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The Importance of Downscoping

In our episode about pre-production, we talk a little about scoping a project towards the smallest possible version. We talk about the valuing of focusing on proving a concept, and not trying to repeat yourself in the early stages, but focussing on the small is an important aspect of development at all stages. I wanted to expand on the idea of focusing on the small or “downscoping” in this blog post to help you think about ways in which you could apply these ideals and techniques to your own projects. 

Generally speaking, downscoping is defined as “the sale and other forms of disposing of business that is not related to the entity's main activities”. It is usually applied to large corporations who are looking to eliminate parts of their company that are either commercially unviable or have been made redundant. To bring it into the context of games development, I’d define downscoping as “reducing the size and complexity aspects within the current scope with the goal of reducing the overall scope”. At any point in development, the scope could define what the final version looks like, what the next version looks like, or what the next milestone looks like. For the purposes of this blog, let’s say that scope is what the next version looks like; a build which allows someone to play the game. 

To make the process of downscoping a bit clearer, we’ll start with a basic game idea. Suppose a top down shooting game where you attempt to defend a small town from an invading force. It could be zombies, aliens, or some other type of creature. When you think of this game, what features do you imagine? Are there multiple guns, and can you upgrade them all separately? Can you get on a horse or in a car and travel around? And what do the enemies do? Are they humanoid? Can they fire as well? When they get close do they hit you? Each of these questions describes another feature or mechanic which adds complexity to the game, or at the very least adds development time. When we talk of downscoping, we talk of focussing the game down into the core aspects, so we ask the question: what are the core aspects of the game?

Let’s take each section of “top down shooting game where you attempt to defend a small town from an invading force” in isolation. 

  • Top down; easily complete by adding a camera that looks down on the scenario, but what does it look down on. 2D and 3D can be equally easy or difficult depending on what you have access to. 

  • Shooting; again straight forward. To prove the idea, what do you need? One gun shoots, so you don’t need two to prove it. 

  • Defend; preventing the loss of something is how you win. This could be preventing townsfolk from being killed or the town from being destroyed, whichever is simpler to code

  • Small town; a small town is exactly that, small. The smallest form that allows in, say a single road with buildings either side (old west style). 

  • Invading force; whatever you have easy access to. 

Again at all stages you build it up from the ground up, focusing on the cores. For example, the invading force mentioned might end up as animated 2D zombies, but it could start as white squares that damage the townsfolk they touch. The sooner you build the foundation, the sooner you can build up the whole game, but every time you add a feature or mechanic you have to start from the beginning again and build it up step by step. 

It’s important to stay concise, contained and controlled. Downscoping means not taking anything beyond its means. It’s a constant process and one that you get better at over time. Ultimately, downscoping is difficult, but worthwhile when it comes to making a game that is efficient and, more importantly, one that you can complete development on. 


Adam is a games developer based in Yorkshire. He is the co-founder of BetaJester Ltd; a VR, AR, and games development company. A programmer by trade, Adam is also a Video Games/STEM Ambassador, part of the GI.BIZ Future Talent 100, event organiser, and e-mentor for lots of aspiring game developers and student entrepreneurs across the country. He regularly gives talks about being a part of the game industry, tips on how to succeed in game jams, and how to create and run a start- up. He works on BetaJester’s games and experiences, including their sea-faring narrative title Forgotten Sea, alongside their other client work.