The Indie Game Studio Glossary

Business, software, and game jargon, all in one place.

This is part of a series on indie studio management, written by the Captain of Kitfox Games, Tanya X. Short. Follow the Kitfox Medium publication to read all the entries so far.

Indie studio heads are expected to know about many different fields, even though it’s nearly impossible for them to have that knowledge before they begin. And if you’re in the midst of negotiating a deal, it’s usually undesirable to interrupt negotiations in order to ask for clarification of terms that the other party seems to assume you know… further, chances are

This glossary errs on the side of being too basic, to help as many people as possible who might be coming from outside our usual industries, and to help de-mystify terms that might be hard to Google.

I have chosen not to overly explain some terms I feel are so technical as to require professional training to understand their full meaning. In such cases, I provide context but assume you can use a search engine to learn more.

In cases where something is known by multiple names (such as ‘source control’ and ‘version control’), rather than listing it in several places as would a traditional dictionary, I group them together.

**I recommend using CTRL+F to find what you’re looking for.**

Where a term is controversial or divided, I have chosen what I believe is the commonly accepted definition among my colleagues, but noted this choice with “Definition varies.”

For clarity, I have tried to avoid making jokes wherever possible, but with some terms, it’s tough.

- A -

A/B Test: Testing two scenarios simultaneously on live players (scenario A, and scenario B), from which you can compare the results. Allows for more scientific, rigorous testing, since external factors of timing, sequence, etc are removed. For example, test group A might have a “Start Tutorial” button and test group B might have a “Let’s Go” button, and with all else kept the same, you can see which group was more likely to start the tutorial. See also: Analytics.

Acquisition: when a company buys something from another, whether the ownership of that company outright, or its IP/brands, licensing and distribution rights, or other property. See also: Equity, Investor.

Analytics: Data gathered to analyse player behaviour. Can include anything from playtime to money spent. Most commonly employed in mobile and web game development, multiplayer online games, and advertising. See also: ARPU, ARPDAU, BI, Churn, Cohort, CPM, CTR, DAU, Impressions, Engagement, Funnel, KPI, LTV, MAU, Retention, Session.

  • (to look up: ACV, CPA/CPC/CPI/CAC, ROAS)

Angel Investor: a legally-recognised, certified, special class of investor. They tend to be individuals spending their own money, at lower amounts, with an expectation of slightly lower ROI than Venture Capitalists. See also: Investor.

Agile: a method of a cross-disciplinary team creating software that requires delivering something usable every two weeks. Individual practices within the Agile method include Scrum and Kanban. See also: Poker Planning, Sprint, Standup, Story, Story points.

API: short for Application Programming Interface, but actually means a set of functions or calls that can be used in a certain platform, such as display an Achievement on Steam.

ARPU: Average Revenue Per User. See also: Analytics.

ARPDAU: Average Revenue Per Daily Active User. See also: Analytics.

Art Bible: a document outlining the guidelines and principles for how the art assets and aesthetics of the game should be developed. See also: Documentation, Mockup, Paintover.

Asset: a distinct component of the game. For example, a model of a tree, or a soundclip of laughter.

Asset List: a spreadsheet detailing what assets are (or are planned to be) in the game, and their status in the production pipeline. See also: Documentation.

Asymmetrical (in game design): When two or more elements (such as characters or competing teams) in a game are so uniquely distinct that they can’t be perfectly compared in performance. In chess, both sides are symmetrical. But if you were to play chess with a team of knights vs a team of bishops, it would be asymmetrical.

Asynchronous multiplayer: a game that supports player interactions but not “real time”, with both players simultaneously playing. Made popular by Facebook games, in which one player would send items or messages to another player to receive or interact with later.

ATL/BTL Marketing: marketing that is less or more targeted to a specific demographic

Authored: game content in which each piece was made by hand by a content designer, rather than created procedurally in some way. Also called ‘bespoke’. See also: Procedural.

- B -

Back-end / Backend: the part of the game that a user would never see, such as a database or network code.

Baked Lights / Baking: a way to optimize a game’s performance by pre-adjusting static textures to account for static light sources. So if you ‘bake’ lights and a candle is on a table, the tablecloth will have matching lights and shadow as part of its texture, even if you then move the candle in the game, the lights and shadows won’t move. See also: Texture, Model.

Balance (noun): the intended difficulty and pacing of a game. Most often used by players to refer to multiplayer games, since it is assumed all characters, abilities, and teams should be equally powerful (or ‘balanced’), but may also refer to single-player systems such as progression.

Balance (verb): to make a game’s experience conform to the intended difficulty and pacing, through adjusting elements of the game’s systems. See also: System Designer, Variable.

Beat: an event in an intended rhythmic sequence

  • Press beat: an event/moment during the promotion of a game that functions well to attract the attention of press and journalists. For example, announcing a launch date is a common game press beat.
  • Story beat: an event/moment of important emotional impact in a narrative.

BI: Business Intelligence. As a practice, the skill of deriving observations of player behaviours and therefore actionable advice from analytics. Can also refer to a person, in which case it is short for Business Intelligence Analyst. See also: Analytics, KPI.

Bikeshedding / Bike-shedding: as a group or committee, it’s generally easier to decide trivial details (such as choose a material with which to build a bike shed) than it is to make large decisions (such as design a power plant). Also called Parkinson’s Law of Triviality.

Bizdev: Business Development. The practice of developing a business, through finding funding and business partners, making deals, product strategy, etc.

Blockchain: a list of transaction records made secure through decentralization. Often used for cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin.

Blue Ocean: a Blue Ocean product serves a new, previously under-served yet large market, in which your product will have vast potential customers yet little competition. See also: Marketing.

Board of Directors: the legally-recognized principal decision-makers of a corporation or non-profit. Often includes the CEO, CFO, CTO, and/or any major investors.

Brand Guidelines: rules for how a logo, graphic, or brand is permitted to be displayed. Usually provided by the legal entity represented by the logo/brand. For example, Nintendo provides its partners with brand guidelines to restrict how its materials can be used in games, videos, websites, etc.

Break even: getting back as much revenue as you spent. For example, if you spend $200,000 making a game, you ‘break even’ when you have made $200,000 in net revenue. See also: Profits, Revenue.

B-Roll: footage of something that doesn’t need explanation or context, intended to be used as visual filler, often while audio/narration plays on top.

Buff / Debuff: a buff is a temporary effect on a character that increases power in some way, such as “Fast: +5 Agility for 3 turns”. A debuff functions identically, but decreases power, such as “Poison: -10 HP for 5 seconds”. See also: DoT / HoT.

Bug: An unintended behaviour or glitch in a game. See also: Debug, Playtest, QA, Regress.

Build (game design): a particular set of abilities, equipment, or other customizable character powers

Build (programming): a stand-alone executable of the game, usually of a particular version of the code & assets.

Burndown chart: a chart mapping how many tasks or story points have been completed, versus how many are remaining. See also: Production, Velocity.

Burn rate: the total amount of money spent by a studio in a specified period of time, usually monthly or annually. See also: Runway.

Business Plan: a document detailing the composition and strategy of a business, intended to convey its unique value to a potential investor.

- C -

Campaign (advertising): a series of related advertisements by the same creator

Campaign (game design): a linear, single-player sequence of levels or challenges intended to convey an overarching narrative.

Cap table: capitalization table. Describes all current company shareholders in detail, such as the number of shares they own, vesting status, nationality, etc.

CEO: Chief Executive Officer. In a corporation, usually the primary decision-maker in matters of business development.

Cert / TRC / TCR : short for Certification or Technical Requirements Checklist. Games must pass extensive certification processes that verify various requirements in order to appear on some platforms, such as consoles. See also: Cert QA.

Cert QA: A specialist Quality Assurance engineer who tests and manages the process of passing certification(s). See also: QA.

CFO: Chief Financial Officer. In a corporation, usually has primary responsibility for the company’s profitability.

Churn (in game): the rate at which players stop playing the game. See also: Analytics.

Churn (in studio): the rate at which employees leave the studio. See also: HR.

Client (business): someone who pays you to render a service, such as making a game for them.

Client (programming): a computer that accesses data held by a server

CM: Community Management or Community Manager. The role responsible for communicating with and managing your game or studio’s fanbase. See also: CS.

Cohort: a group of players that all begin playing (or meet some other criteria) around the same time. See also: Analytics.

Collision: the part of an object or environment that can interrupt movement or “bumped up against”, for example by the player. Often simpler in shape than the visual appearance or even the geometry.

Competitive multiplayer: a mode of the game in which multiple players must compete against one another. See also: Asynchronous, Asymmetrical, Co-op.

Compile / Compiling: the machine-run process of turning human-written code into a machine-executable program file. Often synonymous with ‘making a build’.

Compiler: the part of the engine or programming software that compiles the code

Concept art: a piece of art intended as inspiration, reference, or instruction for when making game assets or environments. See also: Marketing art.

Concept Document: a brief document outlining the core gameplay, setting, and market of a game. Often very similar to a Pitch Deck. See also: Documentation.

Content: people, places, or things the player can see and/or interact with in the game. Generally assumed to be authored by a Content Designer.

Content Design: Responsible for the data and behaviour of the characters, levels, missions, or whatever else the player interacts with in the game to achieve the intended player experience. Note that the appearance of the content is usually defined by an artist. See also: Game Design.

Contractor: a temporary contributor. Usually has fewer rights and privileges than an Employee.

Controls: the rules of input into a game, via hardware (whether a controller, mouse & keyboard, joystick, banana, etc), such as pressing a button to jump. Controls are said to feel ‘tight’ if the game reacts immediately to input, and ‘loose’ if the game reaction is slightly delayed or uncertain. See also: The Three Cs

Co-op (game): a mode of the game that relies on co-operation between multiple players, as opposed to Competitive multiplayer.

Co-op (studio): a legal structure in which the members democratically control and own the organization, as compared to a corporation

  • Worker’s Co-op: an organization in which employees are also the owners and control through democratic means
  • Consumer’s Co-op: an organization in which customers control it through democratic means, such as food co-ops or credit unions.

Corporation: a legal structure which centralizes all power and decision-making in its owners, potentially entirely separately from its employees, as compared to a more democratic co-op.

Coyote Time: In a platformer, a brief window of time in which a player may be allowed to successfully press the ‘jump’ button, despite the character already appearing to be somewhat off a ledge.

CPM: Clicks Per Mille (Mille is French for thousand). Like CTR but specifying per thousand. See also: Analytics.

Crafting: an in-game system in which players combine things to create other things. See also: System Design.

Cruft: Accumulated mess over time. Most commonly used to refer to code that has become ‘crufty’.

CS: Customer Service. The role that handles customers’ technical issues and other complaints. Separate from community management. See also: CM.

CTA: Call to Action. Some would say the essential part of any marketing material, which causes customers to do something, ideally buy the product. For example, at the end of a trailer you might write, “Wishlist on Steam now!” as your CTA. See also: Marketing.

CTO: Chief Technical Officer. The person at the company responsible for making sure its equipment, software, and security are sufficient.

CTR: Click Through Rate. Usually displayed as a percentage of impressions. So if for every 5000 impressions of an ad, 50 people click on it, you have a 1% CTR. See also: Analytics.

Cutdown: a shorter (15, 30, 60 second) cut made from a longer trailer. Often used for TV spots or social media ads. (Thanks Derek Lieu!)

- D -

D&I: Diversity & Inclusion. A common initiative or committee within a large corporation, overseen by HR, often with participation from interested employees, with the intent of making the company staff and its products more diverse and inclusive.

DAU: Daily Active Users. How many distinct accounts log in to play the game on a given day. See also: Analytics.

Debug: to remove a bug from a game. See also: Regress, QA.

Demographic: A specific set of people, such as “males aged 13–35”, often targeted by marketing or defined as the target audience. When focused less on physical characteristics, and more on tastes and preferences, sometimes called ‘Psychographics’.

Design / Designer: Short for Game Design, as opposed to most software/tech fields, who use it as short for Graphic Design.

Dev QA: a Quality Assurance engineer that works very closely and directly with the developers, often testing features and content as they are made, rather than waiting until they are complete or doing regression testing. See also: QA.

Diagetic: something that occurs within the game-world, which characters in that world could encounter, as opposed to something that only the player would see, such as (usually) the user interface. For example, music playing from a specific radio in the world is diagetic.

Documentation: documents containing important development information. See also: Art Bible, Asset List, Concept Document, GDD, LDD, Milestone, Pitch Deck, Vision Document.

Dogfooding: when creating a tool, it is a best practice for the creator to use the tool themselves, which is called “dogfooding”, and tends to immediately expose problems in the design or execution. It is so-called because if you do not use the tool, it’s likely to be of lower quality — much like dog food is likely to increase in quality if you also have to eat it.

DoT / HoT: Damage over Time / Healing over Time. These refer to in-game abilities or powers that cause such results, such as -10 HP per second for 10 seconds. See also: Buff / Debuff.

DPS: Damage Per Second. A statistic to compare the combat power of different player abilities, as it is self-evident that an ability with 5 DPS is less powerful than one with 10 DPS. Also used in RPGs to refer to (usually player) characters whose combat specialty is dealing large amounts of damage quickly. See also: Tank

- E -

EFIGS: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish. The traditional suite of required languages for Western games to localise into, especially for consoles.

Emergent gameplay / Emergent design: a game is said to enable emergent play when the systems and rules are so open-ended or toylike that the player’s actions and play can’t be predicted, such as in The Sims or Dwarf Fortress.

Employee: a worker in a company with indefinite employment, who typically does not own a significant portion of that company. See also: Contractor, Founder, Co-op, Corporation.

End Slate: the final, static frame of a trailer, usually with the name of the product, any pertinent legal information, and a call to action. See also: CTA, Legal Line.

Environment Design: Responsible for the world in which the game takes place, especially the way it looks. Usually considered more aesthetically-oriented, perhaps more of a visual artist, than a Level Designer. See also: Game Design.

Engagement: Customers actively doing something, such as playing the game or interacting on social media. For example, counting the number of Engagements on a tweet on Twitter includes both ReTweets and Favorites. See also: Analytics.

Engine: the tool suite used to create a game, usually including code, data editing, and art pipeline. At time of writing, Unity and Unreal are the two most popular choices of game engine for commercial indie studios.

Equity: ownership of a company. Someone with equity in a company will profit from the company’s profit-sharing, dividends, or acquisition. For example, investments into a company tend to result in that investor owning company shares, which is then called an equity investment.

Extrinsic Motivation: incentives to perform an action. Proven to reduce intrinsic motivation. For example, if you enjoy painting, painting is intrinsically motivating for you — but if I were to pay you $5 for each painting (introducing extrinsic motivation), you would enjoy painting less.

- F -

F2P: Free to Play. Assumed to be free “forever” — the player may enjoy the game indefinitely without paying. As opposed to Premium.

Feature Creep: the process by which unanticipated features become very tempting to add to a game mid-production, and/or appear crucial for the game’s completion, despite not being planned for during pre-production/concepting. If permitted, results in delays or larger team-size, or both. See also: Scope.

Financing: a general term for getting large amounts of money as a company, whether investment, loans, or grants. Usually not to do with product sales. See also: Investor.

Fiscal Year: The year according to when you file taxes as a studio. For example, all revenue made by Kitfox between June 1 2019 and May 31 2020 are part of our 2020 fiscal year. As opposed to Calendar Year.

Founder / Co-Founder: a person who was an initial owner when a company is created. Typically own a more significant portion of the company, and have stronger influence on company culture. As opposed to later owners, directors, or employees.

FPS (game genre): First Person Shooter

FPS (technical): Frames Per Second, also called Framerate. How quickly a moving image can be displayed, such as on a monitor or a TV. See also: Rendering.

Front-end / Frontend: the part of the programming/code that is seen by users, such as rendering and user interface. See also: Backend.

Funnel: The process through which players start playing and eventually stop. An example tutorial funnel might measure what percentage of players who start the tutorial successfully get past the first interaction, what percentage get halfway through, and then also what percentage finish the tutorial. See also: Analytics.

- G -

GAaS: Games As a Service. The philosophy of continuously updating, improving, and/or expanding a game after it is live and being played, for as long as it is profitable. Typically best-suited to games with high Replayability and Retention.

Game Design / Game Designer: The role responsible for the player’s actions and how the game responds to those actions, to create the intended user experience. Can be used either as a general term for all types of designers, or to differentiate a designer as a specialist of gameplay rather than content, level, or systems. See also: Content Design, Environment Design, Level Design, Narrative Design, System Design, the Three C’s.

Gameplay Loop: The overall sequence of major gameplay experiences that incentivises the player to continue playing. For example, a common gameplay loop is get mission, complete mission, turn in mission (which then leads to getting a new mission).

GamerGate: a conservative movement of self-proclaimed gamers started in 2014, rallied around opposing the prominence and/or perceived success of various progressive game creators and journalists, especially women and people of color. Later linked to alt-right movements in the American Republican political sphere.

Gantt chart: a specialised type of bar graph indicating the length of time different roles of a game development team work on different modules or tasks, and their inter-dependencies, such as when a character model must first be concepted, then modelled, then textured.

Gate: a point at which a company or publisher inspects a game in development and decides whether it passes and continues development OR fails, usually resulting in extended development or cancellation. Unrelated to GamerGate. See also: Milestone.

GDD: Game Design Document. An extensive document detailing the gameplay design, controls, setting, and narrative. Traditionally created as part of Pre-Production, after approval of the Concept Document. At time of writing, currently out of favor with most indie teams. See also: Documentation, Milestone.

Geometry: the 3d models and/or collision of an object or environment, underlying any texture maps or other visuals. See also: Greybox.

Greenlight: a specific Gate, in which a company approves or rejects a game idea from passing the concept or prototyping phase, usually involving market research.

Greybox / Greyboxing: an initial version of a level with untextured geometry, to test the level design without being distracted by visuals or environment design. Also called ‘whiteboxing’.

- H -

HD: High Definition, as applied to the resolution of a screen display. Technically refers to anything over 1080x720 (720p), but most often used at time of writing to mean the current standard of 1920x1080 (1080p or Full HD) and above.

Headcount: the number of people permanently employed at your studio, including both co-owners and employees.

Hero art: a piece of marketing art featuring a character prominently.

HP: Hit Points, also called Health. The number of points of damage a character can withstand in a game.

HR: Human Resources. The role responsible for the recruiting, hiring, well-being, growth, and retention of employees.

HUD: Heads Up Display. Refers to the interface surrounding the player’s camera during action parts of gameplay, such as HP or ammo.

- I -

Immersion: Definition varies. The feeling of being “in” the game when you’re playing it, and the “real world” fading away.

Impressions: Number of times something is seen by a customer. For example, showing an ad to 1000 customers once is 1000 impressions. See also: Analytics.

Indie: unknown. A secret lost to time and many internet arguments.

Indie: OK but also short for independent. Usually interpreted as creatively independent and financially independent.

Influencers: video creators, livestreamers, online thought leaders, and taste-makers on social media. At time of writing, often targeted by or paid to collaborate in game marketing efforts. Often compared to traditional press.

Intrinsic Motivation: the inherent pleasure of performing an action, as opposed to any incentives given as a reward for doing so. See also: Extrinsic Motivation.

Investor: someone who pays up-front to participate in the later financial or cultural success of a company. See also: Acquisition, Angel Investor, Equity, Love Money, ROI, Seed Money, Series A, Venture Capitalist.

Iteration: to do something again, but better. A common feature of Agile production process, and expected suffering as part of game development.

- J -

Juice: a type of polish (typically visual) that makes the game appear more vibrant or responsive.

- K -

Key art: an iconic piece of marketing art of the game world or characters, often re-used in several different contexts to represent the game’s branding.

KPI: Key Performance Indicator. Used within games to measure the “quality” of a game (such as revenue, average playtime, etc), and/or performance of the development team (such as tasks completed, bugs closed, etc). See also: Analytics, BI.

- L -

Launch: the first official commercial release of a game for sale to customers on a platform. Also called ‘Ship’. See also: Analytics, Simship, Soft Launch.

Legal Line: the brief text of legal rights appearing in your marketing materials (such as a trailer or website), usually stating your copyright or trademark claims, or contribution to the creative commons.

Level (game area): a discrete section of the game, usually requiring a loading screen or other transition to enter and exit. As opposed to a game with an Open World. See also: Geometry.

Level (player progression): a number indicating the player’s power, experience, or other progression in the game. See also: Game Loop.

Level Design: Responsible for the world in which the game takes place, especially the logic of how the player can navigate the space. See also: Game Design.

Linear: a game experience that must be played in a particular sequence and does not vary, as opposed to Non-Linear.

LiveOps: Live Operations. The updates, maintenance, and/or improvements done to a game after launch. If you do LiveOps for an extended period of time, you are considered to be developing the Game As a Service.

LLC: Limited Liability Corporation. A minimal-complication corporation, often used by individuals as protection, to ensure that if sued, the creator’s personal property can’t be seized.

Localisation: the art of making a product more easily enjoyed by a culture different than that of the development team. Often requires translation into a different language at a minimum, but can also include changes to art, UX, controls, difficulty, etc.

LOD/LODs: Level(s) of Detail. Specially created art assets of lower detail (for example, texture maps, models, or animations) to be used in optimization (for example, when the asset is farther away from the player).

Love Money: investment received from family or friends with favourable terms, sometimes without legally binding conditions. See also: Investor.

LTV / LTR: Life Time Value / Life Time Revenue. Usually in reference to a player, measuring how much money they spend in total on the game. See also: Analytics.

Ludonarrative Dissonance: When the story of the game has themes or messages that are at odds with the themes of messages of the gameplay. For example, if a game’s story is a narrative of pacifism overcoming violence, yet the player is required to kill dozens of enemies to advance.

- M -

Market: particular groups of customers. For example, “roguelike fans on Steam” or “people who read mystery novels”. Smaller, more specific markets are often called ‘niche’.

Marketing: the art of trying to get people to buy your product

Market Research: the art of trying to understand your product’s potential commercial success, through researching which market(s) your product will or could serve, if any.

Marketing art: a piece of 2d art or graphic design intended to help sell the game, for example by appearing on a store-front to represent the game. May or may not include the logo. See also: Concept Art, Hero Art, Key Art.

MAU: Monthly Active Users. How many distinct accounts log in to play the game in a given month. See also: Analytics.

Metagame (philosophical): When someone has played a game enough times, especially multiplayer, they may develop different or unusual strategies based on the unique context of their play between different instances of play, as part of their metagame. For example, certain opening moves in chess fell in and out of favor as different chess masters won or lost with them.

Metagame (progression system): In games with distinct matches or runs, which are intended to be completed multiple times, such as the roguelike genre, an overarching metaprogression system provides incentives or progression between matches/runs, to reward continuing to play.

Metroidvania: a sub-genre of non-linear platformer that allows the player to explore further as they earn more powers of navigation/movement. So named after early iconic examples, Metroid and Castlevania.

Milestone: a medium-term deadline in which the game is at a playable, noticeably superior state. Usually 8–12 weeks in length. Commonly used milestone names here are listed in vaguely chronological rather than alphabetical order (though different teams may use different chronologies). Large milestones are often used as a Gate. See also: Project Management.

  • Prototype: the first working version of a game that demonstrates the core “fun” or gameplay, usually with placeholder art
  • Vertical Slice: a brief playable experience showcasing what the game should look/feel/play like, in the final shipped version
  • First Playable: an early version of the game that allows playing from the start to the end, with placeholders along the way
  • Alpha: Definition varies. Generally, when the game is approaching having all major features, though may be missing finer details, content, and art.
  • Beta: Definition varies. Generally, this milestone is achieved and the game is considered ‘in beta’ when the game is both feature and content complete, and only bugfixing remains.
  • Closed Beta: a period of time when a select number of customers are invited to playtest the game before launch, typically under NDA, typically towards the end of production after the Beta milestone is achieved.
  • Open Beta: a period of time when a large number of customers may freely playtest the game, typically following a Closed Beta.
  • Gold Master: a fully complete version of a game, intended to be the version of the game that is released on launch day. Comes from back when the ‘master’ copy of a game was imprinted onto a gold disc.
  • Release Candidate: a version of the game or a patch that can be considered for releasing to players.

MG: Minimum Guarantee. Platforms sometimes offer an MG to entice games to join, paying a certain amount of sales in advance, to reduce the risk of developing for that platform.

Microtransactions: relatively small purchases available in a game that the player may make many times. See also: Monetisation.

MMORPG / MMO: Massively Mutiplayer Online (RPG or game). A shared virtual world, often with RPG elements.

Mobile games: games for phones or tablets. Generally does not include games for handheld consoles.

Mockup: a piece of media (usually a still image) intended to convey what the game should look like to a high fidelity, such as a faked screenshot. See also: Paintover, Vision Document.

Mod (person): short for Moderator. A community member who assists in community management, usually granted special permissions and authority to do so, usually on a part-time, volunteer basis.

Mod (software): short for Modification. A free patch to the game that changes some elements, but which was not created by the original game developers.

Model: a piece of 3d art. Typically refers to the geometry, but may sometimes include the texture. See also: Geometry, Texture Map.

Modular: a type of content that is designed to be easily combined in different ways, whether by a content designer, player, or by a procedural algorithm. For example, character creation in a game tends to use highly modular elements (facial features, skin tones, hair styles, etc) to allow the player to assemble their own character, rather than restricting certain elements to only be usable with certain other elements.

Monetisation / Monetization: to extract profit from customers of a product within the game, such as through in-game purchases or subscription. See also: Microtransactions.

MVP: Minimum Viable Product. Most common in mobile. A minimal version of the game that is technically able to be released and fully functional, but missing many features or content that would be desirable.

- N -

Narrative Design: Responsible for the story and setting of the game, such as in cinematics, narration, dialogue, etc. See also: Game Design.

NDA: Non-Disclosure Agreement. A contract that forbids the sharing of sensitive information, such as details of a game before it’s been released.

Nerf: a permanent design change to an ability, item, or character that reduces its power relative to the rest of the game, usually as part of a patch.

Network (business): as a noun, the group of people that you know and can reliably contact. As a verb, to meet and/or befriend more people.

Network (programming): the connections between clients and servers, or the code that makes a game function online.

Non-Linear: a game experience that allows the player freedom in choosing the sequence of content, if any such sequence exists. See also: Linear.

- O -

Occlusion: the calculation of what is “blocked” from the player’s perspective, usually in terms of rendering optimisation, especially geometry and light. Ambient Occlusion refers specifically to the rendering of ambient lighting on surfaces.

Open World: designates a game that largely takes place a single large space, which the player may roam . As opposed to discrete levels.

- P -

Paintover: an image in which an artist has taken a screenshot of an unfinished environment or assets (such as a greybox) and applied art direction to make it more closely resemble the intended final look. See also: Art Bible, Concept Art, Mockup.

Patch: a file a user can download to improve their software for the next time it is run. When a patch is released on or before the release date, it is called a Day 1 Patch. See also: Hotfix.

Pickup: an item in the game that the player may ‘pick up’ in order to gain a temporary power, ability, or buff.

PIP: Personal Improvement Plan. A series of steps intended to improve an employee’s performance, usually as determined and evaluated by HR and/or the employee’s supervisor. Unfortunately, not generally used for employee growth or promotion but rather to avoid termination.

Pipeline: the process by which created assets such as art or audio become functioning parts of the game.

Pitch Deck / Pitch Document: a document or slide show detailing the concept, budget, product specifications, and market appeal of a game. Sometimes called just a ‘deck’. See also: Documentation.

Platform: a proprietary game format, such as a console or website, usually paired with a digital storefront. not related to Platformer.

Platformer: a game with character movement and jumping as its primary interaction. Not related to Platform.

Playtest: to play a game before it’s complete, often with the intent of finding unknown bugs.

Polish: as a noun, the element of a game that appears to be especially (perhaps unnecessarily) high quality and attention to detail, especially some particular element, such as interface, animations, audio, etc. As a verb, the act of imbuing a game with that special (perhaps unnecessary) level of quality and attention to detail. See also: Juice.

Poker Planning: an Agile method of both estimating work as a group, and educating a cross-disciplinary team in each others’ fields. See also: Story.

Port: as a noun, a technical conversion of a game from its originally intended platform to a new one (such as from desktop to a particular console), including basic compatibility as well as any changes to controls, art, interface, etc. As a verb, the act of performing the conversion.

Postmortem / Post-mortem: a meeting held after a milestone (especially the game’s launch) in which the team and/or leadership reflects on what can be learned from the experience of making the game, usually including what went well and what did not go well. The written summary and action items from the meeting are also called a post-mortem.

PR: Public Relations. The role of presenting the game to customers, press, and influencers, and managing its perception. See also: Community Manager, Customer Service.

Premium: a game that costs money upfront to purchase is considered Premium, even if there is a limited free demo. As opposed to F2P (Free to Play).

Pre-production: Definition varies. Generally, the part of game development in which the game’s concept is further defined and proven, including activities such as creating documentation and a playable prototype.

Press: Journalists and critics, traditionally writing or creating videos for magazines, newspapers, websites, and other publications. See also: Influencers.

Procedural: a game experience in which content is combined or created in some way according to a set of rules (i.e. a procedure) by a computer, rather than being completely created by a designer. Does not necessarily include randomisation. See also: Authored.

Producer: Definition varies. Generally, responsible for the scheduling, budget, and scope of a project. See also: Production.

Production: Generally, the work process of creating a game, in terms of hours, tasks, labor, etc. Also used sometimes to specifically refer to the “middle” part of development, after pre-production and before achieving Beta status. See also: Burndown chart, Gantt chart, Milestone, Pre-production, Producer.

Production Value: the apparent relative budget of a game, based on the quality of its aesthetics, controls, etc. A more beautiful, polished, and/or feature-rich game is said to have high production value.

Profits: any extra revenue, after costs (i.e. after the break-even point). So a company can earn $500k in a year but if they spent $500k, they may still have $0 profits.

Publisher: a company who assists in the distribution and launch of a game they did not develop. Can be platform- or region-specific, and potentially provide various services, such as PR, marketing, community management, localisation, porting, customer service, etc.

PvE: Player versus Enemy. Denotes game content or modes in which the player or players fight or compete with game AI, as opposed to other players. See also: PvP.

PvP: Player versus Player. Game content or modes in which the player fights or competes with other players. See also: PvE.

- Q -

QA: Quality Assurance. The role of engineers in charge of finding, cataloguing, and regressing bugs and problems in the game. See also: Dev QA, Cert QA.

QC: Quality Control. The process through which QA and other game developers worth together to ensure the product is of sufficient quality, which may or may not include certification.

Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4: Quarter 1/2/3/4 of the calendar year, each lasting three months. Q1 is January-March, etc.

- R -

Ramp Up: the process of increasing the number of people working on a game’s development team, usually mid-production, to the intended full headcount.

Recoup: the process of a publisher or investing partner being paid back their investment, usually through sales of the game.

Recruiting / Recruiter: the role that finds candidates for a company to potentially hire. When hired as a contractor, a recruiter typically take a percentage of the salary paid to the new hire. Also called Headhunting. See also: HR.

Red Ocean: a very crowded, competitive market, usually following after a highly successful product capitalises on a Blue Ocean. See also: Marketing.

Regress / Regression Test: to test parts of the program thought to be bug-free, to confirm a bugfix was successful and didn’t introduce new bugs. See also: Playtest, QA.

Rendering: the art of getting a computer to put human-comprehensible graphics on a screen. See also: LOD, Texture Map.

  • Anisotropic Filtering: a way to make textures look better when they are viewed at an angle from the player’s camera
  • Antialiasing: a method of making certain objects or textures appear to stand out and be more visible against less important objects or textures
  • Blit: a way to combine two textures (bitmaps) into one, often used in 2d animation
  • Mipmaps / MIP maps: Pre-calculated images or textures to aid in faster rendering. Aids in performance, as a sort of pre-baked LOD.
  • PBR: Physically Based Rendering. An approach attempting to model the flow and bounce of light as realistically as possible.
  • Real Time Rendering: rendering done with calculations as the game is played, “in real time”. See also: Baked.
  • Shader: a bit of code that changes the way something looks, while it is in the process of being rendered.

Replayability: how well the game’s design facilitates long hours of (or infinite) play. Not necessarily related to how much a player loves the game and wants to play the game again. Also called ‘stickiness’.

Retention: A measurement of how many players continue playing the game after a certain amount of time. Higher retention means your players are more likely to keep playing after days, weeks, months, or years. See also: Analytics.

Revenue: money received by the company, whether via sales, grants, investment, or any other source. Usually assumed to be Net unless specified Gross. See also: Profits.

  • Gross Revenue: the amount of money initially “spent”, before any taxes, fees, etc. If a customer buys your game on a digital platform for $10, but $1 is paid in sales tax and $2 is kept by the platform, the Gross Revenue from that sale is $10.
  • Net Revenue: the amount of money actually received, after taxes, fees, etc. If a customer buys your game on a digital platform for $10, but $1 is paid in sales tax and $2 is kept by the platform, the Net Revenue from that sale to the platform is $9, but the Net Revenue to you is $7.

ROI: Return on Investment. The profits (or, sometimes, other benefits) made, usually expressed as a multiple of the initial investment. For example, if you invest $100k and the returned profit is $200k, the investment is said to have a 2x ROI. See also: Investor.

RPG: Role-Playing Game. A game genre that generally includes combat with explicit damage points, experience points, and character progression levels. See also: MMORPG, TTRPG.

Runway: the amount of time remaining for your studio to survive, based on how much money you have, minus your burn rate. See: Burn Rate.

- S -

Scope (noun): the relative size and complexity of labour required to complete a game. A game is said to have a large scope if it has many features and/or a lot of content (assumed to be in comparison to competing products or the development team’s past experience). See also: Feature Creep, Production.

Scope (verb): the process of cutting unnecessary, low-value, or unfeasible features and content from the game, to re-focus the development team’s efforts.

Screenshot: an image captured automatically of the game while running on a platform. When altered or adjusted to become marketing art, can also be called a mockup or paintover.

Scripting: light, usually less-powerful programming, as allowed within tools for artists, designers, etc, rather than in code and a compiler. Not related to scriptwriting.

Seed Money / Seed Round: initial investment made, before a company has created a product or started providing a service. As it is riskier than Series A or subsequent investments, it is usually made in smaller amounts, from fewer people, and confers greater power in the investor. See also: Investor.

Self-Employed: a legal designation in some regions/countries for a very small company which does not meet the qualifications for a full corporation (in employee count, payroll total, revenue received, or other requirement).

Series A, B, etc: an investment made after a company has begun to show it can make a profit, usually so that it can grow and/or increase its profits in some way. See also: Investor.

Server: the computer that holds data for others to access and download. See also: Client, Network.

Session: A single uninterrupted time a player spends playing the game. See also: Analytics.

Simship: short for Simultaneous Shipping. The art of a game’s initial launch including multiple ports of a game on the same day. Unrelated to matchmaking in The Sims. See also: Launch, Port.

Soft Launch: launching a game in limited region(s), or without a large PR/marketing effort, in order to effectively have an open beta and adjust the game as needed before the ‘real’ or ‘hard’ Launch. Most commonly used in F2P mobile games to maximise retention and monetisation. See also: Analytics, Launch.

SLA: Service-Level Agreement. An agreement usually signed between two companies when one is providing a service for another, such as distributing a game on their platform.

SKU: Stock Keeping Unit. A retail term for a version of a product, as packaged for sale. For example, on Steam alone, you might sell 3 SKUs of a game: the base game, the game + soundtrack, and the collector’s edition. Platforms other than Steam would be considered separate SKUs from these 3.

Source control / Version control: a method of keeping your game’s different versions recorded throughout development (and then accessible for re-downloading as necessary). Prevents large losses of data, since data is backed up as it is worked on.

  • Branch: a particular series of versions of the game’s data/assets/code, which is held apart from all of the other versions, often due to a fundamental difference, such as platform compatibility or feature development.
  • Commit: to upload your changes into source control and back them up as a new game version, thus “committing” to them as a permanent record.
  • Fork: to create a new branch
  • Merge Conflict / Resolve Conflict: when uploading your changes, it may be that someone else has edited the same files you did, at the same time you did, creating a data contradiction that the source control cannot automatically settle by normal merging of the two changes. In that case, it flags your edits as a conflict, and a human must choose which version of the conflicting file to “keep” and which to discard.
  • Pull: to download data and all associated changes from the source control
  • Push: to upload changed data to the source control (in some source control, synonymous with commit)
  • Repository: the giant record of all the game’s historical versions and changes, as tracked by source control
  • Roll Back: to discard any changes, and download an older version of the data. If this older version is then committed, it effectively ‘undoes’ the newer versions, resetting the data to that older version.
  • Version: a snapshot of data, code, and/or assets of the game, usually associated with a timestamp of when its changes were committed

Sprint: a unit of time a team works together towards a small but finishable goal. Usually 2 weeks. A group of 3–5 sprints forms a milestone.

Standup/Stand up meeting: a short morning status meeting in which everyone reports on what they did yesterday, what they intend to accomplish today, and whether anything is blocking them. When held in an office, usually performed standing up, which ensures the meeting ends in a timely fashion.

Story / Stories (project management): a unit of work, like a task. Its main text is worded so as to focus on the (ideally user-facing) result. So rather than a task such as “player’s jump is broken/too low”, a story might read “I want to jump higher”.

Storyboard: a visual diagram explaining how a sequence of events might look to a viewer or player. Most often used to communicate camera movements, cuts, or interface animations. See also: Documentation, Wireframe.

Story points: a way of estimating work that focuses on complexity/risk rather than time duration. So a story estimate would be 1 or 2 or 8 points, rather than an estimate of 4 hours or 2 days.

System Design: Definition varies. Responsible for ensuring that the systems (especially the numerical ones, such as involved in progression, combat, or monetization) in the game function well and achieve the intended player experience. See also: Game Design.

- T -

Tank: in an RPG, a (usually player) character whose combat specialty is primarily to absorb damage. See also: DPS.

Target Audience: the type of person who you believe will enjoy the game (whether in demographics or psychographics, or both). Ideally, this is agreed-upon by both design and marketing.

Technical Debt: the accrual of code or data that will need fixing or re-implementation later, when shortcuts are taken. It is considered to be a debt of time, gained now and paid later.

Texture Map: The image that is stretched over a 3d model’s geometry. Other types of texture maps that add different kinds of detail include bump maps, displacement maps, normal maps, and specular maps. Also called a material. See also: LOD, Rendering

The Three C’s / The 3 C’s: Controls, Combat, and Camera. Considered to be a particular field of design expertise.

Title Card / Intertitle: a piece of text in the middle of a video, such as a trailer.

TTPRG: Table-Top Role-Playing Game. An RPG designed to be played analog, such as Dungeons & Dragons.

Tutorial: The part of the game that teaches the player how to play. Also called the First Time User Experience (FTUE), especially in mobile and F2P games.

- U -

UI: User Interface. The visual elements that are generally not part of the game world, but instead communicate gameplay elements to the player, such as a map or the character’s HP. See also: HUD, UX, Wireframe.

UML: Unified Modeling Language. A method of diagramming software functionality and system design, including different inputs, outputs, and states.

User Research: responsible for understanding (qualitatively or quantitatively) what players are experiencing and perceiving when they play the game. This may involve for example a questionnaire, a focus group discussion, or other techniques.

UX: short for User Experience or User Experience Design. The art of making the player’s interactions with and understanding of the game as smooth and intuitive as possible. (CHECK) See also: Game Design, UI, User Research.

- V -

Variable: an element of code that can change

Velocity: the expected amount of labor a particular team can produce over time, such as a certain volume of story points completed in a sprint. See also: Agile, Burndown Chart, Production.

Venture Capitalist: a particular kind of investor that invests large amounts of money, belonging to organizations or groups other than themselves, for the explicit and often sole purpose of gaining large profits in return

Vignette: a short playable experience, either stand-alone or as part of a larger experience. Also can refer to film treatment in which it’s darkened around the edges.

Vision Document: a piece of media (most commonly, a video) that clearly expresses the ultimate intent of how the game should look and play when it is complete, like a ‘fake’ or non-interactive Vertical Slice. See also: Documentation, Mockup.

- W -

Waterfall: a traditional software development process, in which the software very cleanly is handed off as it is completed from one team of experts (such as programmers) to another (such as artists). As opposed to the more cross-disciplinary, iterative process of Agile.

Wireframe: a minimalist, visual communication tool, usually used for interface design. Intended to focus solely on developing the usability of the elements in the wireframe and avoid aesthetic distractions. See also: Game design, UI, UX.

~~~~~~~~~

Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Let us know we should add an entry!

--

--

--

Game development posts and thoughts from Kitfox Games. Biz dev, leadership, marketing, community management, art, game design, and more.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Kitfox Games

Kitfox Games

Games with dangerous, intriguing worlds to explore. Currently: Boyfriend Dungeon, Lucifer Within Us, Dwarf Fortress, Mondo Museum • kitfoxgames.com

More from Medium

Tegronomics and the $1 Mn Tegro Grant

Methodizing Game Idea Generation Pt.1 — Emotion & Concept Creation

A Brief Introduction To Global Rockstar

OBJECT: FC005. Bird Series… (Neon Corp).