Prior to joining Filament Games as an Associate Producer, I had produced on teams creating games for the mobile, virtual reality, and desktop computer platforms. A main takeaway I had from these experiences is that game development is inherently chaotic. Every day comes with its own challenges to face and unique problems to be solved, with each solution being dependent on the project. However, my time at Filament has exposed me to steps and practices to manage this chaos with confidence.
Today, I’d like to share a few of the more impactful development strategies I’ve learned while at Filament Games:
Use Learning Objectives as a Guiding Light
One of the first things that came to my attention was the studio-wide focus on learning objectives. As an educational games studio, this should make a large amount of innate sense, but what surprised me was how useful and ingrained these objectives can be as a project management tool. Having a clearly defined set of learning objectives provides a backbone for an entire project, from formation to launch.
At project formulation, learning objectives help to inform contract parameters by either defining them directly or stating the intended outcomes through game mechanics. Throughout the project, various development tasks are weighed against these learning objectives to determine their priority. They inform discussions around the value of each task, and how it all connects to a bigger picture. As a result, Filament is able to use the learning objectives as a beacon that guides teams through a foggy bay and safely into the sea.
Build Quality Assurance Into the Entire Process
Second was the emphasis on ensuring the quality of our projects, and consequently we place a lot of value in the Quality Assurance (QA) department. QA is akin to a guard at the city gates – they notify the team and account manager when unexpected events appear. Placing QA in this position forces the studio to think about the quality of each aspect of the game from a technical stability standpoint.
Teams are not just focused on getting a piece of the project to work, but also strive to make it stable in order to achieve that sweet, sweet “Pass” status on an Assessment. This is coupled with the goal to inject QA into every step of a project, from single sprint Assessments to the more thorough Phase Release Candidates.
This embedded approach to QA puts defects and stories side by side, to be prioritized on the same workboard. As a result, sprint planning becomes a multifaceted endeavor that gives teams the agency to prioritize work in a single workflow. With both defects and features being weighed against each other and learning objectives, Filament ensures the quality and dense learning potency of every project.
Adopt a Mindset of Continuous Review
Lastly, to reinforce and validate quality, Filament Games goes the extra step to have a continuous review approach. The goal of these reviews is to have the development team, the Filament Studio at large, and end users routinely analyze and play the game. This analysis goes beyond the technical components, and delves into the design and approach the team used to meet the project goals. Does the game function properly? Are the aesthetics up to par? How does a mechanic interact with the underlying systems? Etc.
These can be separated into analysis reviews and play reviews. For analysis reviews, there are typically development team reviews and studio reviews. The former is a chance for the team to sit down and look at the game together, to find anything they might want to change. The latter invites key individuals from the studio to sit down and have the team walk them through the game. Both review types take an analytical view to the game in order to identify any discrepancies in design, art, or engineering.
Play reviews, on the other hand, aim to look at the game through the lens of a player. Filament has two types of play reviews: game playing time (GPT) and user tests. A GPT refers to a studio-wide invitation to play the latest version of a game, and then provide feedback to the development team. Typically, a GPT will have a focus area that they want feedback on, such as: new player experience, UX design, or the balance around a specific feature. User tests, on the other hand, are when Filament takes the game to the intended target audience to have them play. This gives insights into how the game holds up with the intended users, and sheds light on how the user will interact with the game.
With all three of these processes combined, every project produced by Filament is subject to a vigorous quality check process. This gives us multiple chances to check that a game is a playful experience that improves people’s lives, in a sustainable and consistent way.
While it’s impossible to entirely mitigate the chaos native to a complex process such as game development, keeping these cornerstones in mind at every step throughout a project’s life cycle allows us to quickly identify and pivot away from many pitfalls. Clearly defined learning objectives provide a guide post to reference prioritization. A quality assurance focus regularly puts the game through the grinder for peak performance. And the continuous review exposes the game to a multitude of people, each with different perspectives and providing critical feedback. All that being said, there are tons of ways to create efficiency and quality in a game development process, and these are just a few. Do you have any game or software development insights of your own to share? Sound off on Facebook and Twitter!