Best project management tools for game developers
Building a game is a very complicated and daunting task, and many things can go wrong. No matter if you are the lead producer of a AAA studio, the part-time producer of an indie team, or just a solo dev working from home. Without effective organization and planning, you’re set for failure: delays, the dreaded crunch, and even running out of money.
That’s where project management comes into play. We are not going to discuss methodologies and techniques here, I’m sure if you have read this far is because you already know what you need to do, or how you need to improve what you’re doing. You came here looking for the best tool that can help you organize your game studio.
Choosing the right project management tool is essential. If you can’t build a skyscraper with just a hammer and a saw, you can’t plan a game without the right tools either. Keep reading and discover the best project management tools for game developers.
HacknPlan is an agile, modern, and streamlined project management tool especially tailored for game development. The key features include agile task management with kanban boards, advanced metrics and reporting, and the jewel of the crown, a unique game design documentation system that integrates with the tasks and user stories making it a great source of truth and giving you an extra layer of context to both planning and documentation.
Even though it is not as big or widespread as other solutions in this list, HacknPlan is becoming one of the most popular project management tools among small and medium-sized game studios. It sits in a sweet spot between the extreme simplicity of some generic task management tools and the overly complex enterprise project management systems that offer everything for everyone. This, of course, comes with some downsides, because even though it is very customizable, HacknPlan can be more opinionated than other solutions. However, if their approach sits right with you, it can be very intuitive and easy to use.
HacknPlan offers a free tier with limited functionality, and two premium tiers, one for advanced users and one for teams, with a great quality-price ratio.
- Tailored for game development
- Unique game documentation features
- Short learning curve
- Opinionated system
- No mobile app
We can safely say that Jira is the standard when it comes to project management in the gaming industry (and many other fields too). The software, developed by the Australian company Atlassian, is often used together with another tool of the same developer, Confluence, to create documentation for game projects. One of the best things about Jira is it is extremely configurable, allowing you to create complex workflows and tailor the tool to your specific needs, making it the best option for big companies. You can also purchase add-ons and plugins to extend the capabilities of the tool. Also, being so popular, it is easy to find people who know it and are used to it.
That said, the power that Jira has in terms of being able to do everything in very different fields, being so extendable and configurable has its downsides too. Jira can be too complex and overwhelming for small and medium teams, considering all the possibilities, configuration screens, menus, add-ons… A lot of time must be spent to set everything up. Also, Jira can have an old-fashioned and corporate style and way of doing things, which might not be for everyone. On top of that, Jira is cheap at first, but it could become really expensive if the team grows.
- Widely used in the gaming industry
- Configurable and extendable
- Good for big companies
- Steep learning curve
- Too complex for small and medium teams
- Price does not escalate well
Notion is a productivity web app that includes note-taking, task management, documentation and more. Even though it is not as old and established as Jira and other solutions in the market, it has become one of the most popular management tools, and it is being used more and more in the gaming industry. What makes Notion so attractive is its versatility: everything in Notion is a document that is composed of blocks. This allows you to build a very rich and comprehensive documentation and organize the project the way you want.
But, as we mentioned with Jira, versatility sometimes comes with downsides. Having a blank canvas to fill up requires a lot of work to set up your project and configure it to fit your needs, unlike other tools like HacknPlan that, being game developer-oriented, provide a lot already made for you following industry standards. Also, task management is not the core feature of the service, so you could find it too simple for your needs.
You can start Notion for free as an individual with limited features, with paid plans starting at $8 per month.
- Good for documentation
- Flexible and configurable
- Easy to learn
- Limited task management features
- Too generic for game development
Trello is one of the most popular task-tracking tools out there. Trello was designed with simplicity in mind, so you can organize everything with it, from your groceries to work stuff. Due to its simplicity and the fact that it has a free version, Trello became one of the most used tools to plan small indie games. You can create visual boards for your tasks, collaborate with others and share your projects publicly. Also, premium plans offer more advanced features for bigger and more serious projects.
However, Trello’s simplicity can be an issue as your project grows. Trello lacks many features to be considered a proper project management tool (Atlassian already has Jira for that), so if you need to create dependencies, organize milestones and get advanced reports or metrics, Trello is not the best tool for your needs. If you, on the other hand, want to keep things simple, it might be the best candidate.
- Simple and intuitive
- Mobile versions
- Generic, lack of structure
- Too simple for complex projects
Codecks is one of the two tools in this list (along with HacknPlan) that is tailored to game development. They define their tool as “playful project management for game development”, and this is because their system is inspired by collectible cards. Unlike most project management tools that are agile-oriented and rely on classic and widely known concepts like kanban boards, tasks in Codecks are organized in “decks” (groups of related tasks) and hands (personal to-do lists). This, combined with its peculiar UI, makes Codecks a very unique tool.
The main downside with Codecks comes also from its uniqueness. Even though it is a tool tailored for game development, not using common concepts like kanban boards, sprints, stages and so on, makes the tool difficult to learn. The UI, despite being good-looking and original, is not intuitive and you have to learn to do things their way from scratch, steeping the learning curve.
Codecks has a free version limited to 5 users and premium plans starting at €5 per month.
- Tailored to game development
- Steep learning curve
- Confusing UI
- Not designed for agile development
Planning and tracking are critical parts of the process of building a game, and choosing the best project management tool for game developers can make a big difference. Hobbyists or very small teams that one a very simple approach to planning could use Trello and that would be enough. Small and medium-sized studios that are more serious and professional will get the most bang for their buck by using HacknPlan, which is not too simple and not too complex and is priced right for the features included. And, if you are a AAA studio and require complex workflows and automation, then probably Jira is a good option.
Choose wisely, and good luck!