When bringing a game from idea to retail shelf, there are numerous stages to the process: ideation, creation/development, proof of concept/playtesting, fine-tuning, sometimes back to playtesting, and finally manufacturing, safety testing and shipping. Each of these stages is important and much like a relay race, there is that moment in time when two team members have their hand on the baton (it’s really a magical Kumbaya moment) but when it is time for one team member to let the baton go and let the next member take over – IT IS TIME TO LET THE BATON GO! This analogy is the old adage “pencils down,” remember back to your school days and taking standardized tests, when the teacher said “time’s up, pencils down” there was no going back, you put your No.2 pencil down, that was it and it should be the same with bringing a game into the world.
It is tough putting a deadline on creativity but that’s exactly what you must do if you are in the business of making games. Even if you are a hobbyist, you still need deadlines though they may have a little more flex to them but if you are a company whose business and livelihood depend on bringing new games to market every year, you need solid deadlines for each stage of the process. GPI advises you to work the calendar backward, starting with when do your games need to be delivered to the warehouse?
From there deduct the shipping timeline
From there deduct the manufacturing timeline (you can include approval process in this portion or make it its own segment, dealer’s choice)
From there deduct the fine-tuning timeline
From there deduct the playtesting timeline
From there deduct your assigned creation/development timeline
And finally, from there deduct the assigned ideation timeline.
This exercise will give you the start dates for each step of the process and equally as important it will give you the deadline for each handoff to the next step. Stick to these deadlines like your grandmother sticks to claiming her chosen chair at the Bingo table – throw a few elbows if you must, let’s make grandmothers all over the world proud!
Here’s a nightmare scenario highlighting one set of consequences when deadlines aren’t adhered to. You have mass market placement of your game, the initial PO is 50,000 pieces and if you miss the deadline you are facing at least $25,000 in chargebacks. Your team has had beautiful hand-offs of the baton all through the process, Olympic Gold Medal worthy hand-offs. Oh wait, what’s this, there has been a stumble, the pre-production samples are in for approval before mass manufacturing begins and someone (name withheld to protect the alleged perpetrator), on the team says, “I wish we had ‘fill in the blank’ and I think we should make that change now before production.” I’m not advocating you lock that person in the janitor’s closet with the smelly, musty old mop BUT if the desired change is only about aesthetics and not about fixing a gameplay issue or a major typo then get the keys to the closet and do what you must. IF you chose to make changes at this point in the process then your manufacturing timeline is almost always (like 99.99999%) going to be delayed which means hello chargebacks or horrific air freight charges and goodbye profit margin!
The advice we hope to leave you with is to take great care in making sure any changes made after the baton has been passed are crucial to the gameplay or in some way will affect a consumer buying the game at retail – if the change does not affect either of these things, then hands off, pencils down, the baton has been passed, the RACE IS OVER! Don’t make me send my grandma and her Bingo lovin’ ladies over!