How Long Does It Take to Make a Video Game?

By Billy Kirk

Updated September 22, 2017

Items you will need

  • Producers

  • Designers

  • Artists

  • Programmers

  • Level designers

  • Sound Engineers

  • Voice actors

  • Testers, beta and otherwise

  • Appropriate budget

Video game design is a large project that takes a lot of time, money and labor. Whether an independent game is being developed or a large studio-produced effort, there are plenty of skill sets required for game design and a large number of people involved. From start to finish, game design is an involved process.

Game development is a multi-part process that takes lots of time. First, a general game design is hatched, either by a single developer (in the case of an independent game) or more often by an established studio made up of multiple developers. Once this general idea is hatched, design documents are created and when there are large studios involved, a pitch is made to the managing body of the developer’s studio. If the idea is approved, pre-production officially begins.

During pre-production, the approved design documents are taken to a publisher if the publisher is separate from the developer. (For instance, Electronic Arts, that makes games like Madden football, acts as both a developer and publisher.) Rough art sketches and early game demos are created and given to the publisher. If all goes well and the pitch is successful, the publisher funds the game title, and game creation starts.

Production ramps up once all of the staff are in place. This includes the sound team, sprite and polygon artists (2D and 3D artists), source code programmers and testers. Testing of the game begins and increases until the game is deemed "gold", or ready to ship. Production is the longest stage. The game world is created first, then levels are added.

Games are complex, and it can take months or years for games to be ready to be shipped for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, or other gaming systems. Lots of overtime is needed in the final stages. Eventually, main production begins to wrap up and testing goes into full swing.

Once production ends, the game is fully tested and all known bugs are eliminated (sometimes by young game players who sign up to test the game as a beta, or prototype, version), the game "goes gold" and is shipped to stores. Development time ranges from months to years depending on whether the game is an independent production, is in 2D, or is a full-fledged studio release that incorporates 3D polygons and other advanced effects. Game type, such as sports or roll-playing games (RPG) also affects development time, and some adventures or RPGs have been known to be under development for five to ten years.