Favro forGame Development
The game industry is more massive than ever, with revenues surpassing the global music industry and global movie box office combined. In 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated this trend. With the resulting rise in video game popularity, along with a 67% drop in global movie box office, the game industry has now solidified its dominance. It’s now clear that gaming is the future of entertainment.
This success, coupled with the rise of live-service games driving ever-increasing player demand for more and more content, has created an extremely challenging environment for Game Producers and Production Directors. How can they possibly plan, organize, and manage huge multi-discipline teams with the expectations of never-ending releases, content drops, and live-ops events? Just as important, how can they meet these demands without constant crunch and team burnout?
While we don’t have all the answers or even all of the questions, thanks to our experience with game studios worldwide, we can call out and address what we consider to be the top five challenges.
With the slow but sure demise of phase-gate development, which allowed development teams to work in relative isolation for long periods of time before releasing anything to players, live-service game teams must be in constant sync with other teams and departments. Development, live-ops, data analytics, marketing, community management, publishing, etc. all need to collaborate in an always live, continuous-release environment. Not being aligned leads to wasted work, waiting times, and contributes to constant crunch.
Teams should have seamless access to each other’s work. Not only for transparency but also to quickly collaborate and remove the inevitable blockers. Making this cross-team collaborative planning work well requires both a culture and a tool that removes studio silos.
Producers must acknowledge that it takes more than a single team to deliver value to players. Ideally, from a tool perspective, this means having the same feature or asset progressing on multiple team workflows simultaneously, reducing confusion and promoting cross-team collaboration.
Art outsourcing and external development have long been a reality for core development teams. In the past, they were thought of as true externals, often with a specific external development manager acting as the interface between internal and external teams. Things are now moving too fast for this “throw-it-over-the-wall” mindset. Producers and Production Directors need to bring external development - including art, localization, engineering, and even design - closer to internal teams in order to keep up.
External teams should be allowed to work real-time in tandem with internal teams, more like an extension of the core studio rather than a black box with unnecessary delays caused by batched hand-offs.
Top performing teams, both publisher owned and venture capital backed live-service game teams with a hit on their hands, have to staff up fast. This increases the need for production to collaborate closely with recruitment and HR to quickly find, recruit, vet, and onboard top-tier talent.
Along with all of the other moving parts Producers need to deal with, it makes sense to have recruitment and onboarding in the same tool as production and development. After all, it should be an objective among others with equal time pressure. Production needs to quickly visualize game progress at all levels, while at the same time track both recruitment and onboarding progress of new team members.
Fast moving organizations in any industry are better served by transparency, and due to its player feedback-driven nature, game development even more so.
Both vertical and horizontal transparency are critical to success. Publishing and studio leadership must set clear, transparent goals with teams. Development teams need to be transparent with leadership on progress. All teams and departments should be transparent with each other to ensure a smooth flow of content and value (aka fun) to players. In turn, development should share game roadmaps with players, and players should have official channels - not just Reddit rants and forum posts - to provide honest, constructive feedback to developers.
Transparency between studio leadership and teams can be achieved with mission-based objectives that drive game development and prioritization of content deliverables.
It’s also important to communicate future development with players and receive feedback on upcoming features and content before it’s even released. This allows production to course correct and adopt a player first mindset.
Here’s a common scenario. Your studio has a centralized legacy tool like Jira for planning and production, even though it was originally a bug and task ticketing system. Production practices have evolved to more agile ways of working and teams have demanded more autonomy and flexibility in managing their own workflows. That leads to different teams selecting their own tools with preferable UX/UX such as Notion or Asana that don’t scale.
Mix in discipline-specific tools for art, QA, and other departments and you’re suddenly dealing with tool overload. Production has to deal with too many tools that don’t scale to teams of teams, causing individual islands of information and no overall game and studio alignment.
Minimize your production tools! Ideally, creating a single source of truth, making it easy to plan and track progress across multiple teams, multiple departments, and even the entire studio. Select a tool that can act as a collaboration hub for all teams. It should be a tool that facilitates autonomy and doesn’t have to be managed by a centralized IT department.
Your production platform should allow teams to visualize development progress in multiple ways without the need for multiple tools. It should be flexible enough to meet the range of needs from free-form game designers and artists to the more structured QA Engineers and external QA teams.
There’s never been a better time to be in the business of game development. The stars have aligned to accelerate the inevitable dominance of the interactive entertainment industry. While this makes the dream of striking gold with an early access indie or the recurring revenue, treasure trove of a hit live-service game more possible than ever, it has also increased the competition. The investment world has taken notice, with game industry-specific venture capital funds creating new studios at an ever-increasing rate, in turn vastly increasing the number of high-quality games on the market.
The booming games industry and the resulting competitive market, along with the demands of modern game business models place high expectations squarely on the shoulders of development teams. The more successful they are the more hurdles they face and the more stress they have to manage.
In 2021, now more than ever, it’s the job of Producers and Production Directors to meet these expectations and the resulting challenges, while creating a sustainable development environment for the teams creating the content. The ideals of collaborative planning combined with Favro’s studio-wide flexibility can help.