In Part I of this article, Lead Designer Benjamin Krotin describes the prepatory work that needs to be done even before meeting with a prospective publisher.
The game industry that we thrive in today is filled with many great ideas and many great idea makers. However, far too often great ideas and opportunities somehow get lost in the fray and sadly dwindle down to non-existence. To help reverse this, there are five key steps that anyone, at any level of game development can follow. By maximizing the methods by which an IP is produced and presented, a developer can increase their chances for success with publishing.
1. Making Sure Your Idea Is Novel
Rule #1: Do something new.
Rule #2: If you are not going to do something new, at least do something different!
If one were to break a game down to its core elements, what would they find? Sure, there is story and artwork, and of course audio; but what really makes a game?
What makes a game is gameplay, and gameplay can be translated in basic terms as the raw, visceral enjoyment that a player receives from pushing buttons on a controller. Much like story is to cinema; gameplay is by far and away the single most important aspect of any game project. When combined with story, art and sound, good gameplay becomes magic, and capturing this magic is what every designer's job should be. With this in mind, any proper original IP should be grounded in solid and preferably original gameplay. Placing gameplay into the equation first, even before story, will help distinguish an IP right off of the bat and will serve as a solid foundation upon which the rest of a game's assets can be built. But gameplay alone will not move a publisher, so before a single designer can work their craft, the development team as a whole must find their niche before deciding which direction to take. Existing market conditions must be carefully examined and evaluated, with developers keeping in mind that an IP, which in its own way caters to either a lucrative or untapped market, is much more likely to succeed. Creating something original from the bottom to the top and targeting it to a distinct market will be far more enticing to a publisher than just blindly making yet another first-person shooter for the XBOX 360. That is of course unless this first-person shooter does something new and cool. One look at companies such as Nintendo, Harmonix, or Bungie is a testament to this notion.
"No one reads that stuff anyway..." Anyone who has ever pitched an IP to a publisher has likely either heard this, or has even said this themselves. Although mostly true, it is still extremely important to have a bulletproof document that not only outlines, but concisely explains the game and its mechanics. Nothing will catch a producer's or business development manager's attention faster than a clean and easy-to-read document that answers all of their questions and shows off what an IP is about. The best way to tackle this is to break the game design down into a brief concept outline document that covers basics like story, gameplay, and controls. This is especially true for the controls, as these are the real meat of any game. A successful control layout will show a concise control diagram, and will include a breakdown of all of the various control mechanics and basic gameplay states that can exist within the outlined gameplay. It is important to be thorough but not to go overboard, as no one will be able to read, let alone understand any control breakdown that is too complex. By being thorough and concise with outline documentation, a developer is effectively presenting a summarized game design document to the publisher, but one where all of the technical fluff that is typically found in a full-scale design document is cut out. Bottom line: Get to the point, get their quickly, and then dress it all up with pretty pictures.
[This article originally appeared on the Mary-Margaret Network Blog.]
Benjamin Krotin is President and Lead Designer at 1988 Games, where he is currently pursuing the well-received original Wii IP Zombie Massacre. In addition to managing the day-to-day operations of 1988 Games, Ben is also a contributing writer for Cigar Press Magazine. Ben can be reached at this e-mail address.