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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Launching Live Service Games

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The gaming industry continues to grow as more creators release their games. But how does this process work? Don’t panic! The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Launching Live Service Games will take you through how to ship a live game from start to finish, simplifying the process for game developers so all you’ll need to do is bring a towel and strap in for the ride. 

What is the purpose of this guide?

There are tons of game development-centric books on the market, but when it comes to shipping live games, these books lack information in two major areas: the general production process and the world of online gaming.

Who is this guide for?

Major game companies like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft have the game development process down to a tee, but this information is unavailable to the general public. Indie game developers, all the way through AAA game developers, are left to their own devices. Since no definitive manuals are available, this guide aims to teach how the process works.

Creators interested in building and shipping a live game will find value in this guide. Additionally, anybody who has yet to enter the game industry but is interested in doing so can use this guide to better understand the game development process. Whether you are a developer creating a game for the first time or just someone who wants to learn more about game production, this guide is for anyone interested in expanding their knowledge on how to ship games. 

Game development process: What does this guide cover?

This comprehensive step-by-step guide provides a little more than the answer 42. It’s dedicated to providing teams with the necessary information on creating an online game from start to finish. From conception to launch, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Launching Live Service Games will allow teams to learn the basics and take them through the video game production process by breaking down the cycle into five phases.

The guide will provide teams with the basic suggested framework for producing and launching a video game. Our phases are not definitive. We understand that each company may work at their own pace and choose to loop back to previous phases. This guide is meant to help you understand the general live game development process from start to finish. 

Phase 1: Concept and Prototyping

The first phase focuses on the game's initial concept. Here, you will determine the basic idea of the game and what it consists of. This means answering all the questions surrounding the core idea and better understanding your characters, storylines, settings, themes, gameplay, and more. Before you start building, it is essential to answer questions such as:

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the purpose of the game?
  • Why do people want to play it?
  • How long will this process take?

After the initial concept has been developed, the prototyping stage enables you and your team to build a preliminary version of the game to assess its marketability. If the team determines a demand for such a product, attention can then turn to obtaining seed funding to finance the game's production.

With seed funding in place, the game concept agreed upon, and sufficient information gathered from the prototyping stage, your team can proceed to phase two: pre-production.

Phase 2: Pre-Production and Vertical Slice

The pre-production phase can be the most prolonged phase during game development. Pre-production is precisely what it sounds like—preparing for production. This section focuses on finalizing the game's foundation, determining what needs to be done, and delegating these responsibilities among the teams. 

A vertical slice in game development is a representation of a finished feature or gaming experience in a game that is still under development. It is a brief, standalone segment of a game designed to preview how the overall experience will look. It enables the design team to evaluate the gameplay mechanics and gather input from interested parties like focus groups, publishers, and investors. Based on the information received from the vertical slice, developers can make informed decisions about the scope of production. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What platforms and tools need to be used?
  • How will we measure the quality of the games?
  • Do we plan to do everything ourselves? Or do we want to use a third-party company?
  • What features and gameplay mechanics should be included in the vertical slice?
  • How much time and resources should be allocated to creating a vertical slice?
  • How can we ensure that the vertical slice accurately represents the overall gameplay experience?

Once the big questions are answered, you and your team will have a better understanding of what the final outcome will look like. Decisions made during pre-production give the team a more definitive idea of the end product. After there is a team consensus, pre-production transitions over to the production phase.

Phase 3: Production

During the production stage, efforts and resources are dedicated to creating the end product. 

Game design often evolves continuously during the production process. The production phase involves coding, asset creation, level design, playtesting, and bug fixing. The primary goal of production is to create the game as planned in the pre-production phase, test it, refine it, and prepare it for release. However, it is not uncommon for developers to run into hurdles that shift the original scope of the project. Once production is in effect, there may be a constant battle between creating and descoping the plan as development progresses. The production process may test one’s ability to adapt and adjust now that the pieces are falling further into place. 

During the production phase, key areas covered in the guide will include testing and playtesting, user-generated content, game telemetry, analytics, and more. 

Phase 4: Road to Launch

Production is complete, and it is nearly time to release the product. Now what? Phase four is the pre-launch stage and covers what needs to be done as you prepare to publish your game to your audience.

​​Numerous live games have faced failure during their launch phase. The success of a live game hinges on several factors, such as the quality of the game at its initial release, the development team's capacity to provide consistent updates and support, and the player community's willingness to persevere through the game's ebbs and flows.

One way to mitigate the risk of failure during the launch phase is by offering alpha and beta testing or early access to players, which can help identify and fix issues before the official release. Incorporating these testing phases into your pre-launch stage can help ensure the quality of the game at launch and boost player community trust in the game's long-term potential.

To prevent you from failing near the finish line, our guide will help you with your road to launch by focusing on topics such as load testing, console certifications, security, and more.

Phase 5: Live

Although your game may be live and complete, the work continues. The final phase focuses on ensuring that the game stays operational and relevant. This can include fixing bugs, following up with players, and tracking your customer base. 

Once your game is live, it is important to continually work on the product to ensure it performs to standard. To ensure your game continues to excel during the post-launch phase, the guide will cover further information on areas such as how to track the lifetime value of players, how to respond to incidents, why you should avoid releasing content via title update, and more. It is important to continually improve your game post-launch since user segmentation and optimizing player spending can be leveraged to analyze player behavior and preferences, fine-tune the monetization strategy, and enhance the overall player experience for increased engagement and loyalty.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Launching Live Service Games aims to offer valuable insights and best practices to help game developers overcome the complexities of the game development process and create engaging and successful games. 

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