Bamboo Cyberdream

a panda wanders the electronic landscape

Game Ideas

Blatantly inspired by Josh Olson’s excellent I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script, which is worth your time. I am not as foul-mouthed or incisive as he is, unfortunately.

I meet you at a party. Or a wedding. Or a bar. Doesn’t matter. Maybe we have mutual friends, or just struck up conversation over some humorous occurrence that we both witnessed. We’ll talk movies, football, the weather, and music. Eventually, you ask what I do for a living.

“I’m a game developer.”

“Oh, let me tell you — I have the best idea for a game.”

It’s at this point that our interaction has become terribly unpleasant for me. Let’s go through the possible outcomes here.

Your idea is bad

In all honesty, this is the most likely status of your idea. This is nothing personal; the vast overwhelming majority of ideas are bad. I know you’re convinced that your combination of Prince of Persia with Call of Duty is obviously and undeniably awesome, but there’s a reason new genres come along so rarely. And that really sweet character you have in your head, the one who’s the ninja with a heart-of-gold but a dark past out to rescue his pet elephant? That’s not a game, and neither is your pre-apocalyptic caveman story. Your vague notion about color matching (but on Facebook, you know, like Farmville!) is even less a game than the previous ideas.

And now I have to respond. I try not to be an asshole, so here’s what you’ll see. The eye contact that I was previously maintaining will be broken as I stare at a point just beyond your left shoulder. My eyes widen, my lips purse, and I’ll start nodding a lot. This is as close as I’ll come to telling you that this idea is terrible. Eventually I’ll emit a few chuckles and try to change the subject.

Thanks for adding a big dose of awkward to my night, and making me a lot less likely to accept your Facebook request.

Your idea is good

Congratulations, you have an awesome idea! Nobody has ever topped Derek Sivers’s explanation of why ideas by themselves are worthless, so go read his post and come back.

But now you’ve left me to explain that to you. And how vanishingly few games are made by a single person, especially if that person has no programming experience (which you invariably don’t have). If I was an amateur developer, you might be lucky enough to have a partner in your hobby, but no, I will not leave my steady job with its world-class co-workers and 401(k) to help you make this game.

I’ll recommend a lot of resources for learning to make games, and you’ll either be discouraged by how little those first projects resemble what you have in your mind, or you won’t even look at those resources and continue to try and attract some people by posting on game dev forums about how you “just need a few programmers and maybe an artist” to get it off the ground. The role of the “idea person” is a sexy one, and you’re convinced that could be you. My warning of how that’s not really a role in any creative industry go unheeded and you chalk me up as a jerk trying to destroy your dreams.

Man, it would have been way easier to just tell you your idea sucked. But then I would be lying!

Even if your idea is so good that I want to help you, what now? I am not an executive at my company, and thus can’t do anything to bring you in there. Even if the few people I know who fund game development are interested in a pure idea (which strains the definition of “long shot”), I’ve never worked with you and thus am not willing to stake my reputation on vouching for you to those people. So now I’m an asshole for killing your dream, and I feel guilty for not being able to help you.

Once again, this is at minimum a pretty awkward blip in the graph of my evening.

Your idea is really good

Then there’s the final and most awkward possibility. Your idea is so good that I already had it myself. Or my company’s had it. Maybe I’m scheduled to work on it next week. Maybe I just finished it today. Either way I can’t tell you about it, but I’m going to immediately want you to stop talking, like 5 seconds ago.

Because intellectual property laws in this country are nuts and plenty of lawyers are willing to take the case of anyone claiming they have a suit against a deep-pocketed company, I have to consider the possibility that you might sue me or my company for stealing your idea.

I know, I know. You wouldn’t do that! You’re cool! That’s great, but remember, we just met, and I don’t know that you’re cool. I’ve been sued before (non-IP related matter) and it’s not fun, even with good lawyers and someone else footing the bill. Don’t make me call up those memories.

(I fell into this trap myself once — as a grad student excitedly having lunch with some Imagineers, I was talking up the cool robotic puppeteering interface I was working on when the lead got very quiet and said, “Be very careful what you say to me.” Later I would see the interface they use for their “living characters initiative” and well, remember the bit about ideas versus execution. They can execute like mad.)

And now I’ve had to extricate myself from the conversation, and do the IP calculus of whether I need to talk to our legal people on Monday to make sure we’re protected.

To sum up

I will not listen to your game idea.

OK, actually I will. But our interaction is now ruined, and I will want another drink, most likely.

Don’t drive me to drink, please.

If you have an awesome idea, quit talking about it to strangers at parties and go start making it. Learn to program, learn to animate, learn to write. And then go make your game. And let me know about it!

Because while I will not listen to your game idea, I absolutely would love to play your game.

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