September 2003

NOTE: these lessons are primarily aimed at aspiring game designers, but many of the concepts described herein also apply to those who aspire to other types of jobs in the game industry. This lesson is subject to changes and improvements; reader comments are welcome.


I said in Lesson 1 that nobody will buy your idea. I said in Lesson 11 that nobody will buy your idea unless you're an industry pro with a development team at your beck and call. And in Lesson 21 I gave details about the submission process, should you choose to ignore everything I said in Lessons 1 and 11. But what if you have a KILLER idea? What if your idea is just so mind-bogglingly good that a game exec would be insane (if not just plain stupid) NOT to throw you a million bucks for it?

I got a call from a guy, once*, who was trying to talk me into working with him on his idea. He wasn't willing to pay me anything, of course. He was totally convinced that his idea was one of those killer ideas. I said I was sorry, but I would have to be compensated in real time - that I couldn't work for only a hope of being compensated in the future. He begged me to take a chance: "you haven't even heard the idea yet! Do you not believe that some ideas are just so good that they're worth the risk?"

I shut him up real fast with my reply: "No. I don't."

I was just trying to get rid of the guy. He wasn't an industry pro, and the chances that his idea would take the market by storm if I'd just help him gratis are slim to zero.

But... as I've often said, "Anything is possible." It's even possible that somebody (even an industry outsider) will come up with an "ultimate" game idea. It's that slim possibility that causes many game companies to accept game submissions from industry outsiders. Maybe... just maybe... somebody might come up with an idea that's so good that the game company will risk hundreds of thousands of dollars (or even millions) to implement it into a finished product.

There are two principles I don't think I've effectively communicated in Lessons 1, 11, and 21 that apply to this hypothetical "ultimate idea" scenario. First, there's the problem that it's difficult, if not impossible, for anybody to know for sure that a given idea is "ultimate." Secondly (and more importantly), an idea alone is not enough. No matter how good it is.


I imagine that if you had the ultimate idea, and if you pitched it to a game company, that many of them would not see it as "the ultimate idea." Let me try to draw two parallels, with two famous hit games of the past. Maybe three (I mean, how many stupid tricks have I listed so far in "Ten Stupid Wannabe Tricks"?)... Pac-Man and Tetris. And maybe Q*bert.

I don't care how good your idea is. Making games is about much more than the idea itself. It's also about vision, commitment, ability, hard work, and talent. The point of all the above is this:

  • An idea alone is not enough. Even if it's the ultimate idea.
  • Being a game industry pro is not enough.
  • Commitment alone is not enough.
  • Hard work alone won't hack it.
  • Being talented isn't enough, either.
  • YOU NEED ALL OF THESE ELEMENTS, to turn your idea into a finished product.

    Oh. And money too. I wrote an article on game finances in April 2001 (while I was in Tokyo for the Tokyo Game Show) about Financial Aspects of Game Development.

    Let me just say this last thing about "ultimate" game ideas. I get people all the time wanting me to evaluate their ideas. And I couldn't care less about what their game ideas are. All game ideas are "ultimate." And all game ideas suck. Because the game idea alone is nothing without your passion and your hard work and perseverence and your realistic plan to carry it through.

    "I can't tell you if your business is good. I can't tell you if your idea is good. If you feel passionate about it, do it and don't be afraid to fail. In fact, failure should motivate you - it does that for me."
    - Ben Kaufman, who inc.com dubbed America's #1 coolest young "30 under 30" entrepreneur for 2007.

    Think you have an Ultimate Idea? Well, how can you tell? Take ... The 10-Minute Game Sales Potential Test

      How can you tell if a game has the potential to become a huge hit based only on its design? Marketing executives at major publishers have sophisticated tools to evaluate that kind of things, but you donít need all that complexity to find the potential of your idea. With just a few questions, you can evaluate the marketability of your game.

    The test is at http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20070212/garneau_01.shtml. Good luck!

    *Actually, this hasn't happened just once. It's happened to me at least three times, just in the past year. Having a website like this brings calls in. And sometimes it takes a few conversations before I figure out what the caller really has in mind. And it usually isn't "I want to pay Tom to help me." Go figure. But I digress. Um, I guess I'm done now.

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    © 2003 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.