FogBugz World Tour: Followup
Joel Spolsky just posted his writeup from Seattle. Joel talked about the three different phases of software development in Vancouver as well.
He calls these three phases Design, Develoment, and Design. Joel is very adamant that his three phases are NOT the Waterfall Method. Frankly, the Waterfall Method is a strawman argument. It has been pitted against whatever method is in vogue at the current time.
Game developers have been using a three-phase model for a while now with different names. In the game development industry, we use the labels Pre-Production, Production, and the ShitStorm Crunch Before Shipping.
The size of the team during Pre-Production has usually been much smaller than the size of the team during Production. In the past, Pre-Production has been all about figuring out the main game mechanic and defining the look and feel of the game.
The development cost of games has increased 1o-fold when comparing the cost of PS2/XBox games and the cost of PS3/XBox360 games. The revenue from these games, at least early in the consoles’ lifetimes, has not increased 10-fold.
Games that cost millions of dollars to make 5 years ago are taking tens of millions of dollars to make now.
The smarter studios have adapted by having longer Pre-Production times with small, smart, tight-knit teams. The definition of Pre-Production has expanded to the point where there is one playable single-player and one playable multi-player level. After this point, you can throw a million monkeys on the project and finish the other 8-32 levels that will make up the full game.
During the Shitstorm phase, most of the artists and designers ramp off of the project. The more technical and senior artists stay on during this phase. The publisher throws a million monkeys at the project in terms of Quality Insurance and the programmers crunch to squeeze out the last of the bugs. If the game is being developed or published by a smaller studio there is an Open Beta and you are the monkey. The smaller studios just can’t afford to hire large QA departments.
Note that there are producers that still stay on the project and make sure that South Koreans and the Portuguese and the Spanish and the Dutch and the Germans and the French and the Brits and the Aussies can enjoy the game in their native language.
This is the view from a smaller studio. If the studio is larger than 200 people than the development of the game is generally shorter. You’re favourite football, soccer, basketball, hockey game is probably made in a studio that has a headcount close to one thousand. Pre-production is usually 2 months long, production is 8-9 months long, and bugs are squeezed out in a month or two. The mass of developers may shift from project to project as projects shift to the Production phase.
These studios must launch by opening day of whatever sport they are developing for. Due to the risky nature of the schedule, they need to be less risky with the feature set that they implement.
My personal experience is with games that have much longer development cycles.
Next time, I will talk about the EA STL specification and how game development is fundamentally different from other types of software development. I will also talk about how general software developers can benefit from some practices that game developers utilize.
_and down the waterfall wherever it may take me I know that life wont break me when I come to call she wont forsake me Im loving angels instead _