As a gamer, knowing how hard it is to make some of your favorite video games can help you appreciate the games that you play even more.
If you’re considering becoming a game developer yourself, and you’re wondering how difficult that would be, this article is also for you.
The game development difficulty level ranges from easy to extremely difficult depending on what you are trying to achieve. Developing an endless runner game with simple graphics is not that hard, however, building a triple-A open world game is extremely hard
Before we dive into the difficulty levels, here is a quick advice for you: If you are looking to get into game development yourself, then I would highly suggest that you start building games that are generally considered easy to make, and then you can work your way up slowly as you gain more and more experience in the game development industry.
Do not jump instantly into a big “dream idea” that you have because you will probably end up not finishing the project as it will probably take much more than what you would expect. Start small, and build up your experience till you hit the level of experience needed for your dream game.
Back to the game development difficulty levels now…
How hard is it to develop a very basic game?
We are talking about games like Google’s Chrome Dino here (the dinosaur game that Google shows you when you are offline). Extremely simple game mechanics and graphics.
The game is an endless runner and the only game mechanic is that you need to jump to avoid obstacles.
Developing such a game is easy. You could even do it without having to write a single line of code using game engines that offer visual scripting languages for non-programmers.
I would say if you have no idea about how development languages work, you could still make such a simple game in a week.
A competent game developer can create such a game in less than an hour while enjoying their cup of coffee.
How hard is it to develop a hyper casual game?
Hyper casual games are those simple mobile games that keep popping up in your Instagram feed.
They usually have a single mechanic, and they don’t require the player to think at all. They are generally for passing time when you’re on a bus, or you’re just bored and have nothing else to do.
How hard is it to build such games? I would say it’s still on the easy side of the difficulty range.
I know fellow programmers who were able to start building hyper casual games after a month of learning the Unity game engine.
The games that they made were decent and playable. There are some hyper casual games that are much easier to build than others, but overall, I would mark hyper casual games as easy to get into.
In terms of graphics, hyper casual games are a bit more polished than the games in the previous category, but the graphics are usually low poly and don’t require a lot of work from the artists.
If you are a solo game developer, you could also find some low poly assets to use for free or for a very small price too, so graphics and UI is usually not an issue at all for hyper casual games.
You could make your own low poly assets too, which is what I usually do when working on hyper casual games, and I would say it was relatively easy.
A competent game developer can build a good hyper casual game in 3 ~ 7 days.
How hard is it to develop a decent casual game?
This is when things start to become a little bit more complex. In the previous categories, the project is generally relatively small to worry about the folders structure and the code architecture of the game.
However, when game development projects start to grow in size, the need for a well structured, documented and architected project rises to infinity.
Examples of games in this category can be Temple Run, Angry Birds, and others.
I would say developing a decent casual game is hard. There are a lot of mechanics and features that developers have to deal with. Networking can also be involved, and whenever networking is involved, the difficulty level spikes up instantly
Artists, sound designers, game designers, and others will also have a lot of work to do.
Based on my experience as a game developer, I would say that these types of games can take somewhere between 4 months to a year to complete if the team has the right resources.
How hard is it to develop a decent indie game?
Developing some of the famous indie games that you see on Steam, Epic Store, and in other places is very hard, especially if the team is just a solo developer.
For developers whose only purpose is to make money out of their indie games, it might not be worth it at all.
Generally speaking, indie games that are targeted to steam need to be large enough for the players to consider paying money for them, and making large games requires a lot of work.
Indie games will generally include a lot of complex systems that work together. Making certain changes to a system can affect other systems. For example, making a slight change in the player jump distance can ruin the whole game balance, and so on.
There are a lot of recipes for disasters if the developers are careful enough. Indie game developers will also have to worry about NPCs and AIs, large worlds, unique mechanics, performance optimization, networking (if their game has multiplayer options), and so much more.
Art work, game design, and sound design also become difficult. Creating art for a large indie game is no joke, it requires long hours of difficult work.
In terms of game design, the slightest decisions can make or break the whole experience of the players.
All this and I haven’t talked about the day to day technical challenges yet. Something as simple as adding a “Door” to your indie game can add “A LOT” of work and complexity.
Adding a simple door to a room can increase the number of use cases that need to be handled.
If you do add a door, the enemies will now have to decide whether they want to follow you outside or not, you’ll have to deal with more objects loaded into memory at once since you don’t want to throw in a loading screen whenever the player enters or exits a door, and so much more.
These are just tiny examples of the day to day challenges that indie game developers face.
All this is not meant to discourage you if you are planning to become a game developer, it is just meant to give you a better perspective of what you are getting yourself into.
To me, game development, despite all its complexities, is one of the most rewarding careers when it comes to tech.
As for timelines, large indie games are expected to take somewhere between 1~3 years of development. Solo game developers might also need a few extra years too depending on their skills, resources, and time availability.
How hard is it to develop a triple-A game?
Take all the complexity that we have mentioned in the indie games section, and multiply that by a thousand (Just made the number up), and you get how difficult it is to develop AAA games.
There are AAA games that can be considered some of the most complex software ever made. The engineering behind some game systems is just insane, and that’s just one system out of hundreds.
It takes hundreds of dedicated team members a large number of years to develop titles like GTA 5 and others.
Engineers, game designers, sound designers, writers, lawyers, all kinds of artists (concept artists, character artists, environmental artists, technical artists), animators, and people from many other disciplines will all have to work together to build the AAA games that you love.
Imagine the amount of collaboration and hard work needed to work on such projects.
The number of things that can go wrong is infinite. The larger the project is, the more complex it gets, and as different systems start overlapping with one another, disasters can start to happen.
There are many AAA projects that don’t even make it to full release.
Crunch in the gaming industry has been known for a while now. Workers having to stay at the office for extremely long hours is not something foreign to the game development industry.
That said, developing AAA games is hard, really hard, and is almost impossible if you don’t have the right team and the right resources.
I am hoping that this article at least gave you an idea about the difficulty levels when it comes to developing video games of different sizes.
There are some other categories that have been skipped, but I am hoping that you can figure them out by comparing them to what has been listed in this article.
If you are interested in reading more, you can check these other articles on the blog: