or issues which may negatively affect their playing experience.

What Is the Development Process for Video Games?

The development process for the video game industry is similar to the process that the film industry utilizes—both have pre-production, production, and post-production phases:

  • Pre-production: The pre-production process is where all the major aspects of a video game are decided upon like target audience, budget, if the game is single-player or multiplayer, and the length of time it will take to produce a game. A video game concept artist will join the development team to create early visuals for the characters or environment, while the producer will keep track of logistics. The team will need to create a game design document (GDD), which is a brief for the entire project that outlines all the major details like game mechanics, genre, worldbuilding, story, and marketing strategy. Your GDD should answer any questions a potential audience might have about the game, from high-level concept down to the minutiae of aesthetic choices in visual and audio design. This document is continually updated as new developments or ideas are added (or removed) from the initial concept, and can be used to pitch potential investors. After establishing the basics of the game, developers will create a game prototype to test the idea’s viability and user experience. A prototype is a rough but playable version of a game created early in the design process. Prototyping gives developers a chance to see if their game idea is as fun or engaging as they conceptualized, and it can reveal missing pieces or present challenges that may need to be addressed.
  • Production: The production stage begins after a game makes it past prototyping. The production process is the longest phase of development and can last for several years. The production phase is where all the game features and assets—characters, game world, objects—are defined. During this phase, game developers begin to mold the game into its true shape, and the story is refined as more levels are built, with constant testing to ensure each element works as it needs to.
  • Post-production: The post-production phase of video game development is more of a maintenance phase than a polishing one. After the game ships, additional downloadable content (DLC) may need development or routine bug testing. After enough changes have been made, developers will release the bundle of improvements as a patch that can alter the game script, updating it to a better version.
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