Something to think about, Video Games

How Long Does It Take To Develop a Video Game?

Asking how long it takes to develop a game is pretty much the same as asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’. We know that it is a cliche, but there is no definitive answer to this question. Game development depends on the type of game being produced and the development teams included.

AAA Games

If you’re not familiar with this term, I wrote an entire article explaining AAA games. In short, these are your big budget games. The ones that cost millions and millions in development, and the games that marketing experts are going to do their hardest to convince you to buy. Think along the lines of Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto V etc.

In most cases, these big budget games will take anywhere from three to five years to develop. This takes the company from the initial design stage all the way through to the game going ‘gold’ and hopefully making a bit of cash for them. Some games may take a bit longer (Cyberpunk 2077 development took roughly 8 years), but I reckon that most of the games that you have played probably sat in this time frame.

As you probably know, there are some games that release once per year. Call of Duty is the main one here, but sport games come out yearly too. These games do not take a year to develop, though. Well, at least not Call of Duty.

With the big yearly franchises, there are multiple studios working on different releases of the game. So, one will release their game one year, and the other studio will release their game the next. This means that these games are working on two-year development cycles. Although, since most of the assets and gameplay mechanics are already there from previous game releases, development is a bit speedier.

Sports games can be developed in a year without cycling between studios. This is because the studios only make minor updates to the gameplay each year.

Remember; AAA publishers want to make sure that game development is as quick as possible. The longer things take, the less money that they make. Most publishers probably budget for a 3-5-year development except in extreme circumstances. They need the game released in that time frame or they are going to make a loss.

Mobile Games

Most mobile games are quite simplistic. Even the ones that make a ton of cash (Candy Crush, The Simpsons Tapped Out) are still simple games. This means development probably took no longer than a couple of months.

There are some bigger budget mobile games that probably have the same sort of development speed as AAA games, but these are so rare that you will probably not encounter them. Since companies worked out that they can pump out a game in a matter of months and still potentially make millions, most don’t bother to go for the bigger budget mobile games now.

Indie Games

Indie games are a lot more unpredictable in terms of development time. This is because many of the indie games that you see developed are made as a part-time job. There are no full-time developers working on them. They are also working with limited staff.

Many indie games are nothing more than passion projects. Obviously, there are a few exceptions to this rule, but these exceptions are becoming rarer as more and more people are starting to dabble in game development.

Indie games could take anywhere from a few months to years and years to be fully developed. It all depends on the scope of the game.

What Impacts The Speed of Game Development?

You have probably heard of games that take a little bit longer than these times. Some examples are pretty famous. So, why did they take so long?

Duke Nukem Forever is probably the most famous example. That took a whopping 14-years to complete (and no, it wasn’t worth the wait!). This was all down to lack of funding for the game, staff leaving the project, the license being tossed from company to company, and all round being a terrible game at every stage of development. Lack of funding is probably the main reason why games take so long.

Elder Scrolls: Morrowind had a 6-year development cycle (that was know of). This may not seem long by today’s standards, but back then it was a massive amount of time. This is due to the depth of the world that Bethesda created – quests, combat, everything. Pretty much nothing of this scope had been attempted before, and they had to get it ‘just right’.

If you see open-world games nowadays (Cyberpunk 2077 probably the big one at the time of writing), then you can expect years and years of development. It takes a ton of skill to craft an open-world. 

Finally, there may also be development issues. Sometimes the scope of a game is completely changed. The game may not work on a creative level and nobody wants to abandon the project.

Team Fortress 2 is probably the example you have heard of. This spent 9 whopping years in development. This is because the game changed…a lot. Same with the original Borderlands, although the development was quicker there. Both of these games would have looked completely different at the start of development compared to when they released.

Conclusion

No matter how long the game development takes, remember it’s a complicated process. Seriously complicated. In AAA games, hundreds of people may be working to deliver the final product and they have to make everything come together to create something brilliant. Honestly, it is a wonder many games have a short development cycle.


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