Video games are now a huge industry, with all the associated risks and rewards. No longer is game production something done by individuals; the success of a game affects the jobs of hundreds of people, and if a game fails it can be a devastating loss to many people.
As games become larger and more complex, it’s inevitable that larger teams are needed to produce them. Not only that, but the demand for increased quality has to be met by introducing specialists into the industry, meaning no longer is the person working on coding also producing the sound, or the animation. Instead, people with vastly different skillsets have to work together, and the organisation of such a group of people is of upmost importance to their efficiency.
Sometimes two individuals will have vastly different jobs – for instance a music writer and a character animator, or sometimes the jobs will be as closely related as two 3d artists working on different sections of the same environment. Either way, these individuals still need to be coordinated in a way that will produce the best final product, with the most efficiency.
Usually, production teams are split into their specialised groups, with each smaller team having a leader who is responsible for content specific to that area, and another person overseeing the co-ordinating of all those groups. Sometimes, within these groups there is further specialisation: for instance, the team producing concept art will have some people designing environments, some designing characters, and some designing vehicles. In that example, even with a wide array of different subjects, there still needs to be a consistency in the style and colour, and it is the job of the art director to both set that standard, and to enforce it.
Game production is an industry that is very time sensitive. On one hand, the games themselves take a long time to produce, and on the other hand companies are continuously competing with evolving technology, trying to get a game out before progress in graphics or other areas makes their current project obsolete.
As such, companies almost always use a pipeline to structure their development and to ensure that the game will release on schedule. There is a very distinct order which tasks have to be completed in, as further steps are reliant on previous ones. For instance, 3d artist cannot start working until they have something to base their game assets off of, and game testers cannot begin until they have something to test.
This dependency also means that any type of delay with have effects further along the chain. Delays in releasing a game could potentially lead to huge loss of profits.
Having certain part of the company working at different stages like this does create the problem of some teams having nothing to do for long periods of time. There are a few ways companies can get around this. They can overlap pipelines, meaning once a section of the game is completed, they immediately start work on the next project.
Parts of production are sometimes outsourced; individuals or teams are hired only during a certain period of time, sometimes to create a specific set of content. Outsourcing means that companies only pay for them when they are needed. Sometimes part are outsourced because the people being hired are specialists and can create higher quality work, or sometimes the outsourcing is undertaken by a group working in a different country where labour costs are significantly cheaper.