Over the last few years, the practice of external development has become more popular. What has changed in this direction in recent years? How will external game development develop further?

Svitlanka Sergiichuk, CBDO at iLogos, shares her insights and trends about external development.

It’s no longer about “to be or not to be” for external development. It’s about “how to make it better”.

External development has been a sensitive topic for years. Moreover, it has been banned in the public discussions and often stigmatised. We all remember the cases back 10 years ago at iLogos - when the clients have been working with iLogos Game Studios for years, but when asked at the public speeches at the industry events - they have always replied “no way, we do not use any external development”.

Today, the discourse is totally different. Everyone agreed that external development is a basis for sustainable game projects. Game companies no longer question whether external development is needed. It’s now about how to most effectively organize the process. 

More and more companies come to the centralized, more structured pipelines of interaction with external devs. What has once been pioneered by Electronic Arts is now getting more and more common. Quite similar initiatives are being run in Riot Games and other major game development studios.

What does it mean:

  • Companies are organizing specialized departments devoted to interaction with external development studios
  • Studios with a large number of titles are moving towards creating common centralized vendor databases to share the verified vendor contacts between teams and optimize the work-flow.

External development managers are getting more responsibility

A few years ago, specialists in this position were mainly facilitators and mediators between the developer and an external studio. Today, more and more Outsourcing/External Development managers occupy the roles closer to executive producers. Not only can they go through all the formalities and background checks with the vendor. They actually become project knowledge holders, can filter out irrelevant vendor studios independently and make a primary evaluation of the vendor’s work quality. 

Quality requirements and standards are becoming more transparent

Game companies are moving to more detailed briefs and more open communication on the required quality standards. Previously, the work (game art in particular) was evaluated by the final result - let’s say a game ready 3D asset. Now as the market is expecting more and more content-rich and technological game titles, it became clear that the more detailed the instructions are, the better and faster results are achieved. Setting the benchmark for a final game-ready model for a complicated AAA title would not be enough. Because every stage, including low poly, high poly, baking, texturing etc. would require a certain bar set, to make sure that the final result is right.

Additional control at the stages of development allows game companies to be more agile, correct the work in time and avoid costly and time-consuming work on errors.

“Asset farms” fade into past, while strategic partnerships take the stage

There used to be a prejudice that the game studios outsource only standardized scope that does not involve any core business components. That is why the game outsourcing studios used to have an image of “asset farms”, working hands that do not bring any business value other than producing easily repeatable scope items.

Still, the asset farm approach is fading into the past. External development is more and more about building long-term partnership and bringing a creative value to the game title.

Such a concept of deep, involving, long-term partnerships is very appealing to me as a professional. At iLogos, we promote a “solution provider” philosophy in external development. It means that in building the scope for external development, the result plays the first role. And this result requires a solution to be achieved. It is not just about the tasks for the sake of tasks - it is about how engaging the title will be in the end, how the players will treat it, how smooth the gameplay is going to be, and which metrics are meant to be hit. Such approach requires a much deeper involvement into the client’s product development, processes and pipelines. But it creates a solid ground for building reliable and long-term partnerships.