Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Why Your Game Idea Sucks

Erin Hoffman | 29 Sep 2009 12:25
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In the defense of these intrepid sandcastle-builders, there was a brief time during the videogame boom of the mid-'90s when you could sell a game on paper - that is, a game that does not exist - with no development experience to back it up. Back then, games were a lot simpler to make, and while that didn't mean they were easy, it meant you could sweat through the experience with a small team and squeak out the other side with a potential hit. But that environment, in which there was, to be fair, way more money floating around than there were solid game ideas, created the "hit-driven" history of the industry, which is a nice way of saying that even most expensive projects failed catastrophically. No one sells on paper anymore unless they've got a track record of hits, and sometimes not even then - because the truth is, a game isn't really a game until someone is playing it.

The Devil's in the Details

The best game designers, and game developers as a whole, will tell you that, with rare exception, a game is not a game in its design document form, no matter how carefully crafted that document is. This doesn't mean that game ideas in and of themselves are worthless, but it does mean that even a brilliant idea can fail for any number of reasons, from a lack of technical expertise to a shift in console technology to an insufficient budget to publisher politics to just plain being released into the market at the wrong time.

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A game designer's job is to communicate with the game marketplace - to identify a niche and fill it with a satisfying game experience. Even assuming the most derivative mechanics and content possible, this delivery can get screwed up. On top of keeping a consistent vision in his or her own head, the designer has to shepherd that idea through the minds of the many other people working on the project, who will inevitably have different ideas about what the design specifies and what's feasible inside their timeframe. Add more risk factors, like new hardware technology, competitive graphics or any kind of gameplay innovation whatsoever, and all bets are off.

From the perspective of an experienced game developer, the notion that a game idea - something on paper, something that hasn't even been prototyped yet - could possibly have any kind of monetary value is not only delusional but almost insultingly out of touch with the grueling development process. If a game makes it out the door and people shell out their heard-earned cash for it, it is because a symphony of effort went into navigating that precious ship through shark-infested waters for months, if not years, to get it to the market. And you? You've got a blueprint.

But this doesn't mean that game developers don't hoard, cultivate and zealously nurture their own game ideas.

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