I designed a video game. Now what?

edited November 2007 in Story Games
So, I have designed a video game. As in, I have written the design spec and done some storyboards and concept art and such. I am not a programmer.

Now what?

I am an outsider to the industry. I know a few people who do video game work, so of course I'll talk to them about it. But I don't expect it to be a good fit with their companies so it will have to find a home somewhere else.

Is this a fool's errand? Video game makers aren't sitting around waiting for some unknown guy to knock on their door with a game design. I imagine the modern video game market is a lot like the modern feature film market, which is more or less outsider-proof.

People in the know, help me out here. My game is awesome and I really want to see it developed.

Comments

  • First question, and a VERY important one: Is your game possible to do in the casual games market, or would it have to be done by a major studio?

    Titles for the Xbox 360 by Microsoft cost an average of $20 million to develop (a year old, cnn money http://money.cnn.com/2006/10/01/magazines/business2/episodic_gaming/index.htm). That's a big commitment for any business.

    But there's more fluidity in the garagegame / popcap market. So that's something to consider.
  • What kind of technology / graphical engine does your game require? You could always make it yourself, with a few cronies to help you. The indie video game scene is just starting to get really happening.
  • I don't want to develop it myself. I like the indie video game scene, but it's not where I want to dedicate my life.

    It would be a major console title, set up for a franchise kinda thing, even. And yeah, I know. $20 million. That's why I was thinking it's basically a fool's errand. I imagine I'm like the dude clutching his coffee-stained screenplay and ranting about how Hollywood just doesn't understand his genius.
  • RyRy
    edited November 2007
    Honestly, it's pretty bleak. First, so you understand my perspective - I've never worked in the industry, but I spent 12 years of my life planning to. I specifically wanted to be a game designer. I had programmed some small games, and spent my summers programming even more. Yeah, I was a kid but I kept with it until I was on the Dean's Honours List working on a Computer Science degree at the top Comp.Sci university in Canada and using every opportunity to do game-related projects. After I gave it up I have always maintained an interest in the state of the industry - so I know some stuff, but only through reading about it and talking to people who were trying to do the same.

    My impression is that game designers come from two directions:

    The first comes from somewhere else in the business: For example, someone who spent their first three or four years in the industry slaving away at optimizing code or tweaking AI or handling bullet impact patterns who managed to develop strong relationships with other major players on the team. They suggest a few ideas here and there, they're part of the team, they know some people, and they eventually have a chance to be part of a cabal tossing around ideas for what would be the most fun. If their ideas take off inside that company, they might actually be able to become a full time designer, or assist one. If the game is really successful, that builds them up towards their next pitch. Sometimes thatmeans these guys - having experience in the industry - walk off after the project with a few of their best contacts and (with the help of some venture capitalists) form their own company or get picked up by a major publisher. But those are the lucky ones. Most spend two years to a decade or so in the industry trying to do that, to the detriment of other areas of their lives, burning out after the first or second unsuccessful game, and getting a job working for Dell.

    The second is the casual game designers that slave away in small teams to make a commercial-quality add-on or mission pack using an existing game engine, for an already successful game with a very active community. These are folks that wear a lot of hats in the same project - they might do level design and art, or coding and digital camera work, or physics and character design. These are a necessity because we're talking about tiny, tiny groups with lots on their plate. They take an existing engine and put years of full time work into it to make a marginally good game that happens to catch the eye of a Big Developer Company. But those are the lucky ones. Most sink two years to a decade or so of their spare time on the project, to the detriment of other areas of their lives, burning out after the first or second unsuccessful game, and getting a job working for IBM.

    Upon learning this - and by "learning" I mean "finally accepting after years of claiming the Emperor had clothes" I took a degree in philosophy, ran some games, got married, wrote some games, got a good job that I enjoy, ran some games, and had a baby (14 days old, and here I am still writing games).
  • Posted By: John HarperI imagine I'm like the dude clutching his coffee-stained screenplay and ranting about how Hollywood just doesn't understand his genius.
    Yeah. Pretty much.

    Right now, you can either:

    - decide that was fun, and put it in your archives. Maybe someday lightning will strike and you'll need it.
    - decide it doesn't really need to be a videogame, and turn it into an unplugged game, or a novel, or a comic book or something.
    - Start developing a demo for it yourself so you'll have something better than a design doc to show to anyone.

    Without knowing some specifics about your design, I can't give very specific advice. If you feel like whispering details to me, I'll let you know what I think.
  • Thanks, Ben.

    I don't know if the specifics will matter much. The game as imagined is something along the lines of a third-person action/adventure game, but with several novel tweaks to gameplay, interface, story, etc. You've probably heard that before. :-)

    I feel like a pitch to the right person would go over well. I guess it's time to work what few contacts I do have to see if I can make that happen.
  • Hello,

    I've worked as a professional video game programmer for about eight years now. I'm a big advocate that the video game industry needs the presence of strong independent studios who self-publish and stick it out for the long term. The casual game environment of X-Box Live and systems like the Wii I think are actually helping this a bit, I think. I realize this is VERY hard considering that video games are wee bit more expensive to produce that say an RPG book.

    However, Ben has the right of it. No one is going to read your design doc. What gets games made in the industry is prototypes. A good prototype has about 80% of the features you want in the game and small demo level fully functional. You also want to put together a business proposal suggesting how large a team you would imagine working on the project and for how long. Once you have that you make lots and lots of phone calls and setup meetings where you show off your prototype.

    Unfortunately this creates a bit of a catch 22. You have to basically start a development studio and build the game before you can get someone to finance you to build the game. I work for a small developer who literally hired me, not because they actually needed me, but because they needed to show to publishers they had the man power to finish the product they had the prototype for. Note: That prototype was never picked up and that incarnation of the company failed, but the owner was business savvy enough to get us other non-original work and I stuck it out and survived despite the fact that over 80% of the company got laid off because they were there to show the publishers, "We can do this!" and then no publisher picked up the project.

    Theoretically you could use your design doc and especially your story boards to find investors who would be willing to finance your prototype. But I'm not sure this is really something you would want to do.

    So yeah, without a working demo of the game it's a hard, hard sell. But I'm an optimist and I don't think it would be impossible. You might even be able to get a way with a demo movie that showed what game-play was supposed to look like. A lot of small studios start in people's garages and some even just prefer to stay there making a decent living off the casual game market.

    Jesse
  • edited November 2007
    Posted By: John HarperIt would be a major console title, set up for a franchise kinda thing, even.
    Yeah, you're a no go there. That's like posting to RPGnet that you have this great idea for the next Eberron-size multi-book campaign setting, based on this home campaign you're running, and you want to know how to contact the guys at WOTC to see if you can make it happen. Except... that it's even less likely.

    But, this is Story Games, right? The equivalent of small press games definitely exists in video games (like the folks who made Cloud), but that's an entirely different kind of undertaking. Cloud, for example, was designed by a bunch of students in a college game design program.
  • Right.

    I don't expect to just wander into Ubisoft and ask for millions of dollars. But I was curious if outside pitches were even a part of the industry, to see if mining my contacts was worth a shot.

    The frustrating thing is that the coolest parts of the game are closely tied to the medium and need to be realized in that kind of high-end console game format. Like when you get the perfect idea for an animated series or big-budget film and you know it will never, ever exist.
  • I have never heard of an outside pitch in the industry. Again, sorry for the bleak. On other topics I can be quite upbeat - encouraging even!
  • Posted By: John HarperI feel like a pitch to the right person would go over well. I guess it's time to work what few contacts I do have to see if I can make that happen.
    So the best way to get some large game company to want to make your game is to be a famous creative person. For example, become Tom Clancy, Steven Spielberg, or the Penny Arcade guys. Then get yourself hired as a creative consultant.

    The second best way to get some large game company to want to make your game is to start working in the game industry and do such a good job making other people's games that a large game company hires you as a creative director. Then convince corporate executives why they should use your idea, instead of hiring an external creative consultant with name recognition.

    Remember that once your new idea is picked up, development will probably require 3-5 years from green light to street date. During this time, unless you are an external creative consultant, it will be your full-time job. This also means that it will be appearing rather late in the current console hardware generation, or possibly early in the next one.

    Also, much of your design will be changed during development. If you are lucky, about 30% of your initial vision will actually be on the disc in the end. Also, unless you are working in Japan, the design of your game will essentially become a group project, with yourself and the other creative leads having more-or-less equal votes, and subject to the whims of an executive producer, studio manager, and/or publisher, depending on your exact situation. Try not to become too attached to anything you have now.

    Consider redesigning your game so that it could be made by a small group of people or by yourself. Have you considered learning Inform and making your game as a text adventure? Or making it in Flash?
  • Posted By: John HarperThe frustrating thing is that the coolest parts of the game are closely tied to the medium and need to be realized in that kind of high-end console game format. Like when you get the perfect idea for an animated series or big-budget film and you know it will never, ever exist.
    You may be incorrect about this. Or your may be correct, but somebody somewhere has already done it.

    I encourage you to ruminate on the experience you want to create and find a more manageable way to express it.
  • edited November 2007
    That is good advice, Ben.

    There are of course many other channels for this game and ways to produce it that don't involve millions of dollars and a massive team of developers. It's just that I already know how to go about those other ways. It's the crazy longshot dream project that I needed help with. :-)

    But I do appreciate your comments.
  • I looked into this only briefly when I figured I had the perfect outline and ideas for Parasite Eve 3. I figured, before the PS3 even existed outside of blueprints, that it'd make the perfect PS3 launch game. Alas, I got the same information--no one would probably ever look at the plans at all, if they come from the outside.

    But Ryan's right about the Second Path--see Counterstrike. Take an established engine, and you've got the graphical elements down. Then find some enthusiastic hobby coders, modelers, and so on, and make a total conversion. The changes can be pretty substantial. There are RTS games and hybrids for Half-Life, for example (like Natural Selection), and even whole different single player games (They Hunger). That kind of approach might be your best bet.
  • So, John...

    Are you going to share this idea, or just refer to it in vague pronouns?

    I mean, sure.. It's pretty likely that your game will never see the light of day, but I, at least, am interested in knowing about the idea, being an aspiring game designer myself.

    It is possible, though difficult, for a small group of dedicated programmers to band together, and just create the awesome. Back when I followed the developer scene a little more closely, I could probably tell you of a couple studios that started that way. Now, I'd probably just get them confused with the ones formed by experienced programmers who'd worked on other big-league projects then broke away to do their own thing.
  • Posted By: Ryan StoughtonI have never heard of an outside pitch in the industry. Again, sorry for the bleak. On other topics I can be quite upbeat - encouraging even!
    Yeah, from what I've heard even if you are working in the industry the chances of getting your idea even considered are craptacular at best. For whatever reason game developers seem to treat anything resembling creative control as though it were some prize doled out to those who rank high enough in the company. It's doubly frustrating when it seems that some of those guys aren't that creative or just make bad decisions. A friend of mine used to work at Namco, and he has plenty of stories about that kind of thing.

    (And of course there's Douglas Coupland's novel JPod...)
  • edited November 2007
    I second the recommendations to consider game mods, such Half-Life or Elder Scrolls. Your game mod can be simply a proof-of-concept or a "real" game. Wikipedia has a list of games that have mod tools and communities:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_mod#Example_modifiable_games

    btw, I work for a game company that is developing a Star Trek (TM) MMORPG... and even we have trouble finding investors.
  • edited November 2007
    Posted By: Ryan StoughtonWhat era Star Trek?
    Stardate 77021.1, twenty years after the Star Trek: Nemesis film (according to Memory Alpha: Star Trek Online), but the content is a bit of a "brand reboot" (à la Battlestar Galactica).
  • Posted By: Neko EwenFor whatever reason game developers seem to treat anything resembling creative control as though it were some prize doled out to those who rank high enough in the company.
    Unless things have changed in the last two years, game developers tend not to be where the money is. They have to get game distributors excited enough to fork out the dough and the dough don't come cheap. This is pretty much true even with developers that have great track records of making hit games. Its hard to get a truly independent project off the ground without the financial backing of a major distributor. Very much like film production in that way.
  • edited November 2007
    I worked as a game designer at Ubisoft, and now I'm writing a bunch of games for Zipper Interactive (one of Sony's development studios) and Slant Six Games. I've also worked for a half-dozen other companies over the past eight years.

    It's different everywhere you go. Admittedly, I've never heard of an external pitch. But some companies are more interested in the internal pitch than others. If you realy want this to work, you can get a job in the biz with a company that's interested in good internal pitches. If you know people that are in the industry, and you're willing to make the necessary sacrifices (pay cut, relocation), then you can definitely get a job in the industry. You can even wind up as a game designer.

    Here's the bad news -- unfortunately, as a general rule, this industry doesn't need any more idea people. It needs executioners.

    We have enough stories. We need writers who understand the process of game development. We have enough game ideas. We need designers who can coherently define and defend the vision, both on paper and in meetings. We have enough feature lists. We need robust production methodologies, stronger communication systems, and more front-loading of real work (not 'junk hours'). Some studios already have this nailed down -- I'm very happy with the systems in place at my current employers, because it means that we can spend more time creating an awesome experience (instead of reinventing the process with each new game). But one of the reasons that a next-gen title costs $15-30 million to develop is that studios don't always use their resources to maximum effect.

    That being said, I know of a game developer who pulled some cash together and hammered out his game in a year. He didn't spent $20 million (not even close -- he spent a very small amount of money, in fact), and his game was released on next-gen consoles. So, though you say you're averse to indie development, it is possible to realize this dream. Given the promulgation of international development studios, it's possible to find artists and programmers around the globe who can work with a budget. This requires a strong production team on your end, but it's not unreasonable.

    It's also worth considering the success of the Narbacular Drop team: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=16042

    Questions: if the game is developed and released, and it's a massive hit, will it bother you if you never see a penny of that? If so, what steps are you taking to protect yourself and your idea? Would it perhaps help to release your concept in some other medium first? Consider novels like Night Watch and comics like The Darkness. Also bear in mind that numerous tabletop RPGs have been released as video games (some of the White Wolf games, for example).

    Comments: A game's design is usually several pages long. I've worked on first-person shooters whose design documentation (core design, mission design, character design, weapons design, multiplayer design, et cetera) added up to over 200 pages of material. Of course, a pitch document should be concise and easily presented (as a PowerPoint slideshow, for example). But you may want to think about how much of the nuts-and-bolts design should be fleshed out and documented before you present your concept. And you should think seriously about who you show the idea. Friendship is friendship, but now you're talking business...

    Good luck!
  • It's important to understand that there is no implicit copyright (or explicit copyright) on game ideas...

    Also, that the video game industry is more hidebound and conservative than television or movies, let alone something so liberal as novels that actually reads %.01 of their external pitches.

    The best trick is to become an auteur game designer. How to do this:
    1) Invent time travel.
    2) Travel back to 1980.
    3) Write a crappy D&D rip-off shareware game.
    4) Have people 20 years later hire you because they used to play your game when they were kids.

    yrs--
    --Ben
  • As an alternative to time travel, find someone who briefly made a name for themselves before being crushed by the industry. Convince them that they can fight back vicariously through you. And then do a montage.
  • John: the best way to do what you can't do is to start by doing what you can do. I mean, someone on these boards is gonna become a Jordan Weisman eventually; might as well be you, right?

    (Besides which, in ten years those art-heavy console games are gonna seem fetishistic and weird compared to the new hybrids of casual game, MMO, online freeform and god knows what else.)
  • This doesn't help, but I'd suggest: gettings some good-enough idea for what kinds of games you could possibly prototype or implement cheaply (optionally: what kinds of games the casual/indie market might support), and then set your creativity sights on games within those constraints.
  • Design and publish it yourself.

    Its difficult but surely not impossible.

    Form yourself a corporation. And use stock shares as a form of compensation for those people who join your team to work on the project. You'll largely be chasing some college students and programmers just looking to get a name for themselves. You'll have a lot of people quit on you and have a challenging time getting replacements up to speed on the state of development to that point.

    Begin developing your computer game intellectual proper online in the form of role playing game content, fiction, etc, and use the fact that all proceeds go to pay the cost of developing this really cool indie computer game that will also be based on those ideas. Get lots and lots of that content online and promote it actively. Go the shared world building route where you can afford to be flexible and cast a wide net to get as many people enthusiastic about the project as possible. This will help you generate game product sales, donations, ransoms, etc, and most importantly, give you a chance to draw the artistic and programing talent you will need to become stake holders.

    Put advertising on your site to begin generating incrimental revenue as you build out more of the IP online to generate interest in your project.

    As interest begins to build, begin generating specific in game advertising opportunities and begin selling them. You might have to only take reservation position holding payments up front with the bulk of payments to be due upon publication and release.

    Put out a press release regarding its development every time anything remotely interesting happens. A new artists or programmer joins the team, even if in a small way. Press release. You reach a particular benchmark. Press release. You get some more of the IP up online for people to read. Press release. Create a new in game advertising position. Press release., etc, etc.

    It'll take you years. But if you continue to generate interest you might just get the project completed and if you make enough noise and get eough contributors along the way, you might just get one of the distributors to take a look at it when its ready.

    We first inceptualized the online game play for our game Europe 1483 in late 1999 and started off just generating interest by running a human moderated play by e-mail game for a couple of years. Over time we tried out partnerships with 7 different programmers until we finally got one to stick. Just set a path to get the thing done and stick with it and you will eventually accomplish it.

    Ryan S. Johnson
    Guild of Blades Publishing Group
    http://www.guildofblades.com
    http://www.1483online.com
    http://www.thermopylae-online.com
  • Um. Ok. Thanks everyone.

    I appreciate your spirit of helpfulness. But really. I wrote a cool thing that I like, and that's it. It's not a crusade that I'm going to invest my life in. I understand that, yes, if I really, really wanted to, I could start my own video game development team and do it all myself. Not to be a jerk about it, but... duh. Of course I already knew that. As I said upthread, that's not what I'm interested in.

    It's cool. I think the game is a neat idea and all, but it's not my holy grail. I have other things to do.
  • edited November 2007
    Post the spec and storyboards. Make it publically available. Show it off.

    If you ever get a game made, it won't be that one. But it's something you can put in your portfolio. Besides, nobody wants to hire someone with one good idea. As soon as you have a good idea, you need to have another one.

    I mean, hell...what do I know? But it's worked for me...

    http://www.memento-mori.com/other/games/fiendish.pdf
  • Yeah, that sounds good, Jared. I'll polish it up a bit and then put it online.
  • I have experience working with Electronic Arts and Take Two Interactive (Rockstar Games). The best way in my opinion for someone to do this without a programming team or money is to embed the idea in other forms of cheap media. RPGs, Comics, Fiction, and other forms. It's a bit of a bait and a switch but if you sell people on your intellectual property, you can try to word the contract in a way as to get yourself hired on as a consultant to introduce your game ideas into the actual development of the game. But if it isn't your passion, it may not be worth it. The chances of failure are high so it should definitely be something where you enjoy the journey as much as the potential end result.
  • I played this weird RPG where you get to be Greek heroes shafting each other for glory - it was awesome but I can't recall the name - it'd make a fantastic casual game. You could play it on the Internets with strangers and screw their heroes over. Agron? Agonist? Something like that.
  • You're thinking of Argon: The Game of Noble Gases.
  • Posted By: John HarperIs this a fool's errand? Video game makers aren't sitting around waiting for some unknown guy to knock on their door with a game design. I imagine the modern video game market is a lot like the modern feature film market, which is more or less outsider-proof.
    Actually, it's more so. I'm not sure if it's like the film market mayeb in the 20's or 30's, but I'd hazard a guess that it is. Very studio controlled. In modern film, actors and writers can flit between studioes. I understand back in the studio days, one studio was your lifeblood, and that's how it is now (unless you change jobs). In modern film, you can write a script, be a complete nobody, and with the right luck (bolstered by the right agent or knowing the right people or have a best selling novel) get it sold.

    To put it another way, you'll have to make it your life. Now, you've got game design under your belt. That gives you a leg up on getting into the industry. I'm not sure how much of a leg up. For John Wick it only got him into QA (a great place to start, but it's basically the mail room in terms of position). If you can do art, you might be able to get in as a concept artist or texture artist (both hard to come by), or if you can do 3D (your best best) 3D artist. If you have management skills, you can get into the producer track, a very good place to be for people like me with no other applicable talents (but producers who want to be designers often rankle the rest of the team, designer or not). Most designers, though, need to know the tools to build levels. It's really hard to come in as just a guy with gameplay design.

    And on top of all that, it's really hard to get a new IP made. Video games, like all media today, is mostly interested in franchises and established licenses. New IP is a hard sell. So, like Jared says, you can use it to sell yourself, but don't get too attached to the idea that the game will get made.
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