What is the perfect Game Development Cycle?
Written by: TaheRookie - 20:08 Jan-01-2019

Hello my fellow GD’ers! It’s finally 2019 and I hope it brings a lot more joy to you than 2018 did. So, this being the first day of the new year, I thought I'd write another blog just to commemorate it. Actually… I just wanted to write. Hah.

Anyway, I recently read a blog about Half-Life 3 and how the hype has died down. I wholeheartedly agreed to that piece to be honest. Now what is the single biggest reason for its slide in popularity? One could say that there are so many awesome games releasing lately that the void of Half-Lie has been filled. Well, kind of anyway. But no, that’s not really it. What really ‘killed’ it is Valve’s absurdly long development cycle.

The first game released in 1998. Half-Life 2 in 2004 and its two immediate sequels - Episode 1 and Episode 2, released in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Nothing since. Let’s not even get into the whole Episode 3 saga… Many games came and went (Left 4 Dead and Portal to name a few) but Half-Life was still on the shelf. Reports say that the game did go into development but never, to this day, made it out. Or it did. I don’t think we’ll ever know because Gabe Newell just doesn’t want to talk about it. Too busy counting all that Steam money.

But technically, since we never got a confirmation, HL3 is still ‘in-development’… for 11(+) years… Bravo.

This got me thinking though. What is the perfect game development life cycle? But first let me show you, to the best of my knowledge, the different stages of a game’s development before it comes to life.

  • Planning would include meetings to decide what game to make next or, in case of a sequel, what direction to take. Coming up with the setting, the story, the characters etc would be the goal here.
  • Pre-production generally means hiring the required writers, directors, artists etc and assigning them to their respective tasks. Basically getting everything in place before you begin the real tasks.
  • Production is where the game is really taking a form. This is also where the most amount of time generally goes whilst a game is being made. Recording of the dialogues, the music; rendering the environment, the levels etc is what this stage entails.
  • Post-production is also a very important stage. This decade specifically, I think, is where developers started to emphasize and give real importance in the post-production of a game. Basically the game is playable (Alpha stage) and is being put through the ringers to identify the bugs, glitches etc. Once the developer is confident that the game can be shown publicly, they release it to a section of the general audience to get the first feedback (Beta sage). It’s very crucial and is actually becoming more and more common in recent times. Off the top of my head, the biggest developer that really makes full use of the Beta is DICE/EA. The feedback really helps them iron out the bugs, make balancing adjustments and even remove certain elements altogether if they don’t fit in. Safe to say post-productions play a major role in a game’s success, especially during its initial release. When a game is relatively bug-free and well-optimized at launch, it leaves a lasting impression. The word-of-mouth alone will ensure its longevity and success.
  • Going Gold. The game is finally 100% complete and its source code is sent out to the printing or to be downloaded, whichever the gamer chooses.

So with that out of the way, I would like to put out a few examples.

 

Rockstar North / Grand Theft Auto franchise:

[Only focusing on the main entries]

1997 - GTA

1999 - GTA 2

2002 - GTA: Vice City

2004 - GTA: San Andreas

2008 - GTA IV

2013 - GTA V

As you can tell, Rockstar likes to take their time. With a development cycle of around 4 to 5 years, they have mastered the timing of their releases. Chances are however, that the next entrant in the GTA franchise – Grand Theft Auto VI – might take the biggest time-off yet. RDR2 released only a couple of months ago and surely all of the resources at Rockstar are behind Red Dead Online. And after tasting ridiculous success of GTA Online, they are sure to give this game’s multiplayer component the same attention. Attention = Time. My guess is that we won’t see GTA VI until at least 2021. But with RDR Online out, people aren’t going to want to go back to GTA for some time anyway and that’s where Rockstar wins. They’ve got two hot properties that really fills the void of the other. But make no mistake, whatever year it might be, when GTA VI eventually releases, records will shatter.

 

Ubisoft Montreal / Assassin’s Creed franchise:

2007 – Assassin’s Creed

2009 – Assassins Creed II

2010 – Assassins Creed Brotherhood

2011 – Assassins Creed Revelations

2012 – Assassins Creed III

2013 – Assassins Creed IV – Black Flag

2014 – Assassins Creed Unity & Assassins Creed Rogue

2015 – Assassins Creed Syndicate

2017 – Assassins Creed Origins

2018 – Assassins Creed Odyssey

Assassins Creed was something special. Born from the ashes of Prince of Persia, this game really took off with Assassins Creed II. Gamers fell in love with Ezio Auditore da Firenze and the beautiful Renaissance-era setting. Such was Ezio’s charm that Ubisoft spawned three games with him as the titular character. No other character, apart from Altair, has gotten so much attention from the developer and gamers alike. The IP was red-hot and Ubisoft would not let this chance slide. They released game after game, each with a new character and new setting. Even with so much on offer however, a rather unusual feeling started to creep in. Every new game started to feel…. like the last one. Just when it seemed like Ubisoft had peaked with the AC franchise, they came out with Black Flag. What a game that was! Those naval battles were a thing to behold. Edward Kenway was a fun protagonist but it was the setting that really made this game stand out. That pirate theme was ridiculously fun to play around in. So much so that it produced a pretty similar game in Rogue the following year. But it was Unity that really dented this franchise. It became clear that Ubisoft had given up on innovation and was in it primarily for the moolah.

Finally accepting that they had hit a rough patch, Ubisoft decided to take a step back. For the first time in a nearly 7 years, there was a year without an Assassins Creed game. That was 2016. Ubisoft Montreal finally got some breathing room to assess their actions. They would barely get 2 years of development time for their annual AC games and it showed in their games. But with a whole year off, they used that extra time to really broaden their scope and ambition with AC: Origins. A massive open world game and the fan-favorite setting of ancient Egypt, Ubisoft were back on top. Just goes to show you how valuable an extra year can be in this industry. That bi-annual pattern did not continue, however, as Ubisoft released AC: Odyssey the very next year. Personally, I don’t feel like getting it at the moment. Origins is still fresh and Odyssey really does look like an Origins expansion to me. I think I am in the minority here as I see a lot of people really enjoyed this game. But there you go.

 

Activision / Call of Duty franchise:

2003 – Call of Duty

2005 – Call of Duty 2

2006 – Call of Duty 3

.

.

2018 – Call of Duty Black Ops IV

Forgive me for not completing the list but you get the point. Barring the two years between the first and the second iterations, there has not been a single year since then that has been without a CoD game. That’s 14 straight tears, and counting. An astonishing feat of game development. And it’s still earning an enormous sum of money with each release. How is it possible though..? Well, it pays to have three studios who each take turns to release their version of the game. It all started with Infinity Ward. Then Treyarch got in on the fun. Each took alternative turns. Infinity Ward with their Modern Warfare story-line and Treyarch with Black Ops. But then Infinity Ward started showing cracks of unrest from within. So much so that Activision brought in Sledgehammer Games to help Infinity Ward finish MW3. It looked like Activision was impressed by Sledgehammer’s work. They became the third unit. This trinity has since then released their own takes of the CoD formula. They’ve already completed two cycles. Treyarch came out recently with the BO4. They took a risk though. A CoD game with no single-player. It’s still a little weird I suppose. But gamers responded. It was a smashing success once again. Next up is Infinity Ward and so on and so forth..

So how do they do it? It’s hard to explain. This is the one gaming property that completely flips the tables. Here I am trying to prove to you that releasing a game (of the same property) year after year will diminish its appeal and start affecting the publisher both critically and financially. And then there’s Call of Duty who after 14 years of releasing the same property year after year, are not only raking the same insane amount of money that they are used to but are somehow able maintain their quality as well. I mean have you seem the numbers on Black Ops IV? Fuckin mind-boggling I tell you.

So what is it about them? You guessed it. When Activision added Sledgehammer Games to the mix, it gave the other two developers a whole extra year to prep their games. And we know how crucial a year can be. As it stands, they each get 3 years of developmental time to plan, produce and release the game. And Activision is reaping the benefits. A win-win for everybody involved. Still, I ask you. Do you really love CoD so much that you buy it every year? Actually, are they really that different from one another that makes the purchase justified? I’m not a CoD player so I don’t really understand. If you’re a die-hard gamer of this franchise then do answer. I’m curious.

 

Naughty Dog / Uncharted franchise:

2007 – Uncharted

2009 – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

2011 – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

2016 – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

A developer with a golden reputation, Naughty Dog is widely regarded as one of the greatest creators in this industry. There is also a section that feels disheartened as Naughty Dog is Sony-exclusive. But that’s the price you have to pay if you went with Xbox….. :P Cheap jokes aside, there’s rarely a gamer out there that would find any faults with Naughty Dog’s approach. They have a strict 2.5 - 3 year developmental cycle that they are really comfortable with. And they, just like Rockstar, have manufactured two outstanding IPs with which they take turns to show their creativity. Uncharted and The Last of Us are as different from one another as Rockstar’s entries are. In the end, that’s what keeps the… staleness away. Every release of ND makes you instantly excited. With The Last of Us Part II as their next game, Naughty Dog are right on schedule. If their track record holds, expect TLoU II to release in Q3 of 2019. But with Sony’s PS5 incoming, they very could push Naughty Dog’ schedule as well. Can you imagine The Last of Us Part II helping PlayStation 5 usher into a new era though? Yeah, same here. So don’t be surprised if this gets pushed to early 2020 alongside the PS5. Bottom-line is gamers will throng the stores for this game. 2019 or 2020 be damned.

 

Bethesda Game Studios/ The Elder Scrolls franchise:

1994 – The Elder Scrolls: Arena

1996 – The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall

2002 – The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind

200 6– The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

2011 – The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

Another massive IP. The Elder Scrolls really defined the RPG genre like no other. A franchise that really took you on an adventure with every game. I can tell you that I have spent close to a thousand hours in those last three games combined. Truly huge in every sense of the word. And how much time did this sprawling world take to create? Nearly 4 years. Upon closer inspection you will find that in between those years, Bethesda was also churning out Fallout games. But Bethesda always have a portion of their team that’s constantly working on TES so it’s not one and done with Bethesda. At least I hope not. Anyhow, Skyrim released in 2011 and we now entered 2019. It’s been close to 8 years now. The longest we’ve been without an Elder Scrolls game. And if you were following E8 2018, you know it’s still years away.

For one, Todd Howard hinted that they still don’t have the right technology to create the next TES. But most importantly, and to directly contradict my point from earlier, he also said that the team isn’t working on TES at the moment. Instead, they are working on a brand new IP – Starfield. An RPG set in space. And in all honesty, I’m pumped for it! This situation is just like the one with CDPR. They decided to make something new after The Witcher 3. Enter Cyberpunk 2077. And you just know in your heart it’s going to be great. I have the same feeling for this futuristic RPG from Bethesda. I just hope they stick to single-player though. That’s my only concern. Anyway, Starfield doesn’t have a release date yet. Reports state they are looking at the next-gen consoles to arrive before releasing it. So let’s say… 2020. The optimistic outlook would be to arrive alongside, or at least the same year, as the next-gen consoles. So lock that down. The reason why Starefield is so important here is because Bethesda has been vehemently clear that TES VI will come only AFTER Starfield. And do I think they release a new ground-breaking TES game only a year after Starfield…? Nah. I’d give a minimum of two years. So yes, The Elder Scrolls VI will release in 2022. And when that happens my fellow GD’ers, it will have been more than a decade. I’m feeling old already. Wait… but there goes my average development cycle for TES right out the window. Hmm.

 

CD Projekt RED / The Witcher franchise:

2007 – The Witcher

2011 – The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings

2015 – The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

These guys are exceptional at what they do. They aren’t owned by a big publisher so there’s not a huge cash resource waiting for them if they need it. No, they have to do things with a bit more care if I may say so. And these guys can get things done. Boy o boy…. There aren’t a whole lot of studios out there who command so much respect from its community like CDPR do. And they earned that admiration through and through. Now looking at their track record, it’s pretty clear. 4 years between every Witcher game. That’s what it takes to make these gems. And they hear a pip from me if they can keep churning out hits like those… but The Witcher is done. They have their eyes set on Cyberpunk 2077. A brand new IP for this developer. It’s a big deal for them and they have to get this right. Now, if this was Witcher and if they were to stick to their regular schedule, we’d have TW4 this year. I still think the same applies to Cyberpunk 2077. Let’s not forget that they’ve working on this before TW3 even released. So in theory, they’ve been into development with this game far longer than they’ve been with any other. They even opened a new studio (in Wroclaw) to hire more staff to assist them with this game. That’s a good sign because they’re not just relying on their reputation to pull them through. They are giving it there all. So now, we have seen quite a lot from the game with extended gameplay videos but the question remains, when will it release? I want it to be this year.. but both Sony and Microsoft might entice them to release on their new platforms. Which means a delay to 2020. Which will then make it a 5 year development cycle (counting after TW3’s release). Their longest cycle yet. But would you be mad at them though? For a game of that size, I wouldn’t mind at all.

 

So now… I think I may have wandered off topic for a bit. Hah! But yes, my main question to you would be, and it’s pretty difficult to put it in a sentence but here goes:

  • How long should developers wait before releasing a new game / sequel? Or rather
  • How often would YOU purchase a new game of the same franchise? Or maybe
  • What is the right development life cycle for a game?

The first and the last question share the same essence but I hope you understand what I’m trying to say. So that was it. I hope this was a little informative for you wonderful folks. Won’t lie… this took a lot longer than imagined but it’s so much fun to speculate. And that’s what this is. The game development life cycles stated above are my best interpretation from the data available. Don’t take it all at face value.

Again, I hope you all have a joyous 2019 and by off-chance if you liked this blog then do let me know and I’ll gladly write more such pieces in the future :P Until then, TR is out!

How often would buy a new game of the same franchise?

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01:19 Jan-06-2019

I read it like i was discussing with a friend, you basically summed up the situation of big boys there :) nice article thumbs up!

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05:58 Jan-08-2019

Thanks buddy! Glad you enjoyed :)

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19:22 Jan-02-2019

First you got Call of duty wrong, it's developed by 3x studios for 3x years per game since Advanced warfare. Before that by 2x studios. Infinity Ward were the original, then Treyarch came with CoD3(before that expansion stand-alone for CoD 2) and with advanced warfare Sledgehammer started making CoD games.


So until 2014 CoD was developed for 2x years, since 2014 every cod is developed for 3x years.


Also assassin's creed rogue was developed by Ubisoft Sofia in my crappy country Bulgaria: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassin%27s_Creed_Rogue

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19:25 Jan-02-2019

I personally want a new game of the same franchise yearly or every two years depending on how much I like the franchise and its games, AS long as the quality(and content) remains the same or gets better. If they can NOT release yearly with the same quality then they should, by all means, take their time.


Doesn't mean a game should take one year to develop, they can be developed in parallel like with CoD, Assassin's Creed, Soul/Borne games and many others.

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19:25 Jan-02-2019

Also oblivion was released in 2006...

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19:27 Jan-02-2019

Also Also GTA San Andreas was made by Rockstar North as well, Chinatown Wars, Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories were Co-Developed by Rockstar North as well.


Only GTA Advance was not developed in any means by Rockstar North, but by Digital Eclipse.


GTA The Ballad of Gay Tony is entirely by Rockstar North as well.


So from GTA Sand Andreas until The Ballad of Gay Tony in 2009 Rockstar North have either fully developed or co-developed GTA games for every year, not just the main titles.

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06:53 Jan-03-2019

I'm pretty sure that's what I wrote. I specifically mentioned Sledgehammer first assisted IW during MW3 and then started doing their own thing with Advanced Warfare. I even underlined the fact that they each take 3 years to make their respective games. Anyway, the question then with CoD isn't if they get enough development time but rather - There's a CoD every single year. Why do you keep buying it? How different is this year's BO4 different than last year's WWII? Does it justify a purchase every year? The numbers already answer my question. But I'm curious as to what it is about this franchise that makes people come back to it.


Apologies for the Oblivion release date error.


Damn. Never realized I didn't include San Andreas... Anyway, the point I was trying to make it that Rockstar takes it's own sweet time releasing the main GTA games. I didn't include DLCs because, again, I only wanted to shed light on the full-length games.


Anyhow, I got the answer from you nonetheless. You would buy a game (of the same franchise) every year or every bi-annual year if it they didn't sacrifice on the quality. Gotcha!

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06:58 Jan-03-2019

And you're right about Sofia leading the development on Rogue. But Montreal also contributed to its development (along with it's other sister studios).


Why is Bulgaria crappy?

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09:05 Jan-03-2019

People like cod due to the core gameplay that has seen huge improvements every cod cycle since 2007 and even within cycles there have been improvements. Adding recoil mechanics, smoothing out the movement, adding many movement mechanics, many modifiers, features, game modes and more, but that's the thing, multiplayer quality has risen, but and it's a big but, the content has been a third of what it used to be, and since MW3 they lowered the single player campaign budget, which to me had higher priority to multiplayer and they added those microtransactions and now there isn't a campaign, not that I'm surprised after how bad BO3's campaign was.


That's why I haven't gotten a cod game for full price since MW3, I rate each of the games' content for 20$, campaign, multiplayer, survival.

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09:11 Jan-03-2019

For example since the campaigns have been bad since and including BO2, CoD for me starts at 40$, if the survival is zombies, then I drop another 20$, if not then great, I loved spec ops missions, mw3 and ghosts survival, zombies not so much.
So for treyarch games since and including bo2 I haven't played more than 20$. Now infinite warfare actually had good campaign, but I got that for 15$, pleasent surprise that I didn't expect.
Now since BO4 has no campaign, since I don't like zombies I will be getting it at 20 euro, which soon enough the multiplayer only version of the game will be, since they were "kind" enough to allow you to buy the multiplayer separate from the zombies.

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09:14 Jan-03-2019

So yeah, when they go back to great campaigns and make them epic, long and with replay value as they are not limited by 7th gen Consoles anymore, soon not even by 8th, tons of initial and free content in the multiplayer, challenge missions and survival that is not zombies I think that I'd even pay more than 60$ if I have to for such a game, especially if the campaign is really awesome.

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16:52 Jan-03-2019

I see. Thanks for that! That's some good insight since I myself am not a CoD player. Btw, didn't Activision already confirm that none of their CoDs from this point will include a campaign? I'm sure I read it during the aftermath of the game's launch. I have a hard time believing that... if the rumors of this year's CoD being Modern Warfare 4 are true then there's absolutely no way in hell they release that game without a campaign. Do you remember the reveal trailer for MW2? With Eminem's 'Till I Collapse' soundtrack? I still rate that as one of the best reveal trailers for any games. And my god were those some amazing campaigns..

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14:59 Jan-02-2019

Nice article.

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07:00 Jan-02-2019

but y listed time betwen the games not a time of theyr devlopment, and i would preffer game relase every year but with multiple studios so that they can have longer time too develop game and still not miss a yearly release like ubisoft do with ac

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08:14 Jan-02-2019

You mean what Activision does; using IW, Treyarch and Sledgehammer to release CoD every year. That's true. As for Ubsioft... things are a bit blurry there. They have numerous studios around the world that help in making the AC games but at top of them all is Ubisoft Montreal. They head every development and I think that's what caused things to get stagnant there. But anyhow, reports say that there isn't going to be a AC game this year so that's a good thing.

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16:16 Jan-02-2019

we will see after all odyssey droped out from nowhere so they may pull out something like that

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06:30 Jan-02-2019

I like this article !

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08:15 Jan-02-2019

Thank you :)

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