I Have an Idea for a Game
(I get a lot of emails on this subject. This is my answer to one such email.)
Game companies aren’t interested in outside ideas. At our company, we have a backlog of easily 20 games that we would like to make, and these ideas come from the likes of John Romero and Tom Hall. An idea is only that. There are a 1000 ways for it to go wrong in its execution. Ideas and concepts are a dime a dozen.
Game design is not the idea. It is the execution.
So, if you desperately want to make games, the only advice I have for you is to start making them. You can work your way up through QA as others have done, or you can learn to code. In my own job, I work with three other designers who can code, and I would be a much better designer if I could.
Being a game designer and being responsible for multi-million-dollar budgets requires years of expertise and proven practice. Passion is only 5% of the puzzle. Discipline born of experience is the other 95%.
While our products are compared to the movie industry, we as game designers are much more like doctors. The only reason that I get to operate and sometimes put an entire company’s stake in my hands is because I spent years apprenticing and understanding the systems that I am working on. I know how to fix things through iteration when stuff goes wrong and when to call something DOA. In my case, nearly 13 years had passed before I became a lead, and during that time, I learned from a lot of great people. I am still learning. To go back to the movie metaphor, a game designer is also not like a scriptwriter (though a game writer can be). We are much more like directors. We need to be aware of how everything interacts with every other thing and always mindful of the player experience. That means we DO need to know how the camera and everything else functions and how it affects the final product and, like Orson Welles, sometimes we cut holes in floors and innovate the art.
Directors and game designers know how to execute an idea. It is every last little detail that makes a great movie and a great game great. That comes from experience and from working with others who have done it.
But, it can be done. Literally not a day goes by that I don’t think about Notch and the wonderful game he created in Minecraft. It is the greatest success story in the game industry, and I hope many more find even a quarter of his success.