No, I don’t want to hear your game idea

bengames

I teach game programming and game design, so I hear a lot of game ideas. Outside of work, people sometimes want to tell me their game ideas, too, or occasionally want my advice about their idea, but don’t want to tell me what it is, for fear I might steal it. It never ceases to amaze me, how precious people tend to be about their ideas.

Believe me: I don’t want to hear your game idea. It’s worthless.

I’m not saying your idea is bad. On the contrary, your idea is worthless because there’s no such thing as a bad game idea.

Let’s clear something up: An idea is not a game. I can’t play your game idea any more than I can eat your dinner idea. If you were to ask me if I like your dinner idea, I might tell you that I don’t eat bacon, or that I love basil, or that I’ve had curry three times this week and I’m kind of sick of it, but these are just my personal preferences – they say nothing about whether I think your idea will make a great dinner. Your chances of creating a great dinner are based entirely on how well you can cook.

An idea is a starting point, nothing more. And any starting point can lead to a great game. Not all ideas are equal, but the process of game design and development requires so many choices, unexpected twists, and adaptations along the way that the quality of the starting point is irrelevant to the quality of the end point. Your chances of creating a great game are based entirely on how well you and your team can design, develop, and distribute games.

Ideas are essential, don’t get me wrong; you can’t make a game without one. But, like oxygen molecules, they are also both fungible and abundant. I don’t want the air in your lungs, because when I need more air, I’ll just inhale. (All the etymology geeks can take a moment here, to enjoy the dual meaning of the word “inspire”)

Given the recent news about Halfbrick I should explain that this is not an argument against dedicated game designers. The role of the designer isn’t to come up with ideas, which is really, really easy. The role of the designer is to take ideas and turn them into games, which is really, really hard.

Finally, this rant doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk about your game. I’d love to talk about your game, once you’ve actually done the slightest bit of meaningful work on it. Do I want to see your concept art? Hell, yes! What do I think of the dialogue tree of your support character? Let me take a look! Would I like to play your paper based prototype? Just try stopping me!

But I don’t want to hear your game idea.


Image credit: The Noodle Dude: Deviant Art