I am asked so often, "Hey Jordon, I have a Great Idea for a
video game... it's like this game completely combined with another videogame. How
do I sell it and get it made?" Anybody can say it's like Gears of War
mixed with Borderlands 2. This is a growing problem and the first statement is
not really an idea. Statements like these are too broad and sound like you're
completely ripping off both games. For anyone wanting to truly be a game
designer, put some actual thought and time behind your ideas. Even if your idea
is similar to another game's feature, talk about the gameplay behind it.
Instead of saying Gears of War mixed with Final Fantasy so that it doesn't
sound like you are completely ripping off both games, say something like it's a
game with a unique cover system that takes place within an alternate universe
of magic and technology. From there you can build and expand on that. You can
add that you were inspired by Gears of War and Final Fantasy, and that you are
taking a different route but be specific. There is nothing wrong with using
games as a reference.
Sadly, that's the way it's usually asked, as though it was all just
one question. But in fact it is actually two explicit questions:
1. How do I
sell my game idea?
2. How do I get
my idea made into a finished game?
The short answers are:
1. You can't sell it
(nobody pays money for game ideas from industry outsiders). Which is why I
stress so much to write it down, then get more ideas and write those down. If
you don't write them down, they definitely will never get made. But if you do write them down, and they're
good, it's possible you can get a job in the game business!
2. You probably won't get your
idea made into a finished game... unless you get into the industry. If you
haven't yet graduated college (and you are still young), then get a college
degree and go into the game business as a career. Like me unfortunately, you
might have to make the game yourself, but hey - once you're an industry pro,
you'll know how!
And of course, those short answers lead to many more questions:
3. How do I get
into the game biz?
4. How do I
write a game design?
5. How do I
make a game myself?
6. How do I
sell my completed game?
So, I doubt that you are all that satisfied with the short answers
given above. So read on - you are now entering into... the long answers.
1. NOBODY WILL BUY A GAME IDEA
I don't know why so many people think that game ideas are a
sellable commodity. Have you ever heard of an industry outsider selling a game
idea? I haven't! Although I haven't been in the game business long enough myself, I
have heard this from actual developers in person.
Finished games, now, that's an entirely different matter! A game idea may not be a sellable commodity, but a finished game is. Lots of
guys have made their ideas into finished games - and those you can get
But first you'll have to be in ... guess which industry? That's right! The industry of making video games!
WILL BUY YOUR GAME IDEA
The game biz is first and foremost... a business. And business is
all about managing risks.
It would be bad business policy to give a million bucks to every
guy off the street who walks in with an idea. After all, what guarantee does
the game company have that their money will be well spent?
They want to see a finished game. Or at least to know, if the game
is not yet finished, that the presenter (the guy pitching the game idea) is
capable of taking it all the way -- of making it into a finished game. And that
the presenter will proceed in a professional manner (a manner that takes the
realities of the industry into account).
Everybody in the game business has ideas for games - and there
isn't enough time or money to make them all. So on the one hand they have a lot
of free ideas already sitting there not being made, and on the other hand
there's this idea that comes in over the transom, for which they would have to
pay royalties. It's not
hard to see why they'd be reluctant to pay for ideas from outside. Especially
when the submitter does not have industry experience.
WILL MAKE YOUR GAME FOR YOU
I assume that you are thinking mainly about console games.
PlayStation games, Wii U games, Xbox games, games. Or
commercial-quality PC games. There are lots of folks who make their own little
PC games, but that's an entirely different endeavor than a console game or
commercial-quality PC game.
Commercial-quality games are hugely expensive to make. You can
read about budgets and schedules in game magazines, especially developer-oriented
magazines. It may cost a million, or two million dollars, or even more, to make
a commercial-quality game like Mass Effect and Skyrim. It takes teams of dozens of people a year or two, working nonstop,
to make a commercial-quality game.
While all those people are making your game idea, they can't work
on their own ideas. Everyone in the industry (the programmers, artists,
designers, producers, marketing managers, sales managers, and corporate
executives) has more ideas than time to work on them all. Ideas are a dime a
dozen (and that's probably an inflated value!). I have
several ideas myself, and get more all the time but I am working on the smaller
game ideas now and saving the bigger games for later. But because normally it
takes so long and costs so much to make one game, it just isn't possible to
make them all. So when an outsider comes to a game company with an idea, do you
really think all the pros should just drop their own ideas and make that idea instead?
The making of games is a business. And business is all about
making a profit. There are always risks
in making any game - nobody can predict whether an idea will succeed in the
marketplace. It's all about managing
risks. And industry pros are a
better risk than outsiders and wannabes. When a major game title fails, that
company loses a lot of money because they paid their artists, programmers and
designers so much money to begin with just to create the game.
If you truly want to be a game designer, you have to make sure your ideas are
also realistic enough for your team to develop and is within their skills. More
than 90% of game startup companies fail because they lacked resources, people
with the necessary skills, time and money. They also failed because they
started out trying to make what I hear so often to create "the next big
thing" which is beyond their skills.
3. GETTING INTO THE INDUSTRY
It's not hard to get into the game industry if you have the
appropriate education, abilities, and attitude.
For starters, get a college degree. There are also a lot of things
you can do at home to build a design portfolio and to flesh out your resume
(assuming that your college studies and youth have thus far prevented you from
getting professional experience to fill your resume):
· Play a lot of games (haha most of us do this).
· Discuss their strengths and weaknesses with other gamers on
bulletin boards and newsgroups.
· Host multi-player games (act as dungeon master or perform other
· Build levels for games that come with level-building tools (helps
stir creativity and understanding level design to make maps fun to play in.
Halo and Far Cry come with Map Editors.
· Volunteer for beta testing
· Write and draw!
o Write about whatever interests you. Anything that inspires you to
work and create. You need to develop habits of working on projects, and
o In your writing, develop good writing habits - use punctuation
marks, complete sentences, and the shift key.
o Draw whatever interests you so you can polish art skills
o Write your own game design documents for your ideas
· Read whether its education books or books to entertain you
· Follow your interests! Read, write, research on the internet and
at the library. Get out there and do, participate.
You'll need to be a team player, a professional who works on projects
without letting his own ambitions get in the way of doing a game other than his
4. WRITING A GAME DESIGN DOCUMENT.
If you truly want to be a game designer, the first thing you ought
to do is describe your game idea in writing. Thank God, the bright side to this
is that there isn't one standard format -- every game design document looks
different. It needs to be well written, with good spelling, grammar,
punctuation, and with a coherent and well-organized outline. It needs to tell
what is special about your game (why your game will stand out from the other
games in the market). You have to know your market and target audience. The
Game Design Document needs to be told in a clear and informative manner -- you
need to understand the competition, and express that understanding in the
document. The document needs to describe your game's look, the tone, the
gameplay, the user interface, and go into excruciating detail on what the game
will be. The document needs to
be well illustrated.
With a game design document in hand, it's possible to go to the
next step (getting the game made). Without a design, the idea is just so many
electrons darting around in the synapses of your brain.
5. HOW TO MAKE A GAME
I can't tell you how to make a video game in this article. It
would take several books! But
basically, you have two ways to go: (a) DIY (Do It Yourself) or (b) get a
career in the game industry. I call these two paths "The Lone Wolf
Route" and "The Career Route."
a. The Lone Wolf Route - You're on your own if you want to DIY. Go
forth and teach yourself about programming and about management and business
and marketing. Read the postings at the game design newsgroups, the programming
newsgroups, the graphics and animation newsgroups, and go get a bunch of books.
Research. Learn. Create. Do it all, all by yourself.
b. The Career Route - My recommendation is that you begin by
working in the game industry for a few years before going it alone. Working at
game companies will not only teach you a lot about the process of making games,
it will also introduce you to a lot of game professionals who can help you
(with graphics, sound, programming, and even marketing).
Okay, let's skip ahead a few years. So you've written down your
game idea, and you went into games as a career. You met a lot of people in the
industry and came to appreciate the skills they bring to the picture. You learned all about making games, and either you've convinced
the bosses that your game is going to make everybody rich or you've gone off on
your own. You got the best programmers and artists you could, and together
you've made a game.
Or you went the Lone Wolf route, and made a game all by your
But now you have one little problem - your game doesn't have wide
enough distribution. You need a
6. SELL YOUR COMPLETED GAME
A publisher probably gets ten finished games to review for every
one game that they decide to publish. Or (another way of looking at it) a
developer probably has to take his finished game to ten publishers before he
finds one to publish it. And the finished game is, of course, the most likely
to succeed, compared to any other possible submission formats.
CONCLUSION - GET INTO THE BIZ!
Now we've come around full circle to where we were at the
beginning of this article. I don't want to discourage you from dreaming up game
ideas. But sending a concept around in hopes of getting something for it, or of
getting your game developed, will just lead to rejection and frustration. Sorry
for the "bait and switch" with my choice of title for this article.
But by now you should see that there's a better way to proceed after you've
written down your idea.
A portfolio of creative and well-written game designs could get
you a job in the game industry.
If you have a passion for designing games, and you are not yet in
the game industry, then I hope that you are planning to get into it. It will
require hard work, and you'll have to be patient and professional. But if you
want to make games, I don't see any way to do it except from the solid footing
of being an industry professional.
If you want to make games, then where else should you be, but in
the game industry?