For any GameDev – or indeed any business – it is important to get the foundations right. The right legal advice on your Intellectual Property, the right expertise to help build your assets, and the right platform to develop on.
But what are the foundations of making good video games?
The Operating System
All of your software will be developed on an Operating System, this may seem obvious but choosing a stable OS that you don’t need to replace every year or two is a big cost-saver and releases a lot of time for your IT Department to focus on other things.
As a Red Hat Business Partner, we would of course recommend Red Hat Enterprise Linux – with a 10 year lifecycle you can deploy a system and keep it for a decade. It is unmatched on the length of support and is fundamental to developers in leading organisations.
However, while competitors can’t match Red Hat Enterprise Linux they also have LTS – Long Term Support – releases that are well worth a look. This is the case for all Operating System vendors (both free and non-free) that serve businesses.
Having support is important but so is stability. Without a stable operating system your creatives (and we count developers as creatives) will find their day-to-day wrecked with IT issues, both on End User Devices (e.g. laptops, workstations, mobiles) as well as on your Infrastructure (a Unity Build Server, for example).
Evaluating the stability of a system is difficult without purchasing it, which is why we first recommend Enterprise Open Source solutions because you can test them to destruction before committing to a purchase.
Virtualise what you can
There are significant financial and environmental benefits for virtualising systems, but alongside this – it is awfully convenient. Regardless of the size of your studio it is well-worth looking at a Build Server (we recommend Unity for this) because it allows your team to be more mobile and get work out there faster.
Virtualisation also saves organisations a good deal of money because you can invest in a single tailor-made system that lasts a long time rather than buying a plethora of equipment with a three-year lifecycle attached.
It is often the case that budgetary constraints mean you can only refresh equipment when new projects come in, but this often hurts productivity at the tail-end of your most recent project. Having a Build Server on a five-year lease is much cheaper than buying one outright and is much better for the environment as it uses fewer materials.
Consider how much it costs to set up a team of five designers with workstations sufficiently capable of supporting your operation, compared to a single set of Build Servers that can run 24/7 allowing more intensive computing to be completed overnight or on weekends?
Virtual systems also enhance collaboration by letting teams work on the same thing concurrently (think Red Hat Openshift, or GoogleDocs). This is nothing to sniff at, a lot of our clients depend heavily on Citrix virtualised apps because it keeps their builds lighter and helps to control licensing as well.
Perhaps the most controversial part of this article will be this: your engine is just a tool, and it boils down to personal preference on what you use.
Everybody will say that their technology is the best technology, and indeed it may be well-suited to their needs, but without interrogating what you actually need you may come across challenges where the engine does not hit the mark.
Many developers we speak with seem to be under the impression that the Unreal Engine is ‘the best’ but also the hardest to use, others may say that the CryEngine is more feature-rich, we personally prefer Unity Engine (but once again it is what we know and love). For Indies making 2-D games the Godot engine can also prove faithful.
If you have the skillset why not make your own engine or add to one currently in use with bespoke tools? Many successful studios build bespoke engines with a long-term view of their pipeline, and while it can be a major investment in cash terms for some, the ROI (Return On Investment) is where the real money’s at.
Having iterative development processes and making the most of DevOps allows developers to make more, faster and with greater stability. An engine which supports this methodology saves your studio money in the long term.
Iterating reduces the stress of larger projects by identifying tasks that can be completed in a set period of time – which also improves accountability within the team and to investors. It helps avoid ‘crunch’ time near a release as well, which improves retention – yet another cost-saver.
Nothing personal, just business
Getting the foundations right is a complex task, more so for creatives where personal expression can help or hinder elements of a project. Stakeholder management is central to ensuring your studio looks hard at the tools it has, and how it wants to use them.
Getting the foundations right helps your studio be more successful: having the most stable operating system available, virtualising what you can to make the OS even lighter, and looking hard at what engine you really need to deliver that project.