Iterative Game Development

I’ve been pondering a little bit over this subject over the past while. How can game development be more iterative?

I figure the usual path for game development seems to go something like the following:

  1. Come up with a cool idea for a game (including a solid game mechanic, and a solid design document)
  2. Create some initial art assets, concept art
    • Create early prototype, if desired (or if time/resources allow)
  3. Pitch idea to people who have money (using art from step 2), unless you already have someone backing the project
  4. Spend a year or two developing the game
    1. Programmers use art assets to get basic game up and running
    2. Artists use build of game to see how art assets look in game, and continue to refine existing assets or produce more assets
    3. Programmers continue to add in functionality
    4. Repeat
  5. Final polish and bug fixing
  6. Game is handed off to publisher
  7. Profit???

The problem with this approach is that it can be difficult to get a feel for how well the gameplay mechanic actually works, until close to the very end of the process. This means that you could have sunk a year or more of work into a project that doesn’t really turn out to be that much fun. This could partially explain why there isn’t a whole lot of innovation by the larger studios – they don’t want to try something experimental because they can’t afford to sink that much time/money into a concept that might not turn out. If you rely on a tried, tested, and true game design it really reduces the risk of the overall product being a turd.

So, this really makes me wonder, how can a more iterative approach be used in the gamd development process? I’ve got a few ideas for smaller developers, but I’m quite curious to hear what you have to say.

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