AAA Games are no joke. These are huge pieces of artistic medium that cost a pretty penny, and it leaves us wondering: what goes on behind-the-scenes, before the game hits our queue list?
When looking at AAA game production, you’re going to be doing so in three separate stages, known as “Conception,” “Production,” and “Post-Production.”
Whether you’re just throwing ideas at the wall with a fellow Design Director or being pitched an idea by a team, this is where AAA games start. Here, directors go over every aspect of the game, from how the story should work and its cast of characters to general gameplay mechanics and possible storylines for future DLCs. The concept of the game precedes the pitch, where you’re going to try and get some funding for your project. Pitching requires a guess-timation of how big the teams should be, a strong reason for why your DLCs will sell, and an understanding of the risks involved in the process both creatively and financially. You also brief the recipients of the pitch on what sort of tech you’re going to need to get the job done.
Once the pitch is approved, the game designers and developers usually get to work on a small prototype that tests the viability of the game and possible ideas for later down the road. Not every idea that’s tested will reach the final product, and that’s going to be extremely frustrating for many people for various departments.
The overall idea and theme for the game is pretty much cemented at this stage. Even though new ideas are going to be presented during this time, not all of them will see the green-light and integrate into the game. There’s a lot of work to do here for the game designers, who are responsible for the characters, lore, art, interactions, and pretty much everything else you see in a game. These assets are going to be put to work by the game developers, who are going to write the code to make everything work together fluently. They’ll handle the character movements, game world physics, and terrain design that the designers had in their heads.
Tons of projects go on all in the same building, with each team facing deadlines to keep on track for the release date. There’s no shortage of things that could bump back a game’s release date, and we’ve seen many projects die in this phase before even getting to the alpha stage.
Trailers that preview the gameplay mechanics and tease the initial release will be made and thrown around for hype to help the game sell better.
By this point your AAA game has already released, and now you’re going to be fixing whatever bugs were left over with patches and perhaps even DLCs. “Seasons” are a new trend we are seeing in gaming as of the past few years that periodically drop new content. The rate of the content is determined by whether it is a single- or multi-player game, the latter demanding regular updates to maintain audience interest.
The beta stage is the one part of post-production that can go either way. While the product is out and being sold, it’s not necessarily a finished product, and the developers are listening to customer feedback to determine what to fix and what to include. Things like DLCs and Seasons aren’t implemented until the beta is over.
AAA games require a “divide-and-conquer” strategy to help make the process successful. This makes these games crazy expensive. Many companies often spend five figures a month on each team to keep everything running smoothly, and even still, there’s always a chance that the project could tank. So much creativity is thrown around during the process, especially during the first stage, where you are trying to come up with solid mechanics and storylines. When these projects take close to a decade or longer, it only makes you respect the teams more.