How they make games.

Hi there,

I’m probably not the only around here working in the video game industry but I haven’t seen much thread talking about how big (and not so big) commercial games are made. So here it is and I hope it’ll help you with your personal projects.


First, you must have an idea and this idea doesn’t have to come by smashing your head against the wall. In most cases (95% +) in a game studio, the marketing doesn’t even have idea and only request a game to one of its team to fit with the present trend. They set a target release date considering when people buy this kind of game the most. The team have to deal with it.

On the other hand, some studios rely on the idea itself. They hire people who naturally have good ideas and know how to realize them. Then a sell pitch is made to whoever got the money and here we go.

Far behind we find small independant studio or developper. Some game, like Defcon, reached the top and has been done by a single man in his basement. When you’re an independant developper, you can either publish it yourself, ask a publisher, sell your idea or even get hired by a bigger studio. Make a quick search to find who really thought of the game Portal before Valve released it. In the good old days, Lord British packed his first game himself on floppy disks and paper boxes. Now with the internet, no need to say it’s pretty easy to publish yourself.


Since the idea is up to you or your team you must first decide what’s the main theme of the game. Forums and blender community will publish your game.


Once the basic idea or theme is on the table, most studio have a pre-production phase like in most media related industries. During this time, technology is chosen, tools are developed, prototypes are compiled and concept arts fly by as they get rejected by the Game Design or Art Director.

Note that absolutely no final art is done at this moment if any art (in-game graphic) is made at all.

Preproduction is almost finished and the whole concept is on paper, all levels are designed (on paper), characters, mechanics, interaction, controls, art direction, style, difficulty balancing, etc… Sometimes, a Fake Game Footage is done to visualize what the team aims for. It’s a simple CG animation simulating gameplay footage.


Since you’re all alone out there, you should always have a pre-production phase to share your ideas and receive feedback. Most people here are stuck in a pre-production phase since they have only thought of 5% of the whole game.


This is where it gets dirty. The game is finally made! Modelers and animators start working on the main character while programmers make sure it can move around properly. Controls are tweaked again and again. Sometimes the graphic assets is ready and wait for the mechanic that drives it, sometimes the mechanic uses placeholder awaiting for final graphic. Everything is tied up together and bugs come out. Some major bugs are fixed immediately but most remain until alpha, beta or debug phase.

Alpha Milestone

The Alpha milestone is the most important for the production team but rarely met on time. It requires all mechanics to be integrated and functional. No more feature development allowed post-alpha. This is what the game is. Graphics are still in early stage, no texture, no lighting, sometimes no animation. No sound or music, as long as we know that those things work in-game, we don’t need them everywhere to met the Alpha. The code is all there.

Beta Milestone

The game is usually final, all contents is integrated, graphic, audio, etc… The game can be completed without any cheat and no placeholder asset remains. The data is all there. It’s not rare to see Beta releases over the internet to get the games tested by actual users.


Production is when you can ask for help on forums. When you know what you want and what you need to fit within your mechanics. You can start coding and blocking but first, you must plan a minimum. No necessarily over time but over workload. You must ensure that you’ll have everything you need to complete each task. (I want my main character to move around an empty land = I need my character setup with my predefined controls and a basic model to work with.). You can plan over time too, just make sure to start with the big picture then narrow down to smaller features.


This is the fun part where the team has to fix everything they didnt fix before. Sometimes the bug is so deep that the whole feature has to be cut to make sure the game will release in time. It’s always sad for a level designer to see his awesome design get cut because of a bug in the switch mechanisms… So imagine that when you find a game really good, it would have been even better if the team had no pressure from the marketing to release for christmas.


The Debug phase is usually done by the guy who made the game and the problem is, you can’t find everything since your brain works in a way another brain can’t understand. You’ll perform actions while another would perform some others. Share your almost completed game for testing. If more games would get completed we could even ask for a Game Testing forum section that would work like a bug database for each project.

Well that’s it for now. If you guys have any questions about how it really work in a game studio just ask.

Hope this will help!


Thanks a lot for this, Djordhan. :slight_smile:

It’s far from common to see such an honest and succinct outline of the process of game making. I guess it’s pretty obvious when set out, but I for one didn’t fully understand the defining line between alpha and beta. Alpha seems a lot less and a lot more complete than I imagined, in different ways. I guess that alpha is all about getting the mechanics and scale of the game in place wheras beta is integration of assets.

Your quote about “concept arts flies by as they get rejected” strikes me especially since people involved in a libre (free as a bird) game project tend to get despondent and leave if their first concepts get rejected for whatever reason.

I hope you find the time and inspiration to give more “insider infrormation” to this young but maturing game dev community.

You’re right about Alpha/Beta stages. Alpha is like setting the rules of the game and Beta is more like creating data that let the player interact with these rules.

Alpha = Start from A, reach B, win!
Beta = Start from the Marine base, cross the jungle to the local airport, win!
Gold Master = Start from the Marine base, cross the jungle to the local airport without crashing the game, win!

This is really insightful. Perhaps maybe adding a percentage of time taken on each phase (eg Preproduction 15%) would help use understand how long we should spend on planning ect.

I assume you will follow up the poll results with another post?

Wow, this is a really cool article you’ve written up! I vote for a sticky. :yes:

I selected the jobs option for wanting more information. Knowing these might help users divide up tasks more effectively in a small team. Also, it’s a good thing for people to know. :wink:

Its great to see the process written down, Ive always wondered about alpha and beta stages and what they exactly mean. Also its great that you’ve explained the Blenderartists perspective on it as well, even detailing some of the benefits of working by yourself opposed to working in a company environment.

Now if only everyone followed this process…

Well thx for the interest! Yes my next post will consider the poll results but I plan to cover everything sooner or later.

Don’t forget to rate the thread :slight_smile: Little stars always help to get viewers hehe!

Nice article.

Nothing I didn’t know before, but others will surely find the information interesting/useful.

I’m going to let this run for a while so you can get people’s suggestions, then once you’ve made some revisions we can think about setting up a sticky.

Ok, that was a nice read, not quite how Catnip Games (I’m an indie) does it, but close enough.

How we make games:
We keep a wiki with all our game ideas, you never know when one will pop up, also a wiki enables us to tune the idea on paper before going to the first pre-production prototype.

A small “proof of concept” is made, just testing if the game logic is possible at all, this is usually done in Java or the BGE. The idea is to get at least one level or the gameplay down in an engine to see if it “works”. Art, code, everything at this stage is still up for grabs, we use lots of “stand in” graphics (or just colors) to get an idea of what works or what doesn’t. It is up to individiduals to “pitch” their game, that is why it usually gets secretly tested out on campus, or with friends or specific newsgroups to see what could be improved on. This pre-production demo is also often used to unearth good ideas that might be lurking in the concept.

We pick one of the games out of pre-production if it has been proven “addictive”. We don’t hide this fact, we want people to enjoy the games we make, and addictivness is in the company motto for that reason.
This is the phase where we contact third parties to make music, art and code for us. Our development startegy being that at the end of the project everybody gets a part of the pie respective of how many hours they have put in. This involves trust rather than contractual obligations and we are open with all the people who participate at all times. If somebody thinks they’re being mistreated they’re free to leave, we’re here to make and have fun, not to count beans.

Usually our game engines are very robust from the start. Debugging happens a lot during production as we use tools and people able to compile their art directly into our engine(s). Getting fast results on screen is paramount to the process: redoing half the artwork because it’s the wrong shade when placed next to the background can upset the artist (me) quite a bit so we try to avoid that :slight_smile:
This is also the phase when all contracts are finalised, we often need everything in writing involving assets at this time, so it’s a lot of contract waivers and other stuff being signed and put down in writing.

You forgot this part, it’s one critical thing when making a game commercially to know where you’re going to sell it. Our current engine is made to work on XBOX360 and windowsPC, but we keep an eye open for other platfrorms. Getting to know the publishing world, and platform restrictions, you want to build on before making the game can help, because it will not only restrict your game to some hardware, there are also some expectations and mandatory things you have to put in the game to make sure it will pass quality control.

I will elaborate later on, now I need to go back to pixel pushing with nodes.

Well every game company have it’s own production rules. They are all similar in some ways and in others are not. I’m also working in a (big)game company, but personally I like Tom Sloper guidelinesabout how the games are made. And I think his lectures are may be the best way to understand what the game industry is.

hmm, can I vote for all options!!!

A detailed section on how to go about publishing a game (with a company or on your own) would be awesome :cool:
Maybe even a little about advertising strategies?