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Nicholas Kong

When do developers stop working on a game before release

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Can anyone give me an 'on average' number before the release of the game?

Is it necessarily one or two weeks before the game's release date?

It does not have to be AAA title. It could be ones from the 3DS, vita or even indies titles or pc games.

Not sure if the platform factors into the equation.
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If physical disks or packaging are involved, as Frob and Hodgman point out, it's going to be 2-3 months before the release day when a company ships their final build.

That said, there's usually a whole series of release dates involved in a commercial title. For reasons unknown to me, companies like to stagger the release times per country/region to the dismay of consumers everywhere.  This means that the final "north america" disk might be due months before the final "europe" disk is due, even if the game company already has all the assets in order to ship both disks (and they likely do, since you don't want to be adding localized content while trying to get the TRC done).

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For reasons unknown to me, companies like to stagger the release times per country/region
Many reasons, including certification deadlines, manufacturing lead times, and distribution times.

 

Staggered releases can be cheaper if you are printing your own disks, and can reduce risk globally, especially if you are facing a 'soft' release.

 

A soft release generally happens when dates are pushed back, or when certification failed too many times, leaving insufficient time for manufacture. Disks are sent to stores as soon as they are printed rather than boxed up and sent in bulk. The easiest sign of a soft release is that on launch day every store only has 20 copies of the game, and every day they get hand-delivered another 20 copies. A soft release is expensive and nobody likes it, but it is usually cheaper than missing the launch date.  Staggered release dates help when a project is facing any kind of risk, since they will likely only be soft on the first release.

 

Soft releases are very dangerous. For some games they can increase press coverage (often a good thing) it can also result in greatly reduced sales if people cannot find the box in the store. Distributors also don't like it, and unless you are a major publisher they may raise costs or otherwise be less friendly to you in the future.

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If physical disks or packaging are involved, as Frob and Hodgman point out, it's going to be 2-3 months before the release day when a company ships their final build.

That said, there's usually a whole series of release dates involved in a commercial title. For reasons unknown to me, companies like to stagger the release times per country/region to the dismay of consumers everywhere.  This means that the final "north america" disk might be due months before the final "europe" disk is due, even if the game company already has all the assets in order to ship both disks (and they likely do, since you don't want to be adding localized content while trying to get the TRC done).

What annoys me even more is when there is a week difference in release between US and EU, specially for the downloadable versions because there is no reason to do this.

 

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It depends. On a packaged title, development on a playable and complete version of the game must be done several months before release in order to allow time for all the packaging and distribution. However, this does not mean that development actually stops; these days the team will almost always continue working on a "zero day" patch to fix any of the less critical bugs they couldn't get to before or a "zero day" DLC to add in any non-essential content they couldn't get finished on time. The rise of "zero day" updates is often decried by many gamers, but among other things it gives the developers something to do between gold master (when the game is shipped off to start duplicating discs for retail) and the actual release date; before ubiquitous patching and DLC, many companies just laid off most of their development staff after gold master since they had no work for them anymore.

For online and free-to-play titles, the development never stops unless the game dies. If the game becomes stale, people stop playing. The whole development, release, and profit process for an online game is utterly different than an offline packaged title

The profit bit is key to most of that development and release stuff, of course. Packaged games traditionally make the brunt of their profit in the first ~3 months after release. That means that the gold master and zero-day content needs to be of particularly high bar. Many online games don't start making a profit until a year or more after initial release. Packaged game developers often think in terms of "fire and forget" profits while online game developers must keep working to earn profit. Some games straddle the line between two types, like Borderlands has done, by being a packaged game with a lot of DLC content and a strong online presence (making that DLC more attractive to gamers than it would be in most other packaged games).
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If physical disks or packaging are involved, as Frob and Hodgman point out, it's going to be 2-3 months before the release day when a company ships their final build.

That said, there's usually a whole series of release dates involved in a commercial title. For reasons unknown to me, companies like to stagger the release times per country/region to the dismay of consumers everywhere.  This means that the final "north america" disk might be due months before the final "europe" disk is due, even if the game company already has all the assets in order to ship both disks (and they likely do, since you don't want to be adding localized content while trying to get the TRC done).

What annoys me even more is when there is a week difference in release between US and EU, specially for the downloadable versions because there is no reason to do this.

 

EU has different standards, many a game has to be altered to fit into germany's world view.

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As a 3DS developer, I announce games when they're in their late beta stage but it doesn't mean I stop working on it.

I stop developing the game 2-3 months before release, so I have enough time to get all the boring stuff done such as age ratings, publishing agreements, lot checking, more contracts, translations, manuals, packaging (if sold non-digitally), marketing, going to game events, testing and more testing, maybe a launch party, etc.

Yes, this is what professional single-person game developers have get through before releasing a single game.

Edited by Blaveloper
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