221: Why Your Game Idea Sucks

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Why Your Game Idea Sucks

Do you have an idea for a game so original with a story so amazing that it'll make you millions while simultaneously curing cancer and saving the whales? You might not want to get your hopes up. Erin Hoffman explains why your game idea isn't all it's cracked up to be - and why that might not be such a bad thing after all.

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An interesting look inside the industry, especially since game ideas are something my friends and I love to talk about a lot. I enjoyed this article, thanks for writing it. :)

Nice. Blunt and to the point. A very well done article. Too bad it's not worth the 1's and 0's it's written in. Couldn't resist that.

I actually disagree with the argument that game designers will not steal other game designers' ideas. Sometimes, an idea may be so good that the first game designer may decide, "I want to do my pet project in the future, but this one seem to get me the money to do my pet project, so I'll use this idea." The fact that he repackaged the idea and made it 'original' does not mean that the game designer did not steal the idea in the first place.

Possibly the main reason game designers don't steal other game designers' ideas is because Game Designers' Ideas AREN'T ORIGINAL. They are usually inspired by other external factors. So people can independently come up with the same Idea.

You can take an original idea and make a hit - that's what indie scene is for! Duh!

And by the way,would you like me to write an article about how much you suck? Insulting your readers is not good.

Yes, but you have to actually design and make the game on the Indie scene. Try giving the Indie scene lots of documents and tell them to make the game for you. You'll get a lot of interesting feedback.

SilentScope001:
Yes, but you have to actually design and make the game on the Indie scene.

And why wouldn't you do it? Just find a programmer,an artist,and run with it! Look at World of Goo - it was a triumph. Huge sucsess. And it was made by two guys.

Little depressing, but oh well, I guess that is the way the world is.

It've always wanted to get into the video game industry, whether it was my idea or not, but yeah. xD

BUT YES, kinda depressing, but at least truthfull.

I hugely agree with people pushing the indie-games angle. With all the major consoles - hell, and even the handhelds - embracing downloadable content scene, there has never been a sweeter time to assemble a ragtag team and save the President. I mean...make your game.

What if your ambitions are for a triple-A title along the lines of Mass Effect or GTA? It still can't hurt to start small and see what you can actually do. As the article indicates, anybody who has only ONE game idea is going to have a lot of trouble giving that idea wings; particularly if it's a lumbering mammoth of a title.

I don't think it was the author's intent to insult her readers. It was more like a cold bucket of water to the faces of her readers. Running around touting your world-changing game idea is the new version of having a "really great script!" in Hollywood - the fewer your credentials, the less anybody is going to take you seriously.

This article will have one of two effects on wannabee game designers: One, convincing them that their game ideas are just a pipe-dream and perhaps a different pursuit would bear sweeter fruit. Or two - that they are among the few mentioned in the last paragraph and will fight all the harder to make their idea a reality just to prove the author wrong.

Great article - always satisfying to get some insider info.

Weird...a lot of the games I think up focus heavily on humor...me and my friends had a laugh on the subject of a viking world with present day influences and humor thrown in (like Samurai Champloo...remember the "MC")

I think a game like that would do well...I mean its not like anyone is looking forward to Brutal Legend for any other reason. (follows same formula...)

Spot on. Wonderful article. Thank you very much Mrs. Hoffman.

(BTW, I love your games and I have a very original idea that I would like you to look at. It will make us stinkin' rich!)

Kollega:

SilentScope001:
Yes, but you have to actually design and make the game on the Indie scene.

And why wouldn't you do it? Just find a programmer,an artist,and run with it! Look at World of Goo - it was a triumph. Huge sucsess. And it was made by two guys.

Because the main argument for why the game idea is terrible is because it is JUST an idea. You need to design and make the game, and then it becomes good. It's not the game idea that's great...it's the actual game creation process itself.

D-Ship:
Running around touting your world-changing game idea is the new version of having a "really great script!" in Hollywood - the fewer your credentials, the less anybody is going to take you seriously.

How often does that actually happen to you guys?

When me and my friends come up with a game idea, its just for fun or a comparison on a present title to say "this would have been epic if they had...".

hansari:

D-Ship:
Running around touting your world-changing game idea is the new version of having a "really great script!" in Hollywood - the fewer your credentials, the less anybody is going to take you seriously.

How often does that actually happen to you guys?

When me and my friends come up with a game idea, its just for fun or a comparison on a present title to say "this would have been epic if they had...".

Honestly? Not often. But none of my friends have ambitions of becoming game designers. We have some talks along the same lines as you and you friends, hansari, but if Erin's article is any indication, there are no shortage of the people I'm talking about. It's just harder to find them.

Wow, what a pointless article. Granted it does give some insight to the industry mindset, but the whole "Get over your idea, there's millions of them" written over and over again in many different ways, till it reached the length of four pages and the utter boredom that it induced in me from trying to read it all(stopped at page 3), won't reach the people who needs this advice anyways because they'll be too busy thinking that their idea is different and this doesn't apply to them.

Erin Hoffman:
Why Your Game Idea Sucks

Do you have an idea for a game so original with a story so amazing that it'll make you millions while simultaneously curing cancer and saving the whales? You might not want to get your hopes up. Erin Hoffman explains why your game idea isn't all it's cracked up to be - and why that might not be such a bad thing after all.

Read Full Article

This is very insulting. Not everyone is in it for the money. If you knew anything about games you would know that controls, empowerment, challenge and immersion matter far more than concept, narrative, art direction, animation, orchestral score and celebrity voice talent. Studios can keep their Millions of Dollars. They generally produce linear burn-through-it-in-a-weekend "Cinematic Experiences" rather than true games with deep replayability. Unfortunately, huge marketing budgets, movie tie-ins and consumer ignorance (with aunties buying games as presents for nephews) allow the industry to produce 'shiny' crap - I wouldn't normally use such strong language, but you brought up the sexually deviant practise otherwise known as "tea-bagging"; so it is you who started it. Furthermore, not all game designers fall into your 'comprehensively' listed categories. I for one am a programmer and I am not looking for any assistance or funding for my game. I have spent a great many years working on the development of tools (which would normally be regarded as Middleware in the Industry). This suits me far better than adopting someone else's existing engine and 'modding it' to approximate my needs. I have no plans to charge for the game once it is finished and will probably make the toolset open-source at some point in the future too.

So, you can stick to making dumb games about Toe Jam and market them as 'fun gifts for the kids' because you've blown all your credibility with this article and you should expect all of your future "advice" to be ignored.

I love this article so much, and have been thinking of writing something like it for a while. I've had so many friends think they had the next huge RPG, and had notebooks full of characters and story and concepts, and go on and on about how they'll make it someday. Then whenever I'd try to stomp on their dreams, they'd get super defensive. Better to hear it now then after all your hard work.

Pah. My game idea is fantastic thank you very much.

I mean, who wouldn't want to punch a whale in the face in: Man vs Whale. Coming to a store near you...

Good ideas are not rare. Good people to carry them out are.

This whole "face reality" attitude that's so often imposed on people interested in game design is getting very old and I've never seen how it helps. At best you're going to what? Turn people away from the industry before they take a shot at it? Well congratulations, you've shattered someone's dreams and hurt the industry all at once.

This is why you need about half a million dollars to even start to get a studio's attention in executing your own idea. You're paying for them not to work on their own projects - and that is, and always should be, very, very expensive.

I think this is the most truthful statement I have read about game development, and probably why the whole "lets get together and make a game" rarely works out. I currently work for some one with the half million dollars and an idea. I don't always think it is a good idea, but it is very hard to work on my own idea without a roof over my head.

So the guys who had the idea to make World of Goo also suck? I find it hard to believe that all of us are such idiots and can't come up with at least one good game idea...

Maruza:
Good ideas are not rare. Good people to carry them out are.

This whole "face reality" attitude that's so often imposed on people interested in game design is getting very old and I've never seen how it helps. At best you're going to what? Turn people away from the industry before they take a shot at it? Well congratulations, you've shattered someone's dreams and hurt the industry all at once.

"Will Wright was educated at a local Montessori school, where he enjoyed its emphasis on creativity, problem solving, and self-motivation. Wright admitted to having been inspired to create certain elements of SimCity from his experiences in the school." - Wikipedia, Will Wright Early Life Biography

If only some pessimistic douche came to him then and told him his ideas were shit, there were a million of them, and he shouldn't have even tried; and he had listened to their advice. His life would've been much better off.

Uncompetative:

This is very insulting. Not everyone is in it for the money. If you knew anything about games you would know that controls, empowerment, challenge and immersion matter far more than concept, narrative, art direction, animation, orchestral score and celebrity voice talent. Studios can keep their Millions of Dollars. They generally produce linear burn-through-it-in-a-weekend "Cinematic Experiences" rather than true games with deep replayability. Unfortunately, huge marketing budgets, movie tie-ins and consumer ignorance (with aunties buying games as presents for nephews) allow the industry to produce 'shiny' crap - I wouldn't normally use such strong language, but you brought up the sexually deviant practise otherwise known as "tea-bagging"; so it is you who started it. Furthermore, not all game designers fall into your 'comprehensively' listed categories. I for one am a programmer and I am not looking for any assistance or funding for my game. I have spent a great many years working on the development of tools (which would normally be regarded as Middleware in the Industry). This suits me far better than adopting someone else's existing engine and 'modding it' to approximate my needs. I have no plans to charge for the game once it is finished and will probably make the toolset open-source at some point in the future too.

So, you can stick to making dumb games about Toe Jam and market them as 'fun gifts for the kids' because you've blown all your credibility with this article and you should expect all of your future "advice" to be ignored.

ToeJam & Earl is a brilliant game. You should be very pleased with yourself if you ever make a game that good.

Jannycats:
So the guys who had the idea to make World of Goo also suck? I find it hard to believe that all of us are such idiots and can't come up with at least one good game idea...

The guys who had the idea for World of Goo would suck if they had just left that idea as just an idea. It is only after they spent several months of their lives creating art, programming, and levels that the idea was actually worth something. World of Goo is not an example of a game being created by an 2 every day Joes with an idea. Both creators brought a considerable amount of talent to the game on top of their ideas.

Between all of us there must be a million good game ideas, but they are all worthless until the time and effort is put in to make something playable.

This sort of made me sad on the inside and made me want to say "eff this!" about learning computer programming.

The problem for people like me is that, despite having atleast one good idea floating in our heads, we can't write a program to save our lives. The prospect of a languadge that translates to things and places that don't physically exist is far beyond my understanding. Although I was born to a computer wiz father in 1989, I got my programming smarts from my nigh Amish mother.

This is why some people NEED others to make that idea a reality. It's like someone with cancer wanting to invent a heavy-utility machine, but without the impending death.

Everyone is taking this personally, which is either good or bad I guess. If you can't accept the facts of the industry now you won't make it, regardless of if you are indie or not.

Ideas aren't worth the paper they are written on. Its what you do with those ideas that has value.

I've been learning how to pitch a game all year. Today I got my (already in development) game torn to shreds. Thats fine because I did a pitch without one vital component - my prototype. I had my prototype working before I told anyone about my idea. I excluded it because students were there, no NDA's mean no sneak peek at our work.

I intend to create games for a living, I'm working my ass off in order to do so.
Anyone that thinks, despite all this good advice, that they can do it just because their idea is special and better than everyone else's is deluding themselves.

Its hard work and those not willing to commit need to give up before wasting anyone else's time. To me at least thats what this article is about.

Uncompetative:
*snip*

Good luck with writing your own tools, most developers use middle ware, I suggest you take the easier route and use something appropriate to your games needs instead of wasting your time re-inventing the wheel.

Edit: Programming isn't the only route for example you can pay a programmer to write a prototype for you.

Hey i has teh greatz idea fer teh gaem. See ur a spaec marine rite. An u shoot aleins n stuf. Wif teh gunz. And when roks fall from teh seeling, u push X to jump out of teh way., An it has ah reelly reelly gud storie dat maeks ur mudkips kry.

Erin u hast crusht muh draems.

(P.S. Erin, if only one person like the one I have caricatured above has had his dreams crushed, you have done a service to humanity. Continue on your holy quest.)

Jannycats:
So the guys who had the idea to make World of Goo also suck? I find it hard to believe that all of us are such idiots and can't come up with at least one good game idea...

Did you READ the article?

They had a dream and moved mountains to make it. The point of the article was that if you are willing to do the art, buy the pizza, code the game, and polish the daylights out of it, Great! But no one is going to do it for you.

Interesting, but I've known that for years, which is why when I talk about my own game ideas they usually start with "if I had the money". :P

Whether it's books, movies, or games, in general the "Dream" of some rich producer just noticing you randomly or deciding your a genius is more or less non-existant, rather than merely being the "very rare" occurance it once was.

Hi all. Wow, lots of comments. Thanks to those who enjoyed it. :)

Ico and Therumancer, you hit on something very important, I think, for people who do really want to execute their Great Ideas. You need to be able to pay them. And you need to be able to recognize their value and pay and respect them fairly, or you'll doom your effort. And if your game idea isn't worth earning the money you need to do that and then spending it on your grab at independence, maybe you need to review your idea. But this is how game projects get started. You don't have to _make_ it yourself -- but you do have to make the money that makes it, and you do have to be aware of the fact that you get what you pay for. This means learning how to work with other people and treat them fairly -- which is often perceived as a skill independent from development or design, when really it isn't, if you want to accomplish your goals. And because it does come down to money, you'll see why this so rarely happens, that a person earns the capital they need to start their own company, and then succeeds in navigating the many challenges that come with that -- all for the sake of their idea.

D-Ship, the subject of "thinking in AAA" is in some ways a variant on the above -- like you say, that isn't realistically a development load you can carry alone -- but there are a couple of caveats. I do think that it doesn't help a starting designer (or developer of any stripe) to think in AAA terms. It's what we go to instinctively sometimes because it's considered a gold standard, but there are reasons why AAA budgets are not typically handed to folk who haven't worked on and shipped another AAA game, or even a lower-budget title. The AAA experience, as someone who has worked on one will tell you, is a massive undertaking that amplifies the development challenges of a smaller title exponentially. And typically the more money going into your project, the more publisher politics you have (since they're accountable for their large investment) -- which is why if you look at hugely successful AAA titles, they usually either started smaller (World of Warcraft, for instance, is the culmination of over a decade of smaller development, even though it's commonly perceived as an individual title) or were executed in the wake of success that bought them independence from tight publisher oversight. All this is to say that when you peel back the curtain on these AAA titles what you see almost always is a long history of roughscrabble development of the smaller kind I'm encouraging above. It doesn't mean you don't nurture the idea, but it does help if you maintain a realistic perspective of its time and place in the chronology of your career.

Thanks again, all, for the comments.

I think some people here may be misunderstanding what I think is the intent of this article. This article seems to be written about those people that many of us know who have an idea, but no clue how to develop that idea, the people who think that the idea alone is where all the money is, the people who don't want to take the time to learn how to code or even draw. They just want to tell you how to create this game, because they know better than you.

I have seen someone pitch the "Hi, I have never created a game before in my life, I mean I play them all the time and see all the mistakes, BUT I got this great idea and if you develop it we will split the profits 50/50 and make a ton of money." Which means, I get 50% of the profit for having an idea, and you 2 - 100 people, who did all the art, wrote code, , scored music, etc. split the other 50% between yourselves. These people then wonder why they aren't taken seriously.

I think what the OP is saying is that 'Your idea sucks because you won't do what needs to be done to make it real.' Will Wright had an idea, but he didn't go to EA and say "OMG! Liek I gotz dis gr8 idea 4 a game, n itz gunna mayke u richez!" No, Will actually wrote the game (well a tool that became the game), he took the time to educate himself, and then he actually had something to show someone.

This is where the indie scene really helps, and we should be thankful for things like the Steam, the iPhone app store, XBLA, etc. If you have the drive and the will to bring your idea to fruition, maybe you have the next big idea, and you will make millions. Until you get that idea out of your head and do something to make it real, it just sucks...

Weird, I've had more fun on some indie flash games than most AAA-budget developed games.

I actually feel that there's more originality and fun ideas from independent people than from veteran game designers. And game makers don't steal game ideas? I completely disagree. Almost every game in history has its roots and ideas taken from other games.

That must be why every XBLA indie game I've ever downloaded a trial for was completely terrible and would entertain me for no more than 5 minutes, assuming it was one of the better ones. I've had several "great ideas" for video games, but I realize they aren't going to have as strong an effect as it does in my head. Here's a few examples so you can see what I mean.

In short, they're ideas that Peter Molyneux would probably get... except I'm able to see my mistakes.

Excellent article. One of the reasons I love the indy game scene, they are the future.

Just so you know, the "I have awesome idea! - Sorry, show me your working prototype or your idea sucks" can be encountered in any skilled industries as well. I know as a fledgling carpenter that I one day want to build up my own custom house but I better start with other people's smaller ideas they pay me for or I'm just going to end up building a really nice looking lean to, if I am lucky I'll be able to afford a shack ... squatting on crown land. :(

On the upside? I know I will get to do it one day if I work hard enough at being a apprentice carpenter and in the mean time I really enjoy reading building plans, learning about new building tech, measuring twice and cutting once, and following instructions with a smile on my face from the more experienced carpenter.

That's a good article even if I'm not sure it hits the target it (possibly) aims at...

Whom would answer something like "f*ck! minez 2 gr8!!".

I also think that you make a shortcut concerning the intentions of those wanting to make games, a similar article about movies would have assumed that the wannabe movie-maker /reader wants to make Titanic (#1 all-time, world-wide) but certainly not Philadelphia (#375) and from another perspective, even less Be Kind Rewind.

Other than that, really nice article. Thanks.

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