Stage Gating Development for MMOs

Joe Ludwig wrote about how stage gating applied to game development won’t work.  I think the gist of his objection is that the game development process is inherently different than ones that will work with stage gating.  Since, stage gating requires  similar processes in all the “stage gated products”, and each game has a relatively unique process, they won’t work with stage gating.

For game development to be a defined process, we would need to have the same goals for a game that we had for the game immediately before it. We would have to staff the teams exactly the same way, with at least the same levels of experience and training if not exactly the same people. We would have to want the same game to come out the other end of the process.

It was interesting to read another person’s response to the article published at Project Horseshoe on stage gate development procedures.  I read through the reports a week or two ago and I was excited at the potential for new approaches to the development process.

My take was that inherent in the design phase the game’s components are identified, and these components are ideally independent of each other (they are not too interrelated).  Then, we identify those components that are most “new” or “advanced”, and set the early stage gates to be the successful development of at least working prototypes of those “newest” or “most advanced”.  Clear and aggressive goals must be identified in these stages, such as “scalable advanced AI for independent creature control”, complete with test results demonstrating as much as well as focus group reactions to the promise of such a system.  Then, the more familiar game systems are set to later stage gates.

The design process must include very clear identification of exactly what it is that makes the game unique.  Likely, that boils down to one or two game systems that are either “new” compared to other games or “more advanced” than other games.  Those one or two “distictifying” systems must be the first few stage gates.  If they can’t be done by a certain date, then there is no point in continuing the project, because without the “distinctifying” systems, the game is going to largely end up a differently-skinned <fill-in-the-blank-with-game-title>.  If a project is given the deep-six, that’s when we heavily document the code, write a detailed post-mortem, and archive everything with the goal of making it easily “pick-upable” some time in the future, or at least easily understood as to exactly what challenges proved to be too much.  (this could actually be a pleasant experience for the team)

So, all that to say that it still seemsto me that stage gating can indeed be applicable to game design.  I think exactly how is a bit of an unknown, but charging into the unkown is exactly how the newest, greatest stuff comes to be.