How long does it take to develop a serious game?

One of the questions we are frequently asked is: ‘how long does it take to develop a serious game?’ A tough question! Our first response generally is that it is hard to tell how long it takes to develop a serious game. It depends on so many factors. This is the easy answer, so we’ve decided to shed some more light on this topic to give a more satisfying answer…

Serious games are used for educational purposes or to stimulate behavioural change. They are different from games for entertainment. Therefore, it can take from 2 months up to 2 years to create a serious game solution. Wondering what this depends on? Keep reading!

A development time between 2 months and 2 years is still very broad. To offer you more insight in how long a serious game project might take, let’s break down the process a little more. The development time and scope mainly depends on the complexity of the problem and the proposed solution. Different problems require different solutions.

The effect of the project goal on the scope

Below are four examples of different project goals and how these affect development time.

  • Create awareness: if the goal is mainly to teach a simple message to create awareness, then the serious game doesn’t need hours of gameplay to get the message across. This can usually be done in a game session that lasts a few minutes. This also means that the scope of the project regarding content can be very narrow and development can be done in a few weeks to a few months.
  • Educational content: When the goal is to educate players on a certain subject, the scope of the game scales with the amount of educational content and the complexity of the subject. Naturally, it takes more time to teach someone the entire arithmetic curriculum of elementary school, than just adding or subtracting. This means that the game should offer more replayability to keep the game entertaining for a longer time. This game property will require longer development times.
  • Skill training: Like educational content, games that train (motor) skills, require more content repetition. But in this case, instead of training the brain, the player is training the body. Examples of this are rehabilitation training and motor skill training for laparoscopic surgery.
  • Behavioural change: Finally, if the aim is to achieve behavioural change, the player needs to be exposed to the learning objective and the game for a longer period. Study shows that forming a new habit can take up to 254 days with an average of 66 days. This requires gameplay and content that can engage the player for a very long period. We’re talking about a game with 40+ hours of gameplay. Do you want to learn more about behavioural change and serious games? Read this article!

What other factors have an impact on development time?

Other than the project goal, there are other implicating factors which can lengthen development time. Think of gathering domain knowledge, testing/validation and the complexity of the game design and implementation process.

Gathering domain knowledge

During the development of serious games or gamified solutions, there is a lot of communication between the developers, stakeholders and domain experts. A lot of information and experience has to come from external parties. It will take some time to define what information is needed and who can supply that information. Sometimes development can’t continue until this domain expertise is provided.

 

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User tests and scientific validation

Another important factor that determines the scope of a serious game is the number of user tests and the time it takes to interpret and process this data. Since we are trying to achieve a certain goal and preferably want some statistically significant data to support our solution, we need to do a lot of user testing. It takes time to organize this and find enough people to test with, which can result in ‘waiting time’. During this time, the developer can’t actively continue working on the game. Long project duration doesn’t necessarily mean high development costs., The high development can be accounted for by the waiting time duration.

The complexity of the game design and implementation process

When the objective and goal of the serious game project are clear, this has to be transformed into a compelling game. The game design consists of various elements. Think of the storyline, game world, characters, and gameplay. To make a serious game fun, a lot of decisions are made to make the game suitable for the target audience. And when a serious game has been developed and tested, a good implementation strategy is drawn and executed. Some serious game projects need a website, a marketing strategy, and proper distribution. This can lead to a longer development time. This article sheds more light on the complete development and implementation process of a serious game.

Examples of serious games and their project duration

With all this information you may still wonder how much time it will take to develop a serious game. So, let’s provide some examples of serious games and how long it took to develop them. Here are a few of our games and their project duration:

  • Garfield vs Hot Dog – A mobile game for kids which consists of several mini-games. This serious game achieves behavioural change through education and exercises for a healthy lifestyle. The project duration was 18 months.
  • Go VMBO (game is only available in Dutch) – An adventure game played on either a mobile phone and a tablet. The game informs elementary students about vocational education. The project duration was 5 months.
  • Reducept – A virtual reality game that teaches techniques to manage chronic pain as well as educate on how pain works. This game was developed in 3 phases for a total of 12 months. The game was successfully tested with the target audience after 1 month of development time.
  • Distraction Detected – A top-down sneaking/adventure game played on smartphones. It informs people with kidney disease about medication adherence and teaches improvement tricks. . Although the project duration was 12 months, the actual development time was only 6 weeks.

How long does it take before we can see results?

Although the project duration of a serious game can be long, the effects and results of a serious game can already be seen in the early phase of the game development. For example, one of the first things to do is to create a prototype of the game and work towards an MVP (Minimum Viable Product). This way, you can start measuring the effects of the game right away and see how the target audience responds.

Also, serious game development often continues after the game is released. This way you can keep on adding content and scenarios to keep players engaged in the game. Keep in mind that this can influence any (scientific) data collection and measurements since the parameters often change during ongoing development. For example, if you are measuring the effectiveness of a certain scenario and during this time you are also improving this scenario, players in the same test group will have different experiences and different results. This will invalidate your data.

Conclusion

Developing a serious game can take between 2 months and 2 years, depending on the scope and complexity of the problem, and the proposed solution. Two months for a game that has to transfer simple educational content, and up to 2 years for a complex serious game where behavioural change is the aim. In addition, the validation process and data gathering for scientific validation of any serious game could take several months.

Learn more about serious games

Now that you have learned more about the development time of serious games, we reckon you want to know about serious games! Read more about how to develop a serious game that is both effective and fun.

Closely related terms to serious games are gamification, game-based learning, and applied games. If you want to know the differences between all these terms, read this article. Interested in more examples of serious games? We got you covered!

tim-laning

We realize serious gaming is a complex topic. There is so much we want to tell you! Are you interested in a serious game for a specific problem? Contact Tim Laning to discuss it:

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