It might sound a little harsh but it is often more of a true statement than anyone cares to acknowledge. A video game idea by itself is rarely worth much without a lot more than a word document, a couple of sketches and even a cool web site to back it up.
Is it a good idea? Maybe! But what is the financial value of the idea by itself? Not much!
Idea vs. Ability
Everyone has a good idea for a video game. I could walk around the office of any video game developer and gather ten video game concepts in ten minutes. Many of them will be great ideas for a game. One of the ways the real worth of a game concept emerges is when it's mixed with the ability to take a good idea and complete it. This is worth so much more than the idea alone.
A good development team can take a mediocre game concept and make a great game if they are given enough control. An inexperienced or poor game developer can take a great idea, spend a lot of money and still come up with a bad game. Or even worse, not even finish the game. The ability to make a polished game is much, much more important than the idea itself.
I have seen countless game-designer hopefuls that feel that they are an exception to the rule. Their idea is so amazing that it must be guarded with utmost secrecy. Although they don’t have the money or ability to complete the game on their own, they are sure that the second any one in the position to green light a project hears their idea, big money will be paid out to make this game.
The Amazing Watercar
Claiming you have a great game idea can be a lot like saying “I have a great idea – let’s make a car that is fueled by tap water instead of gasoline. I have scheduled a meeting to talk with the head of Ford Motor Company. I am sure they are going to give me millions of dollars to find a team to do the research to figure out how to do it."
Maybe you have taken the idea to next level and you have a diagram of how you believe it is possible to make a car engine that runs on water. Although you have never been to an engineering school or designed a car engine, you certainly have driven a lot of cars in your lifetime and you know what the consumer wants. You have no proof that your new engine design will really work but if someone would give you a lot of money you’re positive that you would be capable of turning out completed cars, for sale to the public, by the year’s end. Oh, and by the way, the materials in your designs cost over 250K per car but a high cost will be worth it, because the car will run on water.
This sounds ridiculous but it is very similar to how many people feel about their game idea. They can walk into a game publisher, tell them about a cool idea and the publisher will trust that they can complete the game in the proposed schedule and budget.
The World is a Big Place
There are millions of people who sit around every day and think about what would make a cool game. Many experienced game designers are paid a lot of money to do this. If you have what seems like a great idea for a video game there is a massively high likelihood that someone else has thought of a very similar idea. Often, with a little research, you will find that a similar game already exists. This game may not be as good as the one you have in your head but that doesn’t mean that the guy with the idea for the existing game wasn’t planning to make a game as good as yours. If a similar game doesn’t exist, there might be a good reason no one has made this game. If you can figure out why this game has not already been made, and then you can figure out how to overcome this hurdle in a way that no-one else has been able to, you might be headed somewhere.
Pitching to Publishers
Any game publisher (that is not about to go out of business) knows that an idea on paper is worth little. A playable demo is better and a proven team history is invaluable. They must be convinced you can provide a finished product. If a publisher is just looking for ideas, there are always internal employees with ideas that are just as good as yours.
Your job when trying to sell an idea to a game publisher is to lessen the risk for the publisher. What you really should be doing is pitching a Plan, not just an Idea. How is this game actually going to get made? For instance, one of the ways to help convince a publisher to gamble their money on your concept is to make sure you just completed a successful game in the same genre. And by the way, you also ought to use the same team at the same company. Any variations on these variables heighten the risk for a publisher greatly.
Bridging the Gap From Idea to Product
So, how do you acquire the ability to make your idea into a finished game? By finding as many things as possible from a crazy list of resources that are part of any good game production: Talent, experience, stability, determination, opportunity, an experienced team, technology, art, audio, marketing savvy, money, and much more.
Despite the difficulty of pitching a game concept to a publisher, I have known people who have been successful. It was not because they had the best idea. Many other factors had a big impact. Factors like your ability to pitch a game and convert everyone around you can have a big impact. Can you convince other talented people to abandon their ideas (which might be as good as yours) and dedicate their heart and soul to your game? Can you create a piece of art or music that is so moving people will leave your presentation in tears of joy? Do you have access to cash? A rich relative or good friend with a lot of money never hurts. It is also really important to have someone at a publisher that has a lot of trust in your abilities. Persistence can take you a long way. Are you ready to fight for your ideas for many years or will you give up after a couple of months? Are you willing to make another game for a publisher to convince him that you have the talent and ability before you get a chance to work on your game? A bit of luck never hurts. You might happen to present an idea of a game about bunny rabbits to a publisher who just had a meeting where they decided that the company needs a bunny game to round out their portfolio and they also have to spend their entire budget for the quarter by the end of the week.
Find a way to turn your idea into more than an idea! Explore it, document it, test it, share it with your friends, work on it, find a team to work on it with you, get feedback on it, change it, improve it, work on it some more... Keep the dream alive but please understand that the game concept is only the first step in a hundred mile journey.