Game Idea Value

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Will Your Brilliant Game Idea Make you Rich and Famous?

by Alan Emrich

Since youíre a passionate gamer, you might have had the idea for the ďultimate game.Ē One youíve lived your whole life to play or that you think will sell a zillion copies. Our American cousin, Alan Emrich, is here to evaluate its true worth.

Ah, the blessings of naivetť. What joy it must be to share the wisdom of the gaming masses and believe that 1) people who work at game companies just sit around and play games all day. To take comfort in the fact that, 2) whatever game comes out, you know that you could have done it better (if only the game company had asked for your advice). Or my favorite, to believe that 3) you have an idea for a great game and that it's really valuable.

Well, readers, allow me to be the Grinch and Scrooge all rolled into one. Iím about to steal your innocence. (Itís a dirty job, but someone has to do it.)

Everybodyís an Expert

Working in the game industry is very similar to the experience I had lo those many years ago when I was a High School teacher. Because my vocation was in a field where everyone had some experience, they all, naturally, thought mine was a job anyone could do (and certainly better than I could). In short, everyone was "an expert" at my job and quick to tell me how to do it. Not that they had years of training or experience in actually doing my job, but simply by virtue of the fact that they had previously sat in school or played a game. These self-proclaimed experts certainly knew all about my job and freely solicited to me their opinions of, "here, this is what you should be doing."

Thank you for the advice. Some Iíll use; some Iíll ignore.

I'm the first to proclaim that I have no monopoly on great ideas, neither am I young enough to know everything. Thus, I am always on the lookout for that next inspirational flash and try to adapt it to my latest endeavor. But I have to tell you now, the value of a great idea as your banker sees it, is very little indeed.

Where the Money Goes

Games are not made under perfect circumstances. Even if they were, theyíre still created by mere mortals and subject to the foibles and frailties of human error. While some errors are more egregious than others, no game is perfect. We (in the industry) know that already. Game making is part science, part craft, and part art, all of which remain in a high state of flux. So donít expect a perfect game any time soon (if ever).

But if you have the perfect game idea, then you must know better. There is a perfect game, if only you could realize your dream. People will be happy playing it, and youíll be rich besides. Oh, cruel fate! Why canít you get your game published?

Money - thatís the answer, people. Like buying a home, making a game is not an "all cash" deal. With the cost of the average PC game about 1 to 2 million dollars and more than double that for a console game, your game is not likely to be self-published, is it? (I didnít think so.) In my game classes I teach that those who want to make games professionally need OPM (pronounced "opium"), that is "Other People's Money." That's what it's all about, folks.

Reality Checks Don't Bounce

From The Game Inventor's Guidebook by Brian Tinsman.Letís look at the game publishers. They pony up those millions, employ all sorts of talented people, spend countless "man months" in production, print, package, ship, and market these games and, at the end of the day, try to make a few dollars profit from all that effort. Now, Iíve seen a lot of game budgets in my day. I know that most of the money for a game goes for art, programming and material costs. Then thereís sound, talent, management, and overhead. Somewhere down near the bottom of the money barrel is the gameís design. But what you usually donít find a line for in a budget is the idea or concept for a game (i.e., that part where you come in).

Why? Because everyone has a "great game idea!" And I mean everyone. Marketing knows they do, management thinks they do, the teams in the trenches making these games are very passionate about their ideas regarding what would make a great game. Even the custodian, receptionist, and postman will proffer their ideas for what they think would make a great game. It never stops!

It is axiomatic that people value least what they have the most of. In the game business, the most common coin of the realm (and, hence, the most worthless) is the "great idea for a game." No one pays for great ideas, because everyone has them already. Whatís really hard to come up with is the millions of dollars, talented teams, clever marketing, and so forth. The non-licensing ideas that actually make it and become the games you see on the store shelves are ones that some "insider" was passionate about, gave that idea away for free, and then did a ton of extra work to sell it internally so that it could be reviewed and considered. Thatís what it takes, and it takes all kinds. (Remember, someone actually thought that Messiah was a great game idea, gave that idea away for free, and fought like heck within Interplay to see that it was finally made into a game.)

So, it is with a sigh and a heavy heart that I need to tell you that 1) we donít sit around playing games all day; 2) we know our games arenít perfect (and that you believe that you could do better); and 3) that your idea for a great game is truly and absolutely worthless, it wonít make you a penny. Sorry.

Next time, Iíll try to bring gifts instead of being the Grinch.

If you'd like another opinion, Tom Sloper's article, The Games Game can add a little more insight, as can this posting from Obscure (which is brutally frank).

Alan Emrich is the former Strategy Games Editor at Computer Gaming World magazine, has written several computer game strategy guides, and has designed and developed several published board, card and computer games since the 1970s.

Since this article was published, I received this email:

May I shake your hand??
You've answered a HUGE question I've harbored!
Your article The Real Value of a Great Game Idea: answers the BIG question I've had for a long time... but not completely! 

See I don't care about the money - I want the game! I have two great ideas... thing is - you make it very clear... everyone has "Great Ideas" for games.

At least you've answered my question.

Thank you - Very Much!