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A video game developer is a software developer that specializes in video game development – the process and related disciplines of creating video games. A game developer can range from a single person who undertakes all tasks to a large business with employee responsibilities split between individual disciplines, such as programming, design, art, testing, etc. Most game developer companies have video game publisher financial and usually marketing support. Self-funded developers are known as independent or indie developers and usually make indie games.

A developer may specialize in a certain video game console (such as Nintendo's Wii U, Microsoft's Xbox One, Sony's PlayStation 4), or may develop for a number of systems (including personal computers). Video-game developers specialize in certain types of games (such as role-playing video games or first-person shooters). Some focus on porting games from one system to another, or translating games from one language to another. Less commonly, some do other kinds of software-development work in addition to games.

Most video game publishers maintain development studios (such as Electronic Arts's EA Canada, Square Enix's studios, Activision's Radical Entertainment, Nintendo EAD and Sony's Polyphony Digital and Naughty Dog). However, since publishing is still their primary activity they are generally described as "publishers" rather than "developers". Developers may be private as well (such as Bungie, the company which developed the Halo series exclusive to Microsoft's Xbox)

TypesEdit

First-party developerEdit

In the video game industry, a first-party developer is part of a company which manufactures a video game console and develops exclusively for it. First-party developers may use the name of the company itself (such as Nintendo), have a specific division name (such as Sony's Polyphony Digital) or have been an independent studio before being acquired by the console manufacturer (such as Rare or Naughty Dog).

However, a first-party game is a title which needs only to have been published by the manufacturer of the console (regardless of who owns the IP of the game)Template:Citation needed. Examples of externally produced first-party games are the Gears of War, Halo, and Uncharted series.

Second-party developerEdit

Second-party developer is a colloquial term used by gaming enthusiasts and media often used to describe two different types of game development studios:

  1. Independently owned studios who take development contracts from the platform holders and what they produce will usually be exclusive to that platform.
  2. Studios who are partially or wholly owned by the platform holder (also known as a subsidiary) and what they produce will usually be exclusive to that platform.

In reality, the resulting game is first party (since it is funded by the platform holder who usually owns the resulting IP), but the term helps to distinguish independent studios from those directly owned by the platform holder. These studios may have exclusive publishing agreements (or other business relationships) with the platform holder, while maintaining independence. Examples are Insomniac Games (which previously developed games solely for Sony's PlayStation platforms as an independent studio) and Game Freak, (which primarily develops the Nintendo-exclusive Pokémon game series).

Third-party developersEdit

Third-party developers are usually called upon by a video game publisher to develop a title for one (or more) systems. Both publisher and developer have considerable input in the game's design and content. However, the publisher's wishes generally override those of the developer.

The business arrangement between the developer and publisher is governed by a contract, which specifies a list of milestones intended to be delivered over a period of time. By updating its milestones, the publisher verifies that work is progressing quickly enough to meet its deadline and can direct the developer if the game is not meeting expectations. When each milestone is completed (and accepted), the publisher pays the developer an advance on royalties. Successful developers may maintain several teams working on different games for different publishers. Generally, however, third-party developers tend to be small, close-knit team. Third-party game development is a volatile sector, since small developers may be dependent on income from a single publisher; one canceled game may be devastating to a small developer. Because of this, many small development companies are short-lived.

A common exit strategy for a successful video-game developer is to sell the company to a publisher, becoming an in-house developer. In-house development teams tend to have more freedom in the design and content of a game compared to third-party developers. One reason is that since the developers are employees of the publisher, their interests are aligned with those of the publisher; the publisher may spend less effort ensuring that the developer's decisions do not enrich the developer at the publisher's expense.

In recent years, larger publishers have acquired several third-party developers. While these development teams are now technically "in-house", they often continue to operate in an autonomous manner (with their own culture and work practices). For example, Activision acquired Raven (1997); Neversoft (1999); Z-Axis (2001); Treyarch (2001); Luxoflux (2002); Shaba (2002); Infinity Ward (2003) and Vicarious Visions (2005). All these developers continue operating much as they did before acquisition, the primary differences being exclusivity and financial details. Publishers tend to be more forgiving of their own development teams going over budget (or missing deadlines) than third-party developers.

A developer may not be the primary entity creating a piece of software, usually providing an external software tool which helps organize (or use) information for the primary software product. Such tools may be a database, Voice over IP, or add-in interface software; this is also known as middleware. A good example of this is Speedtree developed by Interactive Data Visualization Inc.

In addition, accessories like headsets may be known as third-party headsets; the company manufacturing the headset may be different from the console company. For example, Turtle Beach is a third-party headset manufacturer for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Independent developersEdit

Independents are software developers which are not owned by (or dependent on) a single publisher. Some of these developers self-publish their games, relying on the Internet and word of mouth for publicity. Without the large marketing budgets of mainstream publishers, their products may receive less recognition than those of larger publishers such as Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo. With the advent of digital distribution of inexpensive games on game consoles, it is now possible for independent developers to forge agreements with console manufacturers for broad distribution of their games.

Other independent developers create game software for a number of video-game publishers on several gaming platforms. In recent years this model has been in decline; larger publishers, such as Electronic Arts and Activision, increasingly turn to internal studios (usually former independent developers acquired for their development needs).

Quality of lifeEdit

Video-game development is usually conducted in a casual business environment, with T-shirts and sandals common work attire. Many workers find this type of environment rewarding and pleasant professionally and personally.

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