We are in the process of writing up the GDD for our first mobile game, with neither of us having experience in the software development industry (I've managed IT projects before, but they were mostly code-driven and did not feature a graphics component). We are going to outsource the artwork and the development, most likely to two different parties to save costs.
That is ideal for a game developer to have team members in somewhat of a competition for future services. It is also good to spread the risk to two or more parties instead of let the full weight of risk fall on one person's shoulders. So far, you are strategically positioned.
My question is - what comes first, the code or the artwork?
Most of the successful and profitable games are developed along a course similar to this:
1) Game Concept
In the largest game development companies, this can take a team weeks or months (as time permits while they work on other projects). The game concept is usually scripted in printed documents, market analysis is done to establish market appeal, and early outline for game functionality is constructed. Last part of this stage is a cost analysis and estimate to be approved by the game development leadership.
2) Game Design
The AAA game development method is to have a professional game designer work with one or more concept and design art specialists to communicate the design in art form. The game design is illustrated visually with colored pensil art, digital art, cartoon illustration with captions, or other preferred art medium or combination of them. Sometimes 2D and 3D artists to be used in actual game art asset creation are used for the preliminary game design illustration. It is common for many changes to be made in this stage as project managers and/ or game designer brainstorm with the game developer leadership and the art team to improve game design. This can even lead to revision of game concept if a "brilliant idea" is conceived. Often final approval for the project depends on the impact of this stage in the imagination of the leadership.
Though a highly anticipated game concept (such as version 2 of a game series) might see dedicated organization begin almost immediately, a new game concept will require approval of game concept and game design before substantial resources are invested in the project. This means that the full team will not be assembled until approval by the head of company. The effect is that programmers, artists, techical support personnel, and testers become fully engaged once game development is launched in earnest.
4) Proof of Concept
This is a demo game. It must show that the company can both create the functionality and supply the art content. Investors who know anything about the industry should demand a Proof of Concept version of the game before investing more money. Who starts first, coders or artists, may depend on who you believe needs the most time to complete a stage of the development or version of the game.
5) Game Development
The real construction of the game begins. Programmers and artists will scramble in a mad frenzy to not be the team caught trailing the other. Neither team wants to be the one responsible for delaying the reaching of project milestones. IT personnel will be expected to meet software management, source control, version control, and documentation objectives.
Game concept, game design, game design art, and IT issues are the priliminary stages before programming and art teams can make full speed progress. Investors will not be happy to provide capitol for a project until they approve of the game concept and design, which takes game design art to communicate these to the investors.
For these reasons, one can make a case that ART should come first. The 2D and 3D artists often have the skills to supply the game design art to satisfy the investors. Art is closely tied to game design.
Based on my research, it seems the first time after the GDD would be to ask the programmers to produce the code for the game using placeholder art - e.g., square boxes instead of real graphics.
Very skilled programmers do not need to know anything about the game concept and design. It is the responsibility of leadership to know game concept and design, then tell the programmers what game functionality is needed.
If done correctly, the game designer will make the end user game functionality by using the tools made available by the coders. This is why the programmers do not need to know a single thing about the game concept and design. They only need to know the features to be made available to the game designer. The game designer will manage the artists and request new functionality in the tools from the programmers. Sometimes the game designer knows and does NO coding, though high level coding of game functionality is desired and preferred.
NOTE: Game Developer is the person or company which is ultimately responsible for the creation of a game. Game Developer does NOT mean programmer or designer, though Indy game developers fill all of these roles.
Then the next step is to send this over to the artist and ask him/her to create the artwork to fit the placeholders.
This is a matter of personal preferrence and convenience. Actually, the artists can create all of the art before a single line of coding is written and the opposite is also true.
In your case, you should test having programmers and artists working simultaneously, then YOU import the completed artwork into your game. If you do it this way then only YOU need to know what the game concept and game design is, plus maximum efficiency and shortest time for development is possible. Synergy depends on YOU and not them.
Once the artwork is ready, it goes back to the developers who fit it to replace the placeholder graphics.
"Developer" is a single person or a single organization responsible for the creation of the game. The roles of the developer vary greatly from company to company, doing everything as in the Indy Developer, or only handling leadership responsibilities, or having some role in the actual creation.
Does this sequence sound about right? Note that I know I'm leaving out the QA part.
If you have strong strategic thinking and leadership skills, then the programmers and the artists do not need to know anything about the game concept and design. What proportion of skills and roles are used by the team members is partly a matter of necessity but mostly a matter of your preference.
It is ideal to have all team members working independently of one another but dependent on YOUR guidance. This way none of them are waiting on one another but only waiting on leadership upon completing elements of the game. This is BY FAR the most cost effective way of running a game development company.
Imagine at the other extreme if all of your team members are depending on one another for everything and spend many hours discussing things among themselves instead of making things. Does that sound profitable to you?
Quality Control is YOUR responsibility. You are the leader.