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by D.S. Cohen

This guide is a companion piece to the book Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design by D.S. Cohen and Sergio A. Bustamante II. To gain a full understanding of the milestone schedule, deliverables, terms and structure, please refer to Chapter 16 of Producing Games.

Before You Begin

When using this guide for building a milestone schedule, please refer to the free downloadable Milestone Schedule template. This will help give you a visual reference to each stage.

DOWNLOAD THE FREE MILESTONE SCHEDULE TEMPLATE HERE

The Preliminaries

Our fictional game that we will be using as an example in our milestone schedule is Robot With a Gun, a mid-budgeted Xbox 360 and PS3 title planned for a holiday release in 2010.

 After specking out the project, running the P&Ls and calculating a budget, the game is granted with a 14 month development cycle. This is a tight timeline for a Next-Gen console game, but not untypical.

If the game needs to be on store shelves for the holiday, the best range to hit is a little before Black Friday, so let’s say our ship date is Tuesday Nov. 16th 2010. That means the production for the game, starting with the concept stage, would have to begin no later than August 2009.

You might be wondering why August 2009 when its 15 months from the ship date? That’s because you need to allow time for manufacturing and distribution.

Research

First get the following information from your operations group.

  • How much time do they need for first party submissions? Make sure this is padded with time for resubmissions as games are rarely approved in their first round.
  • How much time is needed for manufacturing? This number will also need to be padded as your Release to Manufacture (RTM) build might also need to be resubmitted a few times.

 

Start at the End, and Work Your Way Backwards

Let’s say operations needs at least 6 weeks for manufacturing and distribution (which includes padding for RTM resubs). You should then take your ship date and move backwards as you build your schedule timeline.

Since we know our ship date is Tuesday Nov. 16th 2010, when we count backwards, our RTM build needs to be completed and delivered to the publisher on Oct. 8th 2010. This is a FIRM DATE. Any tweaking of this date will likely result in the game missing its ship date (see chapter 13 in Producing Games for the consequences of missing your ship date).

NOTE: You might have noticed that I’ve added two days to the RTM due date. This is a personal preference as I like to have milestones in on Fridays and at the same time every month (in this case the second Friday of every month). This helps everyone to remember when a milestone is due in any given month. One of the reasons I’ve chosen the second Friday of every month is that it rarely falls on a holiday or typical vacation times. The last thing you want is a submission due when everyone should be out of the office.

As the RTM relates to the completion of the game then we can also move forward another two weeks for the Archiving. This will make the Archiving deliverable due on Oct. 22nd. This is the only time we’ll be moving ahead when building our schedule. From here on in we’ll be working backwards.

Padding Your Gold Master Candidate Submissions

Our Ops group has allowed five weeks for first party submissions of the Gold Master Candidate. Personally I like to pad my submissions, so I’m going to have it come in a week before that, to allow for extra time in case it gets rejected multiple times.

For Robot with A Gun we are going to have the 360 version as the lead sku, followed by the PS3 build. Throughout most of production the PS3 will lag behind the 360, and in the schedule we will be providing a week between the GMC submission for the 360 and the PS3. That way the majority of focus will be on the single sku in preparation for submission, rather than having to split the teams attention between the two.

Because of this, and because we want to pad for resubmissions, we are going to go back another 6 weeks for the GMC due date. This will make the Xbox 360 GMC due date August 13th, 2010, and the PS3 a week later on August 27st, 2010.

Is Padding Bad?

At this point you can see how early you must plan to meet your game’s release. Something could go wrong months before the ship date having a ripple effect that will still be affecting things months later.

Some might say I am over padding the schedule, but this will only help. Few games have been completed without a hiccup or two, and you’ll find by the time you hit these dates you’ll be grateful to have the extra cushion of time.

Alpha and Beta

The time between Beta and GMC is typically the most intense as the team needs to fix all of the major bugs (prioritized by A, B or C bugs based on how they effect the player experience) which is a grueling task.

Some like to only give two weeks between Alpha and Beta, but as I’m notoriously cautious, I give it a full month. If we had more time in our schedule, I would actually break the Alpha deliveries across two months, with an Alpha 1 and Alpha 2. The goal of this is to allow everyone time to make sure the game is exactly where we want it to be before adding the final touches in Beta.

You can adjust the template for what you feel is best, but for these purposes were going to have Alpha due on June 6th, 2010 and the Beta on July 9th, 2010.

Concept, Pre-Pro and Production

What you have left at this point is 10 months for the concepting, pre-production and production stages. See how quickly your time slips away?

The length of time you provide to each of these stages all depends on you and your team’s styles and philosophies. While I prefer dedicating the bulk of the time to the production stages, others, such as my co-author on the book, prefer to dedicate the max time to pre-production as you can see on the milestone example in Chapter 2 of Producing Games.

Because I like to put the bulk of the time in the production stage, for the template example I am assigning one month for concepting, three months for pre-production, and six months for production. These are all very tight timelines, but as you’ll find in the world of video games we are constantly faced with tense development schedules.

This will make our first Production deliverable land on Dec. 11th 2009, continue to Jan. 8th 2010, Feb. 12th 2010, March 12th 2010, April 9th, 2010 and hit Pre-Alpha on May 14th, 2010.

Continuing to work our way backwards, the three months of Pre-Production will have the first deliverable due on September, 11th, 2009, October 9th, 2009, and end on November 13th, 2009.

Finally the beginning of our project is a single month due in on August 14th, 2009.

Tweaking

If you have more/less time, you can add months in to concepting or pre-production, whatever you feel is the right amount of time for your team to focus on what needs to be completed.

For more information on milestones, scheduling and deliverables please check out our book Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design.

Order Here: Producing Games: From Business and Budgets to Creativity and Design

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