Favro forGame Development
The global games market continues to dominate the entertainment industry. Revenues are projected to hit a record-breaking $203.1 billion in 2022. This represents a 5.4% worldwide increase over last year’s previous record of $192.7 billion. All regions are experiencing year-over-year revenue growth, with the US ($50.5 billion) and China ($50.2 billion) continuing to lead the insatiable appetite for games.
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 tooling 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.
The ability to track across multiple teams and functions from a unified backlog is essential to gauge overall release readiness for all your features and assets.
Although many dependencies can be solved with prioritization and cross-functional teams, when dealing with so many moving parts, some dependencies are inevitable. Producers and Directors need to visually call out those dependencies and have the ability to resolve them through cross-team communication.
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.
Team members want to see how their work is connected to the game’s vision. Producers need to plan work out into the future. Studio leadership and publishing have to strategize around what initiatives to focus on next and how to maximize future player impact. All of these needs can be satisfied with mapping: user story maps, player journey maps, game roadmaps, and studio strategic roadmaps.
All levels of game development and delivery must be able to visualize their work. User-story maps and player journey maps achieve this for the development teams trying to see how individual features and even tasks tie back to the game’s vision.
Producers and Directors need to plan releases out into the future with visual feature roadmaps, including the ability to toggle on and off supporting data on the fly.
At the studio leadership level, it’s important to be able to visualize and plan scenarios of strategic initiatives out into the future, driving the business of game development and providing clear direction to the teams.
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.
Publishing organizations also need to maintain clear synchronization at a very high level across multiple studios. A publishing portfolio dashboard can provide an at-a-glance overview across all studios with the ability to drill down into the details if necessary.
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.
Producers always need to answer the question: How much capacity does the team have in an upcoming sprint or release? How much can we fit into the next upcoming sprint or release?
Pure agile teams can answer these questions with velocity and flow-based throughput metrics. However, due to the complexity of large-scale game development and the sheer number of different disciplines involved, it’s often necessary to do more traditional capacity planning. Producers need to drill down and make sure they have enough man-hour capacity of each discipline-specific team member based on the scope and nature of the work. This can be achieved with the right capacity and utilization tool, tracking capacity per person, per discipline, per team and within any timbox.
At the start of a new game production or when doing release planning, producers are also challenged with determining if the overall team has the right discipline specific capacities to fit the planned scope of features and content. A bespoke scenario planning tool, with the ability to sandbox different situations on the fly is the answer.
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 2023, 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. Check out this full demo to learn how running your game studio in Favro can make all the difference.