How Are Video Games Made? [Exact Process]

Updated on March 27, 2024
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From pre-production to post-production, video games are made by large teams with different roles.

How Are Video Games Made? [Exact Process]

How Video Games Are Made: A Quick Overview

Before we start, here is a quick summary of all the steps in video game development:

  1. Pre-Production
    1. GDD
    2. Prototyping
  2. Production
    1. First Playable
    2. Vertical Slice
    3. Pre-Alpha
    4. Beta
    5. Gold Standard
  3. Post Production
    1. Technical Support
    2. DLCs

What is Pre-Production in Video Game Development?

Before the graphic designers, coders, and the large dev team start crafting the full-fledged game, the groundwork must be established. This phase is where a game idea is laid out and conceptualized, the most important questions are asked, and a blueprint for creating the game is established.

At this stage, there won't be more than a handful of game developers working on the project. This small team typically includes maybe one or two producers, programmers, and often a concept artist.

Of course, for designers of the best indie games, it often begins as a lone-wolf passion, as was the case with Notch and Minecraft, which is explored in great detail in the famous 2Playerproductions documentary that tells about the history of Minecraft.

Game Design Documents (GDD): The Blueprints & Prototyping

This is where a video game begins in earnest. Established during pre-production, this document is the blueprint, the bible, and the all-inclusive instruction manual for the rest of the game development process. The game designers will use this as a reference point in every instance moving forward.

To be an effective GDD, the Game Design Document must include an outline of every aspect of the video game project:

  • The general concept of the game
  • Gameplay and key game mechanics
  • The story, if the game has one
  • The genre
  • Overall levels and game design
  • Art direction and style
  • Monetization and market audience

Although the game development process needs to have the Game Design Document established early on, the GDD is not set in stone. Throughout the game development process, the GDD will be updated and amended as new decisions are made, game development software is tested, and any technical or financial restraints become apparent.

Every game developer is different; many larger game developers and companies such as EA, Ubisoft, Microsoft, Mojang, and Sony need constant documentation of their processes so they can manage budgets, and learn from game production to help develop games in the future.

Smaller studios, and of course any lone-wolf game developers in the indie scene, may choose to update their Game Design Document less frequently, as they will require less documentation of the process.

Along with providing the framework for game development, a Game Design Document helps keep a project within budget and on time. It is also extremely useful if a developer needs to seek external funding or project approval for financing, as it is a clear project plan that can be shown to potential investors to get them on board, before actually creating the video game.


This is where every skill set listed above is put to use. With the game approved, financing acquired, and a plan in place, full-scale production can begin.

Depending on the size of the game, the main production stage of the game can take anywhere between 1 and 4 years, although many larger games have been known to take much longer, like GTA 6.

In this stage, the full team assembles and everything is created from the ground up and put into place. The story is written and refined, the textures, assets, levels, engine, and game programming are created, developed, and completed within this time frame.

Throughout the production role, each team will be focusing on their own craft, and here it is the project managers that make sure all the departments communicate, stay up-to-date, and complete their sections with every other game element in mind.

Each project manager makes certain that whenever an issue is encountered and changes have to be made, they are done so in keeping with all the other teams working on the game.

What Are The Different Stages of Production?

Although all video games are different in their game development process, there are generally six or seven important production milestones that the project manager will be looking to hit at certain times during game development.

The first stage is, of course, the prototype stage, which although is technically in the pre-production phase, is an important milestone, with essentially the first, very basic iteration of the game.

First Playable

Building upon the prototype, this stage is where the game development team has produced a cohesive, playable game. The project is nowhere near done, but in the first playable, a number of placeholder assets will have been replaced with high-quality versions, and some artwork would've been added.

This is where the project manager makes decisions about where to take the game going forward and can see exactly what the finished project might end up looking like.

Vertical Slice

The vertical slice is a small snippet of the full, final game. This is where the game development team takes a small slice of the full game, often a specific level or mission, and polishes it to completion.

This gives a glimpse of what the full final game will look like, and is often used to show to investors and studio executives.


This is the largest production phase and is where the majority of game development takes place.

While creating assets, artwork, scripts, animations, and everything else needed, the project managers will need to make big decisions, often deciding what content to add or cut along the road.


Upon hitting the "alpha" milestone, the game is completely playable and is "feature complete", meaning all features, mechanics, and game controls are finished.

There may still be some issues, and it is common to have other assets such as textures, artwork, and sound to be incomplete, but the game is now playable from start to finish.

While the rest of the game development team continues to add all the artwork, textures, and other unfinished assets, QA testers will be playing through the game to test the game world, and report any bugs and errors they may encounter.


Very similar to the alpha milestone, by the time teams reach the beta phase, games should have all their assets, from game functions and features to artwork and sound design, completely integrated.

The Beta phase is essentially a testing phase, where the main aim is to repeatedly run through the game and find and fix any bugs, errors, or issues that may be present. This phase is all about optimization.

Gold Master

Affectionally named the "gold master", this is just a fancy name for the finished game. Everything has been checked, the game is completed, and the studio is ready for it to be released to the public.

Post Production: What Next?

The post-production phase, although often overlooked by the public, can be as important as the main production of the game. The first game a studio makes is unlikely to be perfect, and the best way to improve and survive as a video game studio is to learn from your past games.

As (hopefully) sales are pouring in, reviews are raving, and everything is going well, studios and development teams will often hold debriefs or "post-mortems" to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the project.

After the release is, of course, the best time to identify all the potential problems or standout achievements of a game, as the public player base serves as one big test group. From reviews and community feedback, a studio can quickly work out what customers will want to see and not see in their next big title.


Increasingly an important aspect of a game's life span, the modern gaming audience has come to expect constant updates and new content, along with the standard bug fixes. While most games will have a small team dedicated to fixing any issues with the game in the initial month or so of release, triple-A studios have come to dedicate more. 

Games like GTA V and Rainbow Six Siege have thrived massively off regular new content releases, bringing in new missions, maps, game mechanics, and operators.

Sometimes released for free, and other content released as buyable DLC, most big-budget games now also allocate teams to produce new content, and will often release the game with a clear roadmap of new content either planned or even announced to the public.

All in all, from the smallest indie game to the best single player PlayStation games, every game follows a long and difficult process, with often hundreds of people dedicating time, energy, and passion to create the games we love to play.