Game Development Reference
The problem is that these structures were developed to solve prob-
lems that are different from ours. Often, there are assumptions embedded
within them that hold true in their original field, but not in games.
Take the concepts of preproduction, production, and postproduction.
These terms were borrowed from film. They developed in that medium
because film production necessarily revolves around a short period of
extremely expensive live-action shooting. It can cost thousands of dol-
lars per minute to run a film set, so filmmakers have learned to arrange
their entire process around squeezing that costly production period into a
few weeks. For them, splitting their process into three parts makes sense
because there is an unmistakable start and end to the production period.
Everything about their process is about minimizing that middle piece, so
they don't have to pay a hundred gaffers, grips, and caterers for an hour
longer than necessary.
The same does not apply in games. In games, often, a studio will go
from preproduction to production. . .and nothing will change. Nobody is
hired or laid off, no significant resources move around, and the same old
meetings keep running at the same times every week. Nothing changes
because there is no massively expensive middle piece to game develop-
ment. So when we say preproduction, production, and postproduction,
what do we really mean? Filmmakers know what they mean. In their
medium, it's unmistakable. In ours, these words means very little without
You might say that it's just a word. It helps people communicate—
what's the problem? The problem is that these words carry assumptions
hidden within them. For example, they assume that the product must be
scripted or planned in some way before production starts. They assume
that a script written before production can survive all the way to the end.
They assume that we have to hire different people at different stages. We
know that these facts are true in film. But are they true in game design?
They may be—but they may not be. These embedded assumptions need to
be pulled into the light and questioned. And if the word carries more wrong
assumptions than right ones, maybe we should stop using it altogether.
Borrowed words and concepts proliferate because the processes com-
monly used in game development were never designed. They became
norms by the accretion of habit over decades. The first games were au-
thored by one person. Games today can be made by hundreds. During the
transition from one to the other, games teams got bigger and bigger, and
processes got more and more complex. Every time the team grew, whoever
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