Originally, games were made by solo developers. It took a long time because the code was at the level of binary, and the games were simple.
As computing power grew, so did the capabilities of the game developers. For years, games were seen as expensive productions by hundreds of developers working in teams for potentially half a decade. Someone interested in game development wouldn’t even know where to start because it seemed so overwhelming.
Then indie game development became more well known. Games could be made in mere months, like in the old days, but with much better tools to leverage.
Then people tried to see how quickly they could make games. One Game a Month makes a game out of finishing and publishing games each month. Ludum Dare challenges you to make a game in 48 hours (by the way, there’s a major compo later this month you should join!). People involved at Garage Games had Game in a Day, a 24 hour competition.
The 0hr Game Jam takes place during Daylight Savings Time, in the hour that is lost between 2AM and 2AM.
In the past, Andy Moore has said that an hour is plenty of time for a game. “I’m not talking a WHOLE GAME (you need a weekend for that!), but an individual mechanic, feature, or tweak? It should take less than an hour to hash out the lowest common denominator version of that.”
Jonatan “Cactus” Soderstrom, famous for his quick development, gave a talk at GDC in 2009 on The Four Hour Game Design.
With paper prototypes and the amazing digital tools accessible to almost everyone, it’s easy to try something out quickly and see if it will work before you spend months or years building content around an idea.
So games can be made quickly, and some are even good games. Really good. Some quickly-developed games even become massive financial successes. Flappy Bird was made in a couple of days and was earning its developer $50,000 a day at one point.
But not all games can be Flappy Bird, even if a quick glance at the App Store might make you think otherwise. Some games need more time to cook. Maybe you found a core mechanic that works, but you spend more time iteratively tweaking and playtesting and fixing issues you find.
Pac-man‘s AI took half a year to perfect. Monster Loves You! took months of prototypes, and the finished product had a custom dialog engine and plenty of content. Tower of Guns was developed over 600 days.
2dBoy has a 7-part series on the development of World of Goo, a game which was famously based off of a quick prototype called Tower of Goo made in four days. The original World of Goo demo release happened a year after development started.
At 8 months into the project:
it’s now almost 4 months after we thought we were 3 months away from finishing the game. we continue to fool ourselves and think we’ve got another 3 months left to go.
So how long does it take to make a game? It clearly only takes a few hours, plus time for playtesting, content creation, and polish, all of which takes much longer than anyone expects.