The stage at which the game's overall concept, story, aesthetic design and other core aspects are drafted up by the designers and put forward to the development team. Characters, levels, enemies, weapons and so on are developed by the concept artists to establish the game's overall look and feel. Scripts are written and suggestions put forward for choices of voice actors/actresses. Design decisions are made relating to the core gameplay mechanics, which are then implemented into code by the programmers into an Alpha version.
The "first draft" version of a game, alpha versions generally only contain the bare bones of a game construct (such as basic level design and user interface) and often contain placeholder graphics and audio.
Alpha revisions are made as core functionality errors are detected by testers and resolved by the programmers. Once the core functionality of the game is stable and elements such as graphics, audio and text are finalized by their respective design departments, the game can progress on to Beta stage development.
Once the game has progressed past the Alpha stage into Beta, it is closer to resembling the final product. The majority of issues preventing a Beta version from being suitable for final release are minor technical errors and elements which need fine-tuning to improve gameplay, since most of the more severe functionality errors will have been resolved during the Alpha stage.
Beta revisions are made as additional errors are detected by testers and resolved by the programmers. At this point, it is not uncommon for the game to be subjected to testing by select members of the game's target audience via "closed Beta". Once the game is sufficiently polished and bug-free, it can be considered for the final stages of testing as a release candidate version.
Release candidate versions are subjected to tests which focus on double-checking the game's stablitity and proof-reading the in-game text for any errors which may have been overlooked during previous test, in addition to ensuring it meets any other criteria such as hardware manufacturer's requirements or certification by external regulatory bodies (like the ESRB). Once these requirements are met, the game can be prepared for release. During this final period of testing, media such as box art, the game manual will be finalized ready for when the final game version is shipped.
The final release version is the version burned to disk/offered for direct download as the finished retail product. Retail outlets may be provided with promotional material such as point-of-display boards, posters, stickers, and demo videos, and special promotional events may be staged to co-incide with the game's release date to generate additional publicity.
Post-release revisions (patches)Edit
Sometimes bugs may slip the testing net, or time constraints may require a developer to release a game with known bugs remaining in the code (as during crunch time, minor errors are often ignored so that major technical issues can be resolved). As a result, development of a game often continues beyond release through the development of game patches, which players can download and install in order to fix gameplay issues. Such technical support can extend long after a game's release date. It is also not unheard of for player communities to develop their own, fan-made patches to offer technical support to games no longer supported by their developers (perhaps because the game is very old, or the developer went out of business).