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Release Planning for Modern Game Development with Favro

Release Early and Often for Fast Feedback and Better Games

Game developers are fully aware that the business of games has changed. Games-as-a-Service (GaaS), episodic and always online have already proven that it’s possible to reduce both the risk and cost of game development, while, at the same time, maximizing the value delivered to players.

Unfortunately, many producers and development managers are stuck. They’re stuck in old ways of thinking that are at odds with today’s new business models. A perfect and potentially painful example is release and scope management. Rare is the IP that can justify a 200+ person development team, working for two-plus years on a single huge title that may or may not even recoup development costs, let alone make a profit. Things are moving too fast. Player expectations have changed.

Instead of working for years before releasing any playable experience to the player, that same team (or smaller) needs to be thinking differently: designing, planning, developing, and releasing value much sooner and more often. This enables studios to reduce their risk, earn cumulative revenue early on, and respond much faster and proactively to player feedback.

graph describing fast feedback gain from incremental releases
Start with an MVG (Minimum Viable Game) and release additional content incrementally for fast player feedback and cumulative value deliver

Because of this, now more than ever, it’s time to move away from old-school single release and discipline-specific man hours based capacity/scope management. But move to what? And how should it be done? The following details the new practices that facilitate the new game business reality, and how to apply them in Favro. It’s probably easier than your current process and will yield far better results.

Backlog Vision to Initial Release Plan

The backlog is still your best tool for building the game's overall vision, starting with large themes, breaking them down to epics, and eventually, when they’re ready to be developed, to granular stories that can be committed to teams and finished in short iterations. Favro allows you to create as many backlogs as you need for a title: feature backlog, art asset backlog, maybe even a community feedback backlog.

Game Development Dashboard
Game Development Dashboard
Game Development Dashboard with Art Kanban Board Expanded
Game Development Dashboard with Art Kanban Board Expanded

The backlog only needs to be broken down to the epic level to start thinking about logical releases. The first release is obviously crucial and needs to be at least a minimum viable product (MVP). In traditional game development, this would be your first playable. Of course, this needs to be a much more elaborate first playable: a full quality, full feature, but limited scope and content experience. Each subsequent release would contain another full dose of the larger game until the full game vision has been delivered. The recent reboot of Hitman and Hitman 2 are perfect examples of this release mentality.

It has been widely acknowledged by Io-Interactive’s Game Director, Christian Elverdam, that the paradigm shift to episodic releases has enabled the studio to gather feedback more quickly and drive player engagement with the title over a much longer lifecycle.

In Favro, these releases are mapped out on a release board. Each epic is dragged to the appropriate release column, where it can be automatically tagged with the corresponding release tag. Even if an epic has been broken down into stories, it’s not necessary to commit the stories themselves to the release board. Favro’s relations will handle that for you. Also, all Favro boards can be switched on the fly from Kanban view to Sheets view to Timeline view, giving you three different views of the same cards.

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Release Plan Board in Kanban View
Release Plan Board in Sheets View
Release Plan Board in Sheets View
Release Plan Board in Timeline View
Release Plan Board in Timeline View

Scoping Releases in Real-time

Will it fit? First off, change that way of thinking. Instead, think what is the playable experience we want to deliver. It needs to be just good enough to get players hooked and want more. These aren’t milestones, where you’re getting a portion of the game to an Alpha level of quality, to be finished at some typically much later date. They’re actual releases. The way agile intended them to be: final, polished, shippable software!

You most likely aren’t going to release after every development iteration, but start thinking as if you are. This will establish real, evolving velocities, which can be used to dynamically plan releases. Your first release plan might be a best guess, maybe based on historical team velocities, but that living plan will get more accurate and predictable from iteration to iteration, from release to release. The most important thing is not when you release but what you release.

A combination of Favro’s board estimate aggregation and reports will help you determine team velocity, which can be used to adjust the release plan in real-time.

In the below example, the point estimates for all of the stories in the “Ready for release” column represent your velocity.

Feature Team Board with Estimate Aggregation
Feature Team Board with Estimate Aggregation

If you have multiple teams, a Favro report can be created, showing the aggregation of “Ready for release” points across multiple team iteration boards.

Report Showing Multiple Team Release Velocity
Report Showing Multiple Team Release Velocity

Modern Release Planning for the Modern Game Industry

Whether teams are working in Scrum, Kanban or a hybrid, Favro will support them with customizable boards and velocity/throughput will be clear based on everything that makes it to “Ready for release” within a certain time period. Release dates may have to change or epics moved from one release to the next, but you’ll be making informed decisions based on actual performance-driven, evolving capacities (velocity), instead of a false sense of security derived from an almost instantly out-dated, man-hour based capacity plan.

Ultimately, development teams, marketing, and studio leadership will be better aligned with the game industry’s new business realities. By having both mindset and practices synched to releasing early and often, studios will be reducing risk, earning cumulative revenue for their efforts much sooner, and better pleasing their players with dramatically faster feedback loops.

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