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Why Your Game Idea Sucks

Erin Hoffman | 29 Sep 2009 12:25
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Why a Game Designer Will Never Steal Your Idea

I'm coming down on students and novices of all standings pretty hard here, largely because I answer the same concern in Q&A sessions with students over and over again. The verse goes something like this:

"I have this great idea. It's brilliant and will sell millions of copies. I want to sell it to a game studio, or, failing that, I want a publisher to pay for its development. How do I pitch it to a publisher or a developer, and once I do, how do I make sure they don't just steal my idea?"

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In every single group of students I've spoken to - and because I care about them, there are a lot - someone tells a version of this story and asks this question. About 70 percent of the time it's the first question to come from the group.

So for the students reading this now, and for every other hopeful game developer who has thought the same thing but hasn't voiced it, I want to make you a promise:

No one will ever steal your game idea. Ever.

If you've stuck with me this far, you already know that game ideas are usually worth less than the paper they're written on. Even experienced studios with veteran developers and piles of shipped titles under their belts have a hell of a time selling a game idea based on a pitch. And if they can't do it, you can't do it either.

So we get it, right? Game ideas aren't commodities. You don't need to worry about your idea being stolen, because even if someone did steal your idea, they'd still have to sell, build, tune and ship it, at which point it would be a completely different idea arrived upon through the development process than where they began.

But if you still aren't convinced, the other reason no one will ever steal your game idea is that no one really wants to work on any game except his or her own.

Among the thousands of professional game developers I have met over the last 10 years, I have yet to meet one who did not have a pet idea he hoped to execute someday. It's one of my favorite questions to ask of new colleagues and old friends alike: If I handed you two million dollars for a project, what game would you make?

For every fledgling idea your non-game-developer head can conjure up, a professional game developer probably has 20. Game designers usually have more. I asked my boss, Greg Johnson - creator of ToeJam & Earl and several other award-winning games - how many game pitches he had stored in his filing cabinet and in his head. These are actual fleshed-out game designs from a guy with nearly 30 years of experience and an endless passion for making games. "Probably close to a hundred," he said. I've seen the filing cabinet, and I believe it.

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