Ideas are not precious

It's understandable that, as designers, we get attached to our ideas.  Our job is bringing little bits of our imaginations to life - making them real so that others can experience them too.  I'd even venture to say that most of the ideas we get excited about could in-fact be something great, were time and resources infinite.  If it's beautiful in our head, then it could be beautiful for someone else too, but it's the realities of creating a thing that make it foolish to get too attached to any one idea too quickly.


My idea is awesome, why shouldn't I fight to the death for it?

Pick and choose:

  • Because you don't have the tools or skills to create it properly or efficiently
  • Because you lack the experience in the genre to spot common missteps
  • Because too many games like it have been made before, and it's hard to stand out
  • Because players are finding it too unfamiliar, and aren't even willing to try it
  • Because your team isn't getting as excited about the idea as you did
  • Because the systems push and pull the player against different compulsions
  • Because you didn't realize it was a reflection a life-experience unique to you, that may be impossible to recreate for others

Or dozens of other reasons.  But more to the point, it's important to take the time to find an idea that you can see through to the end.  Something that ignites your passions, but is also the right choice by far more practical standards.


As a game designer, ideas aren't precious, and you can't let them be.  Getting too attached to your ideas and designs is one of the quickest and simplest ways to doom a project.  Your first idea is rarely your strongest, and the iteration that is necessary for good design often necessitates putting aside ideas that you originally thought were key.

Yes, projects need a vision, but choosing that vision well is an extremely important part of the process that is often neglected, and even then, the vision-holder needs to be prepared for their idea to take on a life of it's own and change as it is explored.


Give yourself choices before you choose

Before you decide on a design you're going to pursue, come up with 10 ideas instead of 1.  Or 100.  Fall in love with dozens of very different directions you could take.  Make yourself feel conflicted and torn, and then you'll start feeling less attached to any specific approach.  Then you can start to be objective.

Brainstorm in different places, and in different ways.  Invent simple things, combine complex things, evolve things that haven't been evolved.  Brainstorm with different people, some people who don't know how you think, and some people who have no cause to please you.  Look for inspiration in places you normally don't.  Look at things you're completely unfamiliar with, and you'll have the benefit of seeing them as a child might, with your imagination ready to flare at the possibilities.  All of this to break you out of your usual methods, and expand your options.

Most importantly, and most simply, don't stop when you find an idea you like - keep going.  Fill pages with your ideas.  Figure out what you like about that first idea and make a dozen more things that tap into that core appeal.  Challenge yourself to field far more ideas than you could possibly need.  This will serve to shake up your brain and keep you creative, but it will also leave you with a list to filter back down to the best and the brightest... the things that really shine through the rough.

Don't cut the brainstorming process short.  Taking your time brainstorming can save you many headaches further down the road.


Be harsh on your ideas before you adore them

Think ahead and create a thorough list of demands your idea needs to satisfy.

Your list may be a reflection of your priorities.  My list for a new game might look something like this:
- Can I pitch this idea to someone in 2 sentences and get them excited?
- Do I know how I would hook people with a trailer of this?
- Is there an audience out there for this?  Is it big enough?
- Is this idea bringing something unique to the table that other games haven't?
- Does this idea bring more value to the player than just passing entertainment?
- Do I know how to start building the core gameplay for this?
- Is this a game I'd need to maintain after shipping?  Can I do that?
- Do I have the right people on my team to build this?
- Do I have the right tools to build this?
- Do I have the time to build this and remain financially stable?

Take your massive list of ideas, filter them down to a top twenty, and judge them harshly based off of your set of questions.  See what bubbles to the top.

This may feel like a lot to go through for ideas you might not know much about yet, but it will force you to explore the ideas far enough to make an intelligent decision about their merit.  The alternative "we'll figure it out as we go" approach is both common and incredibly risky.  This process is a way for you to try to mitigate that risk and prevent yourself from spending months or years of your life on something that may not be able to succeed.  It's worth it.


Put your idea on the ground, walk a mile away, and then look back.

You need distance from your ideas to be able to regard them objectively.

If you did a good enough job with brainstorming a huge list of ideas, this will happen for your naturally, but it's worth calling out.  One of the larger dangers of getting attached to a singular idea early and attempting to judge it without exploring alternatives is that you'll be too close to it to be honest with yourself.  Your excitement for the possibility of it will trump some of those questions you may not have been able to answer.

Several parts of this proposed process are far from unique to game design.  They're wisdoms I've gathered and found value in from other creative fields that deal with similar problems.

In this case, some older advertising agencies would have a process that went roughly like this:
Day 1 - Multiple creative people lock themselves in a room together and brainstorm. They write ideas on post-it notes, put them on the wall.  No idea is bad, nothing gets thrown away.  They keep going until they fill the wall.
Night 1 - They leave and don't think about these ideas at all.  They go out drinking, unwind, spend time with the family, whatever works to gets their minds off of work.
Day 2 - They come back to the office, go into the post-it room, and start pulling off all of the ideas that sound bad and throwing them away.  Anyone can throw an idea away without needing anyone else's permission, which helps filter to the ideas that ignite more simply and universally.  Once everyone's done throwing away the things they don't like, then they all discuss and choose out of what's left.

If they tried to do this process in the same day, the effect is not the same.  The time away from the ideas, the huge range or options, and the principle that nothing is sacred are all key.


I don't claim to be an expert.  I've been creating in one form or another for a very long time, but the majority of my professional experience is working in an established studio, expanding a colossal live game.  Still, it's notable to me that from indie projects to large professional games, I see many creators making what looks to me like the same mistake - eagerly jumping in on something that seems doomed to hardship, or that I can't even see finding space of it's own when it's finished.  That's why I've grown to consider this process so important in my work.

If you have any experiences where you've suffered for too long with an idea that didn't work, or want to share any of you brainstorming process please do!  I'd love to hear your thoughts.



[My thoughts and opinions are my own.  They are not those of Blizzard Entertainment, and they do not necessarily represent Blizzard design philosophies.]