If you want to design a game in your spare time, it needs to include a spark of originality or uniqueness that may not otherwise appear. The games company I started, IG, reviews hundreds of unsolicited game ideas each year and has the capacity to produce only a tiny handful. To stand a chance of making it through the process, your game idea needs to be the best you can produce. This document is a version of the advice I used to give people both inside and outside the company about submitting ideas. To outsiders, I usually used to write a letter saying that it was very, very unlikely that we would work with a third-party designer. In my ten years’ experience we only did it once. You might want to consider my other articles on starting a games company yourself or getting a job in the games industry.
The Most Critical Advice
The most important advice, though is that it is vital to be familiar with your competitors’ games. Play lots of them and think about them critically – what would you have done to improve the game? Why did you love this game and hate another? However, when it comes to inventing new game ideas, the only ones that succeed are the ones that are creative, original and different.
Sources of Inspiration and Guidance
- Be involved! Read, go to movies, listen to records! Look beyond what is familiar so that you can see new things with new eyes. You might find inspiration in the bottom of a beer glass or in the credits to Eastenders, but it is unlikely!
- Be creative in other ways – keep a diary, do some creative writing, play sports, do the crossword, play non-computer games with your friends, go places where there are no computers with people who have regular jobs and do analogue things with them
- Buy and read books on creativity
- Brainstorm ideas with other people
- A writer once said that his best friend was his waste paper basket – don’t be afraid to trash bad ideas and move on. Learn to apply thoughtful criticism to games and game ideas so that you can review your own ideas objectively.
Things to Avoid
(Although there is always exception for genius!)
- Fantasy Sports, e.g. Deathbowl 2000
- Dependency big licences that IG is unlikely to acquire, e.g. Star Wars
- Use the ‘fiction fall-over test’ – i.e. “Does the sci-fi setting actually add anything to the game?” If not, set it somewhere real
- Thinly disguised rip-offs of existing games or ideas, e.g. ‘Knife-Runner’ , or ‘SimMegalopolis’
- Anything that relies on an unachievable technology leap, e.g. a proposal that requires real time ray tracing or HAL-like Al
- Over-dependence on Al because it is very difficult to do properly
- Omnibus games – i.e. 5-in-one
How to Prepare your Idea for Submission
- Write as much as you like or need to. Then condense it down to one page, using the template that follows
- Graphics help but you don’t need them and if you use them you don’t need to be Michelangelo!
- Try to distil your idea down to a single sentence – it’s a stern discipline, but if you can’t do this it may indicate you don’t have a simple enough idea or you haven’t thought it through properly. A good example of a single sentence description is “If in X-Wing you fly an X-Wing, then in Star Destroyer….” Try doing this for films, and you’ll soon get the hang of it.
- Try to give an idea of what the player does and how they have fun.
Game Proposal Template
The initial proposal will be no more than two sides of A4 and contain the following information:
- Name of the game
- High concept – a one sentence description of the game that captures it’s essence
- Product genre – what kind of game is it? E.g. real time strategy
- Product identity – a one-paragraph description of the core game idea e.g. for an adventure game this might be the plot; for an action game the back story and main characters….
- Visualisation – a short description of how the main game appears on the screen
- Top Ten feature list – what will make the game different, fun, exciting, impressive etc
- Other information – pointers to additional demos, artwork or documentation which can be included as supplements to the core concept.
There is a list of UK game developers on the CTW site at www.ctw.co.uk.
www.gamasutra.com is a very valuable game development site
Lastly, Chris Crawford wrote a book about game design in 1982 that is still seminal. You can read it and other Crawford stuff on his “Erasmatazz” website.