Before I became a programmer, I was an artist. From when I was six years old right through university, I was constantly writing, thinking up inventions or games, or trying to put my imagination to use in some other shape or form. I was full of ideas, wishing that I had the skills to bring those ideas to life, and slowly working towards that goal.
Now I see ideas for what they are. Ephemeral, transient wisps of thought winding their way through a single creative mind, before they evaporate into the atmosphere.
A common saying in the games industry is that an idea for a game, regardless of how good it is, is worthless.
The saying is true for the context that it is used in. People come to game studios believing that they have thought of the best game idea, an idea that’s going to revolutionize gaming. They expect that their idea is so good that we’ll drop what we’re doing and immediately start working on a realistic fire station simulator, or an MMO that where each player is a Greek god. The saying is used as a reality check – as if we don’t all have our own ideas for what would make great games?
It is also reflective of the level of craftsmanship that composes the art of game development. The process of taking a game from an idea to a reality is extremely in-depth, and 100% reliant on the skill and craft of those programmers, artists, designers and writers who are developing it. It feels, as a developer, that an accurate analogy for going from game idea to game actual is someone telling Steven Spielberg “Hey, a kids alien movie would be cool,” and him writing and directing E.T.
But the saying isn’t true in the context of being creative once you have spent time in the industry and made some games. If you have experience, if you intimately know the limitations of your platform, of your budget, of your team and your company, and have a game idea that is interesting, original, feasible and risk-averse within those constraints, that game idea is worth more than money, it’s worth making.
Further, anyone who has tried to develop a game from a bad idea knows that, while craftsmanship can turn a good idea into a great game, trying to make a bad idea into a good game is an up-hill battle (or at least, more of an up-hill battle than game development already is). The original idea for a game has knock-on effects throughout the entire process of development.
While the idea is for the most part a prokaryote from which the game evolves, many of the issues that arise throughout development and resulting ideas and design decisions would not exist without development being pointed along that track in the first place.
Unfortunately, thinking up ideas worth making is extremely difficult, and once you have that idea there are barriers to actually getting it made, such as convincing management it’s worth making over X license or Y sequel (often an impossible sell). But the toughest barrier lies before all that – the belief that ideas aren’t worth having, that it is impossible to have a good idea within the innumerable conflicting constraints that exists, that ideas are arbitrary.
A game idea is both a worthless wisp of thought in a creative mind, and a critical factor in a game’s development. We need to resolve this conflict, and realise the power of ideas, and how to wield them effectively.