221: Why Your Game Idea Sucks

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I disagree on all of your standpoints and valid arguments against my game ideas.
I know for sure that everyone or almost everyone on the escapist has or have had an idea that would kill halo and Killzone 2 in a minute.
However, they will never get published because of Peter Molenux and other idiots on the top of the gaming food chain.

I must agree with the article, I am one of those with 'ideas' ... but stopped at actually pitching them, I just tuck 'em away in a corner of my mind till I finish learning programming, sound and music incorperation , graphic manipulation , quality control and marketing...

... gonna take some time before release dates :P

PS - Took me 8 hours to draw a single Sprite (about 80x60 size), just to get that sprite to animate would require about 50 odd frames, and thats taking shortcuts... thats just the one hero sprite.
I am a newbie in the pixel artform, so I would imagine the pros could slap up a sprite in 20... 30 mins, but even they would take a while to complete the spritework of a simple game.

This is why I stick to developing tabletop campaigns and writing. Especially with the level of development it takes to make a game nowadays.

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.

He's not really insulting you. I feel like you really didn't get the point of this article.

I enjoyed this, its a great look into the melting pot of the industry. The section on "No one wants to work on an idea that isn't their own" is absolutely brilliant. Its incredibly true, I know this from a visual art perspective that any creative thinker and doer only wants to work with their own material. Give them someone else's or assign them a strict project and they get flustered and dislike working on it.

That said, in art you really have to take what you're given and try to make it your own. If you as a developer are given a bad idea (or not even bad just something you don't want to work with) then you have to find a way to love it, or you'll never create anything you're proud of. Its very important to love what you do even if you hate what you're doing.

Great title, by the way, I can guarantee I probably wouldn't have read this if the title hadn't intrigued me so.

Liked the article, a bit blunt, a bit elitist for my tastes, but I'm sure that if I were able to call myself a "professional" game designer, I'd have earned the right to look down on normal folk too, haha.

But seriously, I find it hard to believe that there are actually STUDENTS out there looking to pitch paper design ideas for cash. It almost seems like a cartoony get rich quick scheme or something out of the back of an old comic book like "REAL HOVER CRAFT BLUEPRINT 25 cents"

I would have liked if she included a little bit about how gaming schools pick people, because I'm in the process of applying to a few schools right now. I'm really aspiring to be one of those high and mighty "professional game designers" one day and I'm including one or two of my fully thought out design documents (I mean the works, script, level design, character bios, mechanics, what have you) if only to show that I'm committed to the idea of becoming a designer.

Fact of the matter is I hear this and think "Wow, so design doc's won't get me anywhere," I'll be the first to admit I'm terrible with code, I can't do the most basic of C++ without mucking up something horribly, and the games I have done have been with my cousin (much better with code than I am) and they're just 2D stuff you'd find anywhere, I didn't think that sort of stuff would be more impressive than having a creative mind. I mean, yeah, once I get out of school I'll hopefully have made connections with my classmates and learned enough of coding to get together a team and make a demo reel to give us a chance out in the market, but what I'm hearing from her sounds less like constructive criticism, and more like, "If you're not intrinsically good at this, you're done in this business"

This honestly sounded really elitist and rude. If "everyone's game ideas suck", then how on earth do we have them? They may be hard to get made and will most likely change over time, but games start out with ideas and designs and progress from there, do they not? All this was was unnecessary insults.

Well I must say, you've made my life feel meaningless and devoid of any value by accurately describing my design dreams, I thank you for crushing my very soul Erin Hoffman.

I think that Erin Hoffman is right about the fact that nobody is going to steal your game ideas. One of the biggest reasons is that no one will see it the way you will, you have a picture of it in your head and depending on how you describe it someone else might have a completely different picture, its not going to seem nearly as good to them as it does to you. At the very most they will use aspects of your idea to improve on their own.


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.

BRAVO! [claps repeatedly]

Well said.

And yes, indie games are the future. Why? Because they generally make what they want to, not what a bunch of suits with no imagination or experience in game design - who have probably never played anything beyond the games shipped with windows - tell them to. It doesn't matter who writes your music, how much money you have, how many developers you have, how much publicity you have, etc, I've played too many of those games, games that end up being so unbearably boring I can't make myself play them. Brothers in Arms for instance, most unoriginal game I've played for a long time.

And no, nobody is going to make "your" game, but as for stealing elements? Certainly, why not? Look at the cover system used in Gears of War, stolen a thousand times already. Of course nobody wants your whole idea, not even your story, but if you came up with an interesting approach to a problem then why wouldn't they?

I think many people are forgetting what makes a good game, it's the game itself, not the shiny effects or petty 8 hours of gameplay before you trash it. Long live indie games!

Having worked in the business now for a long time from early coding (on C64, imagine how long that is gone...) and beta testing to producing so-called AAA titles and now having my own small dev studio, I can tell two things about the Article:

1. Basically everything is true except
2. Ideas get stolen. Not very often, but it happens.

Most likely it isn`t done so f*** obvious that everyone can see it, but it IS done. Ideas are not only stolen from concepts (concepts alone are not that interesting, why is explained well in the Article), but also (and more often) from prototypes. If the same person that does - lets say - business dev and producing (or developement supervision) it is very unlikely that he / or she can resist to use a kick-ass feature or idea discovered in a pitched game for the project having under own developement.

Nice article, gives a much needed realistic angle to the fact that games are a business like any other, not a wacky workshop of fun and gaming. I've yet to find someone who considers programming to be fun.

Though with that all said, having seen the games market since the SNES, it really does need a fresh dose of ideas, which is evident in today's games being, well, almost the same as last generations. Maybe there's a good reason games are selling for much cheaper now than before.

Interesting read, but the title is misleading. You didn't explain why all game ideas are bad; you cant say that without seeing all of them. You basically explained why the game industry won't use them, which doesn't make them bad, it makes them unknown.

I would basically agree with the article's tone, which is, execution is everything.

I'd also like to point out that rarely is a brilliant game fueled by a single good idea. Take a game like Half-Life. Could you really take that simple "alien invasion FPS" idea, give it to any development studio, and have them create Half-Life? Of course not. It takes a lot of great ideas to create the foundation for a briliant game.

It is also quite possible to have an idea for a game that doesn't work very well when you try to turn it into something playable. I started developing my own game ideas years ago using Game Maker, and quickly discovered that the tricky part was not coming up with the game ideas, it was distilling those ideas into gameplay that actually works. Of almost equal importance is the skill of deciding which ideas to LEAVE OUT of the game, since too many ideas can take away the game's focus and clutter up the experience (and of course, lengthen development time).

Finally, for those who were discouraged by the article, I would recommend attempting some simple game development on your own. There are many useful tools and guides out there for aspiring game developers, many of which are free or affordable. You will quickly learn which aspects of game development are suited to you, and you can scale your ideas to fit your abilities (and your team's abilities, if you can get a friend to collaborate).

You won't be able to create the equivalent of a AAA game on your own, but the process can still be extremely fun and rewarding....probably moreso than getting your foot in the door at one of those big game companies.

Ok, lots of comments again. You folk are chatty. :) I usually try to respond to all comments, but I'm hunting and pecking here... please send me a message if you'd like a reply or think I've overlooked something you've said. :)

Skarvey, if you want to read more about (what I think about) students and game development educational programs, check out the archives of the Inside Job column, especially right in the middle, where I focused on students for two months:



And this is just my take. The best thing to do is dig for the highest quality information you can find, from the highest sources (e.g. people who have actually done what you want to do), and then temper it against your gut instinct. The usual educational rules apply: regardless of who has a game program, pick the best school you can get into and go there, even if you wind up taking a degree in something else -- many of the highest quality schools that provide the best resources and education do not have game programs (yet). The only modifier on this is that an internship will help you greatly, so you may want to look at a university near one of the major industry hubs, or at least a university where there are SOME game companies nearby where you might be able to intern. Join the IGDA.

And of course you need to learn to write game design documents if you want to be a game designer. Just because you won't sell one of your early designs doesn't mean it isn't of value TO YOU -- because it's a learning experience. You need to be able to document your ideas clearly, and to analyze other games and identify what about them represents the core mechanic that sets them apart from other games -- or, more accurately, the interconnected set of features that makes the game uniquely what it is. Writers don't expect that their first learning drafts sell, nor painters their sketch lessons -- but that process is still necessary as part of the learning process. You just don't have to worry about someone stealing it, is all I'm saying. Best of luck to you, and to the rest of the students and aspiring designers who have posted in this thread. Most of you have your heads on straight and will do just fine. Tenacity is the ultimate virtue in this business -- and by that I mean the tenacity to improve and learn. If you have that, you will make it.

HomeGrown, thanks for your comment. Someone else brought this up also. But I would point out that those are mechanics, not ideas. Game developers steal/borrow/"create homages to" mechanics all the time. It's part of the ongoing conversation within game design. But I have never talked to any professional who was embittered about this process, and I've also never met anyone who lifted an idea from a student's document, nor do I think anyone ultimately has. We iterate on existing mechanics, and that's not the same thing as ripping off some idea in a document from a game that doesn't exist. If some game executive did try to do something like that, they probably would have no idea what to do with what they'd stolen, anyway, and by the time the development process was done with it, it would be unrecognizable. Now, some IDEAS reach implementation independently -- not theft, but convergent evolution -- because multiple people will recognize the direction the market is turning in at the same time. This also happens all the time. But it isn't theft, and the idea is still not the thing.

(And as it happens I have a Commodore 128 sitting on my coffee table right at this moment. It's still one of the best gaming machines ever made IMO, and there's still a lot we can learn from the games made on it...)


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.

OK, now I get it.

How very odd. Apart from the fact that I've never sat down to think of a new game idea, this sounds exactly like why I wouldn't--I'm not a designer, so why should I demand my entrance to their ranks? I'd much rather have a game crafted and built by actual designers so that I know the experience was tailored, edited, and well thought out so as to send the best all around message. Even some of the indie stuff gets so pushed for their 'new idea' that they skip straight to development without seriously thinking about why they're making the game (and to make a game just to make your share of the pile of ever-diminishing cash is not a good reason). Money shouldn't be the reason, but a side effect of the effort.

My game/movie ideas are good, they just don't have the technology to make them.

Erin has stated things in a flamboyant way that can offend, but I agree with her sentiment. As a programmer in a creative field, I often find that execution is 100 times harder (or more) than coming up with the idea in the first place. Occasionally, there are some wonderful shortcuts that are only 10 times harder, but these are rare and quickly taken for granted.

It's a tough job converting ideas into reality. It's even tougher to create something that people are willing to pay money for. I wouldn't trade this kind of work for anything, but it's not easy.

Optimism...... of..... game designing job....... crushed.... with such ease.
I'll never give up on my dream though but thanks for keeping it real with us Dreamers.

Man, I know how you feel. Sometimes I get people proposing "the best mod idea ever" to me and I sometimes have to point out the most obvious flaws... like the game doesn't even have an SDK. The next best point has to be why they can't just try and pull it off themselves.

Your idea sucks until it becomes a successful title.

Game companies don't steal, we proactively implement.

I hate working on other people's ideas and love working on my own.

Yep, I pretty much concur with this article.

I disagree on all of your standpoints and valid arguments against my game ideas.
I know for sure that everyone or almost everyone on the escapist has or have had an idea that would kill halo and Killzone 2 in a minute.
However, they will never get published because of Peter Molenux and other idiots on the top of the gaming food chain.

I think you've missed the point. If everyone has an idea that would kill halo and Killzone in a minute, and the idea never gets executed, it is then completely worthless. No game developer is going to believe in that idea, as the idea is fully fleshed out for you alone, and you most likely are either A) unable to pay for its development, or B) lack the skill or resources to make it yourself. If that is the case, then what is the idea worth? How would you know that the idea is so great without concept art or a working prototype?

Since most game ideas for games that actually ARE made suck, I guess the hopeful and creative dreamer is not alone. I can see it all about having the (mostly financial) power to direct a team that brings one's idea to fruition.

The article makes a good point about how everybody wants to make their OWN game, which is a problem I have seen in a number of games where I feel a sense of creative discord, where various team elements were working without a cohesive vision. The root cause is poor management, probably a nice guy new-age boss or something.

This explains why game players shouldn't be game designers--most of the time when posters on the forums are making balance suggestions/gripe/rants, they are really just trying to empower their own race, character, class, or playstyle. Not that they are wrong, necessarily, there might be a true imbalance, but games made by game players will turn out fundamentally skewed in favor of the way the maker likes to play the game.

I find it fascinating that most of the people who agree and approve of this article appear to be part of the industry or close to it in some way, and those who disagree and find it offensive are outside it.

So listen up: it's not offensive. All ideas really do suck, even yours. That's not opinion, it's the nature of the world. Ideas don't drive creative industries. They're just the oil that keeps the engine from stalling. Important en-total, but specifically irrelevant. It sucks, I know. Everyone hates it: laypersons, designers, artists, animators, and producers alike. But that's how it is. EXECUTION is the decider. And that's an engine that requires you put your ego aside and do things that don't apply to your own personal vision of how a game should be. That's not the game industry's fault, or hollywood's fault, or EA's fault or big business's fault. That's just reality. That's how good games (and bad) are made. More importantly, that's how games are COMPLETED.

Ha ha ha, this is hilarious. Look at all the poor, butthurt nerds.

It's called tough love people. Good article.

I'm sorry, but to me, it seems like you wrote a huge, raging rant against a vague group of people who do not exist as an actual interlinked group (people who make such posts on your LinkedIn, who are obviously the source of some personally ignited rage within you), with the purpose of stopping a similarly vague problem (that is, people who [vaguely] believe that they are capable of teasing out funding from a random executive in a games company by talking about their idea).

Now, I can understand the anger you express at vague thinking, since I'm feeling it a bit from the aftertaste of your article, which unfortunately has the same problem as the people it is complaining about. As my emphasis might have pointed out, the article is too vague.

A sentence that said "don't bother with an idea unless you can execute it yourself" would have sufficed for all four pages of this sarcastic content. All of this information is content people who have played games for more than five years would know. In other words, the people you are trying to get across to, who have such terrible ideas and try to execute them poorly, are casual gamers.

Now, who is in the demographic mostly reading this article? They are gamers who have played games for more than five years, and already have a substantial technical knowledge of gaming and some of the finer aspects of game design, thanks to reading this very magazine. Therefore, this article is preaching to the converted.

Fluff articles are extremely dull, especially when they extend to four pages long. And don't pretend that this isn't a fluff article. Its purpose is fuzzy, its target fuzzy, its demographic unrelated to the target, its content common knowledge. In short, it's useless to us.

Yes, I agree with the content itself. Yes, I agree with the half-apparent message (and so does everyone else, because they know this stuff already). But I'm sorry to say that this blog entry was not a useful way to spend my time.

Better luck next time. I will continue reading your work in good faith.

I see a lot of talk about the designer's side and the developer's/publisher's side but I didn't see the word customer ONCE. The first thing they hammer into you in any software design course is to work with the customer because the best software isn't worth crap if the customer wanted something else. How the fuck can you design a game and expect it to succeed if you exclude the customer from the whole process?

I'm glad people are still honest about the truth in this day and age: it's funny seeing people getting defensive over someone who in all likelihood be right. While admittedly I haven't seem much of this involving game ideas, I've seen a lot more of this in creative fields. How many "artists", "writers", "film-makers", etc. have you known in your childhood? Now how many of them actually have published works? Or, at the very least, a string of rejection letters? There are tons of quotes about this phenomenon (ex: "Genius is 10% inspiration, 90% Perspiration"), yet people in our society don't seem to grasp this applying to them. It's a matter of personal branding and selective reasoning, but that's a subject for another time.

Even so, the article seems to have a misguided focus. I know titles are supposed to catch one's attentions, but your title misses the point entirely (and seems to affect the points you were trying to make). Let's take one example:

The reasoning in the section titled "But we'll make millions!" is on two points:
1. People who want connections/help developing their idea, but don't want to give up (financial) control (or are just greedy).
2. People who have spent years working on a game idea, detailing it immensely, even though the industry has changed and no one accepts ideas blindly.

What do either of these cases have to do with their game ideas sucking? In the first case, people are just being naive/dumb about getting into the gaming industry. Does that mean their ideas suck? No, it just means they need to educate themselves. In the second case, people again still don't know about the inner workings of the gaming industry. Does it mean their game idea sucks? No, it seems that it might be the opposite: IF they put the time and effort into making their own game, it might be better off since they have a clear idea what they're doing (or not, if they can't take criticism).

Ideas are ideas, not worth much unless actualized (which the article says), but that's a very weak logical bridge towards the title. If you wanted titles, here are a few examples which might suit the article better:

"Why your game won't ever get published (and things you can do to fight it)"
"Why publishers won't return your calls" (maybe developers would fit better, I'm not sure)
"Taking your first real steps towards getting published"

The post could also use a bit of trimming (laugh if you must, coming from the author of this overblown post), but the main thing I have against your article is strangely your title. It was a fairly good read, though.

tl;dr I'm a linguist, and semantics really bothers me.

Where's the meat?
Congratulations, you've neatly re-defined the line between them and us whilst simultaneously leaving open the big questions of how is someone supposed to break into the industry without a wealth of titles under their belt or a money tree in their back yard.

This negative attitude prevalent in the industry is why the homebrew market is taking off big time, the same can be said for the music industry currently in the face of internet sharing and independent publishing. Both suffer from a lack of innvoation because of market driven economics i.e. wanting to make money as opposed to the desire to just make a game.

Considering that studios are putting serious effort into XBLA titles these days, I get the impression there's a few people on the inside wanting to see change to the status quo.

How about this game idea: A 2d platformer about a crazed doctor subjecting the world of Testicular to a world wide physical. El Ballo (a naked green spud) and his faithful friends (Butts and Boobs) must stand up to this tyranny. In this story of bare necessities, anything goes.

Oh, wait... that game has already been made... by me :P (http://www.elballo.com)

I'm an indie game developer. This article is spot on. Most game developers want to do their own projects. Sometimes a person can attract other people to work on the game, but in most cases it's because they have a shared vision or you're simply paying them.

Where's the meat?
Congratulations, you've neatly re-defined the line between them and us whilst simultaneously leaving open the big questions of how is someone supposed to break into the industry without a wealth of titles under their belt or a money tree in their back yard.

It`s simple: Start as beta tester, assistant coder, GFX helping hand, dialogue lines writer, or even as marketing assistant somewhere in a publishing house - and work your way up the ladder. This is what I did.

Or make mods & maps so awesome that the gaming world becomes aware of them. This is was most of my employees did. More than 50% of my staff comes from the modding / mapping community, and now they are making the next Painkiller game.

I'm seeing far too much of this lately - Anyone with the wits to make something worthwhile knows this cruel truth in their heart of hearts.

Optimism and hope remain important motivational factors in the creation of good games. Cynicism has become all the more stylish in the gaming world since Escapist picked up Croshaw, but the fact remains that if you've got a brain and the willpower, you can feasibly achieve whatever you want, eventually. Do I mean this? Is this true? It makes itself true. Often in human endeavor, belief is the factor that makes the difference between success and failure.

Luck is also a factor, and not everyone is an arsehole. If you've got an 'idea', check yourself, make sure you've also got the guts to take a lot of rejection and to fight for a long time, but don't go and burn your notebooks or snap your backup discs just yet.

If the soul of the idea is a story or setting, then consider alternative means - try comics, cheap and easy. Anyone can draw with a little dedicated practise, and the best means of practise is to actually be creating. It keeps you motivated. Release it online via a free forum or blog, and think about upgrading later if it goes somewhere.

If the core of the idea is a concept of gameplay, then try to convey it simply to start with, prototype the concept in flash, or if 3d is a must, try to teach yourself a few tricks and try modding Half-Life or Half-Life 2.

Don't debase yourself before busy people who have already found their lucky break, but share the idea freely among your friends, be humble and calm and see if they can help motivate you further or can refine the idea with their own fresh perspectives.

In the end the best I can offer is 'good luck' ;)

But don't buy the cynical view. Keep the dayjob but don't give up. If advice like Erin Hoffman's had been circulated as heavily in the nineties as it is today, you'd not have had half as many great games to inspire you, and might not even have your 'idea' today.

Why is it when someone points out, be it in film, writing or games, that really this fantasy you've been working on probably isn't that good and certainly wont just get you a one way ticket to creative empowerment, there is always a legion of whiny people with said ideas willing to go on reccord about how "stupid", or "insulting" this person is?

Quiet your whinge, and listen to those that know.

"Why are there a legion of cynical developers and journalists trying so hard to sound authorative for their few years experience earning cash in the field, so eager to discourage and berate those who are in the exact same position they were before they got lucky?

This and million other questions won't be answered next week! Only on The Escapist!"

*grins* Let the children have dreams. Every professional starts naive with hopes, and learns through good experiences and bad that the world is a lot more complicated than they might like. It's stunningly immature to learn a lesson yourself then turn around and mock the next generation of students.

Now, if the article and likeminded responses had a slightly different tack, if they were simply ranting about the amount of dumb wannabes who spam their inbox with 'teh graetest idae evar!1', that's just fine - but there are a lot of aspiring developers in this community who would benefit from encouragement. I don't like seeing this trend of cynically gunning down everyone who wants to make a game continued.

Aside from those reasons - It's just getting old ;)

No, our game ideas don't suck.

The problem is, once you get your degree, you usually get stuck in a job that has you perfecting the teabagging mechanic on a multimillion dollar title that has about as much originality as "the well-armoured, genetically engineered space marine has a beef with the government that created him".

I can't exacly remember who said it, but back in the day, you could make a game about ANYTHING - plumbers, dolphins, singing pirates, drugged up hedgehogs...

Now... well, gaming has become stale. Look at Infamous and Prototype: they're practically the same game, come out within a month of each other, with the same basic premise and plot.

And how many games these days are third-person sandbox shooters based on the Unreal 3 engine?

The less said about FPSs, the better.

The point is, too many great developers (already in, and trying to get into the industry) are having their ideas turned down, and in this case, being told that they simply suck, full stop. A writer is not an artist, or a programmer, or publicist, or promoter, or rich. I don't expect a programmer to write the dialouge and plot, he's there to make the buttons work. Likewise, I don't expect one person to create an idea, a test game, pusblishing material, a sales pitch, or more.

If they can create both a plot, world, AND concept art, he's doing the job of three people. Or, in the case of a game like Halo or Gears of War, several dozen.

But hey, what do I know? I'm not a developer, just a fan of good games, now if you will excuse me, I'm off to play Halo: ODST, is that number 3 or four? I can't remember, oh wait, five if you count that RTS with basically the same plot as the FPS games. Oh well, I guess I'll go play gears of war 2. Same game, slightly different mechani-shit. Maybe that remake of wolfenstein that just came out. Or mabye that new expansion pack of chronicles of riddick- what do you mean it's a seperate game?


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