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Author Topic: Mike's Standard Rant #6: Concepts are Dime a Dozen  (Read 4403 times)
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« on: August 28, 2003, 01:28:52 PM »

I've had all I can takes and I can't stands it no more!

As usual, I'm posting this as shorthand for a post that I make all too often. It's not intended to generate feedback, but I'd be glad to debate it, or clarify any questions people have about it.

----
Concepts are a Dime a Dozen

One day a person on the Indie Design Forum asked a question that had been asked many times before. And Ron answered it in a way that I really like. To paraphrase:

Poster: "I've got this idea for a game that's got some cool stuff. Element A combined with Element B, and a whole lot of action. Do you think that this idea is worth pursuing? Would you play it?"

Ron: "No. But if you make a good game out of it, then yes."

Or something to that effect. That really about says it all for me (but that won't stop me from making a few more points, now will it?). Apparently people haven't gotten the message. This is one of the most common types of opening questions asked on the Indie Design Forum.

Concepts are like assholes, yadda yadda. That's not to say that you don't need one to start making your game. You most certainly do. In fact you need to have a concept that's so infused in your brain as a cool idea that you're sure it'll make a good idea. If you have to ask, well, I suppose it might be that you're merely uncomfortable with the idea of proceeding. But consider the possibility that it's not inspiring you enough to ever finish the game.

Now, if you're just asking for some indication that the idea doesn't suck as a concept, well, consider it given. I mean, consider the concept behind Adventure! Pulp Adventure. How long do you think it took Bruce and the boys to think that one up? Heck, they didn't think about it, they said one day, "Hey, how come nobody has made a really good pulp adventure game yet?" And they were off and running. Do you think that they stopped to consider if the concept was good? Heck it's good enough for millions of readers, why not as an RPG?

There are no good concepts. Heck, I'm not even sure there are bad concepts. Look at "Kill Puppies for Satan". This could have turned out like FATAL. But instead it's really good. What's the difference? Good design. Make a good game, and the audience will follow.

Some people are concerned that the game they make will only appeal to a small number of people, as if asking here they could get some indication of what the market wants. But I'm pretty sure that the market didn't know it wanted the game Paranoia before it came out. I don't imagine that the designers of that game sat around thinking, "Gee, I wonder if people want a game about playing troubleshooters in an underground complex run by a paranoid computer?" they just did it and made it hilarious to play. And the market followed.

Does that mean you can design as well as they can? Likely not. But the measure of your design will not be in how nifty the concept is, but in how well you make it work for people in play. Yeah, maybe not everyone will want to play the particular concept that you come up with. But Iím going to go out on a limb here and say that most every concept that does appeal most widely has already been done.

Further, while I'm at it, please don't ask if your concept is Unique. It's highly unlikely that it is. And it doesn't really matter. Even if it's not unique that shouldn't deter you from making the game. On the other hand, if what you want to know is whether or not there are any similar games, that's a good question. One can learn a lot to help in their designs by looking at other similar games.

So, have confidence in your idea. If it really does suck, you wonít have to ask, people will tell you. Other than that, all concepts are created equal. Make sure itís what you want to do, first and foremost, something that you have the will to finish. And then do it. If you make the game well, people will play it.

Mike
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Bankuei
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« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2003, 02:55:44 PM »

Hi Mike,

Just wanted to chime in with, "Yes. Wholehearted agreement."  

Also, to point out to the many folks who ask, "Is concept X worth pursuing/Would you be interested in a game about X?", is that what we have here is a mistaken outlook towards rpgs.  

RPGs are NOT like movies, they are NOT like music.  You will not make millions off of rpgs.  A "successful" rpg is one that 1) engenders play and 2) doesn't leave the creators homeless raving in the streets.  Really.

If your primary interest is in making a fun game, no one else can tell you what fun is.  If your interest is in making a game a LOT of people play, then I suggest you look further into marketing and get someone else to design it.  Be sure to print out lots of posters, t-shirts and look for the videogame cross over.  If your interest is in making money, look into investing, not making games.

Don't confuse having a popular concept with any of above goals.

Chris
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John Kim
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« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2003, 05:01:40 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
  Apparently people haven't gotten the message. This is one of the most common types of opening questions asked on the Indie Design Forum.  

Well, frankly, while I agree with some of your points, it seems legitimate to me to want to talk about game concepts, or to ask questions like "Are there any other games like this?"  I would suggest two things:

1) There should be a separate forum for talking about game concepts.  i.e. An "early stage" design forum and a "late stage" design forum.  People who are just thinking about it can post to the early stage forum.  You don't have to read it, then, which presumably should cure your need to rant about it.  

2) The "late stage" forum policy should be more strongly worded.  As it stands, the Indie Game Design forum policy specifically says it is OK to talk about a game which is nothing more than notes scribbled on a napkin.  


As for concept being unimportant, I think this is a matter of perspective.  Maintaining my Free RPG list, I keep seeing the same concepts being constantly tread and retread.  While you complain about people who don't deliver, from my perspective I keep seeing people with their 300-page-plus manuscripts for yet another high fantasy game (or perhaps a short list of others: space opera, superheroes, swashbucklers, and pulp).
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- John
Jeph
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Jeff Schecter


« Reply #3 on: August 28, 2003, 05:49:40 PM »

The thing is, John, we basically do have an "early stage" or "is this cool?" forum. In fact, this is a post in it. =)
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Jeffrey S. Schecter: Pagoda / Other
M. J. Young
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« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2003, 06:12:04 PM »

As I was reading the rant, I was agreeing, but seeing something else; and then you brought it up.

I don't know that most people who ask "is this a good concept" want to know exactly that. Sure, they want to know that, but they also want to know the other--has this been done? And there are four ways the answer to that could impact design decisions:
    [*]Has it been done definitively? The game that leaps to my mind here is Toon; if anyone else has ever tried to make a game in which you play that sort of cartoon character (not anime), I've never heard of it. This one game has done the job well enough that no one seems able to significantly improve on it.[*]Has it been done to death? John's short list of game concepts that get done over and over and over again is telling--it is particularly telling because
    Quote from: You (Mike)
    I mean, consider the concept behind Adventure! Pulp Adventure. How long do you think it took Bruce and the boys to think that one up? Heck, they didn't think about it, they said one day, "Hey, how come nobody has made a really good pulp adventure game yet?" And they were off and running.
    Quote from: and then He (John)
    I keep seeing people with their 300-page-plus manuscripts for yet another high fantasy game (or perhaps a short list of others: space opera, superheroes, swashbucklers, and pulp).
    (Emphasis mine.) So maybe it's an idea that's been done to death, and I don't know it--tell me if it is.[*]Has it been tried repeatedly, and crashed and burned every time? If I'm undertaking something that no one is able to do, maybe I need a concept that's less challenging, particularly if it's my first game. Sure, Lerner and Lowe eventually did make My Fair Lady into a smashing success, but both they and Rogers and Hammerstein tried and failed several times before they succeeded, and both teams had quite a few other successes even while they kept failing at that one. So maybe everyone thinks Dr. Who is a wonderful idea for a game, but no one can make it work, and I'd be better off finding an idea that isn't quite so daunting.[*]Has it been done successfully already, in the sense that there are games out there I might want to examine before I go forward with this? Maybe there's a game out there, unknown to me, that is exactly what I'm trying to do, and I'd just be reinventing the wheel. Maybe there are a dozen games out there that approach this idea in interesting ways, and I can learn from them. At least I should know if it's out there.[/list:u]So maybe the problem isn't so much that they're asking an unanswerable question (which they are), but that they aren't asking what they really want to know: has this been done, and with what results?

    Otherwise, I agree. In fact, most of the times I read these "interesting concepts for a game" my reaction is that they would be fascinating concepts for a game world, and I'd love to see someone write them up for Multiverser play, but there's nothing specifically in them that screams, write a game system for this idea, at least that I can see. You need to get past the interesting world concept and start talking about how a system would enhance the objectives of play before you're really talking about a reason to design a game.

    --M. J. Young
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    W. Don
    Member

    Posts: 113


    « Reply #5 on: August 28, 2003, 10:05:22 PM »

    Ola folks!

    I am not by any stretch of imagination, an old-time Forgite. However, I seem to get the idea that there was less raw "kewl concept pitching" in the Indie Design Forum during the old Forge days compared to what's there now.

    I think this might have to do with a growing awareness of The Forge and the ideas being espoused and developed here. I seem to remember someone noting how membership has increased in the past few months. This generally means an influx of people who are (a) wrestling with new ideas different from those re-inforced in the "traditional" sector of the industry; and who are (b) maybe just plain excited at the fact that there's a place where you can get down and dirty making your own game/system/world, and where you can interact with people who don't see a project like that as foolish.

    Which all leads to quite a few half-baked concept ideas up on the design forum. Many of which, IMHO, would benefit more from Forge feedback if the original instigators either thought about things more or if, over time, they'd regularly show enthusiam for the continuing development of their ideas through the discussions here.

    Which also means I'm up there ranting with Mike, for what it's worth.

    Quote from: M. J. Young
    You need to get past the interesting world concept and start talking about how a system would enhance the objectives of play before you're really talking about a reason to design a game.


    Personally, what M. J. Young has said above is what sums up the whole "concept pitching" experience for me. I've really had to check myself time and again whether I'm just talking about a groovy new world or actual system design. It still amazes me how the lucid input from some of the long time Forgites here have prompted me to (a) think about my own project on more than just the cool setting level; and (b) focus on the key questions through which the project may in time gain more substance.  There's some astute guidance going on for which I'm thankful for.

    So in many ways, while the some of the concepts being pitched on the design forum may indeed be asking unanswerable questions, still I have a feeling some the folks who pitch them do end up walking away with more things to think of, which in turn bodes well for their own future contributions -- all of which, of course, is grand.  Also, like me, they just might get completely hooked on the many great games the indie scene has to offer. Searching for my own game/word/system has prompted me to go buying and playing the games I may not have even looked at a year ago.

    Mabuhay,

    - W.
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    simon_hibbs
    Member

    Posts: 678


    « Reply #6 on: August 29, 2003, 02:18:07 AM »

    Quote from: Mike Holmes
    Poster: "I've got this idea for a game that's got some cool stuff. Element A combined with Element B, and a whole lot of action. Do you think that this idea is worth pursuing? Would you play it?"

    Ron: "No. But if you make a good game out of it, then yes."


    A little harsh perhaps?

    Actualy, perhaps not. I remember reading a post on rpg.net, the title of which way something like 'My RPG', along the lines of:

    "I've invented a roleplaying game. You roll the dice  like this.... I haven't decided what stats the characters have yet. Is this any good?".

    I mean how do you start replying to a post like that?

    The fact is that as new people find The Forge, you can't reasonably expect them to read the whole, or even a significant fraction, of the past posts. However the stickies at the top of the forum do cover this. One of them specificaly advises against posts like "Here's my resolution mechanics, it's for a game in world X. What do you think?" Yet we see posts exactly like that several times a week.

    I don't think there is any answer to this. I've started writing maybe 3 or 4 roleplaying games at various times in the last 20 years, most of which never got past a few hundred words on paper, and I'm glad I didn't waste anyone's time with them. On the other hand, perhaps a little encouragement and help here and there might have pushed those concepts further. Who knows?

    As it is, I do have what I think is a pretty solid concept, and the Forge has been very helpful with it. We call have our dreams.


    Simon Hibbs
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    Simon Hibbs
    Lxndr
    Acts of Evil Playtesters
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    « Reply #7 on: August 29, 2003, 06:23:45 AM »

    If it wasn't for my "hey, what do you think of THIS?" post, and the responses to it, the roulette-wheel-based-game Fastlane (which I am in the process of writing as we speak - 3,018 words so far) would probably not have grown at all (or if it had, certainly grown more slowly).  It was a combination of discussions here and (after the discussions here started) discussions in the indie-netgaming social channel on IRC that really helped the game come together.

    Oddly enough, Mike even posted on that thread, and was generally supportive.  :)  Of course, it was a game-mechanics-first thread, as opposed to a setting/genre/etc-concept-thread... is that the difference?

    Anyway, with that recent, personal experience in mind, I've got to say that sometimes (not always) a little encouragement does help push the article futher.  Now, maybe Fastlane as an end-product will be entirely unplayable.  I doubt that, but it's possible.  I make no promises on whether it will be fun to play, but I can say that it will be able to be played.  But I've been encouraged to write Fastlane, and even if the game tanks, the learning experience and encouragement are both things I'll be able to carry on to the next game.

    Was the original Roulette thread a fluke?  Maybe.  I'm not exactly a "normal" person even amongst gamers (though perhaps I only have delusions of grandeur).  I've started "writing" other games, some on my own, some collaboratively, since I started gaming when I was eight, and Fastlane is the first thing that's really taken off (as well as the first thing that I've posted here).

    (Well sure, there was Snowball, but that's just a draconian Pool mod, not really a separate game.  Still, writing it, and the encouragement I got there also helped me find the courage to work on Fastlane.  Then, of course, there was hanging out at the Forge booth at GenCon...)

    Still, there is merit in Mike's rant, and quite a lot of it.  Asking if something is "unique" is a waste of time.  Asking if a concept is "good" is a waste of time.  Asking if a game will be popular, is often a waste of time - Bankuei made the perfect commentary, in my opinion, in his post, and I see no need to add to it.

    So I guess I just have to ask:  was the Roulette thread truly a fluke in re: this rant (as I'm sure all rants have exceptions and flukes), or did I do something, somehow, in that first post or afterwards, that made it different from what the rant is talking about?
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    Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
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    Mike Holmes
    Acts of Evil Playtesters
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    Posts: 10459


    « Reply #8 on: August 29, 2003, 08:11:10 AM »

    I always have to clarify. :-)

    All the questions that Jon and MJ and others point out that are good versions of the question, I agree with. I even mentioned an example myself, with the "are there other games I can use for reference" example. All I'm saying is that asking if the basic raw idea is good all naked by itself isn't going to do any good. Because the answer is always "yes, if you do a good job of implementing it."

    Lot's of people ask the question correctly, or ask about important things. Alexander's idea started out as something that should have been in the Theory Forum (where all mechanics completely naked of context ought to be discussed). As a theory question, the validity of a particular mechanic can be addressed. So, no, Alex, you got no special treatment. I'm sure that if the thread hadn't progressed at some point to talk of an actual game, that the thread would have been moved to it's appropriate location. At no point did the discussion devolve into, "Hey I like roulette, that would be neat," it was instead all about how to make the mechanic work.

    In fact, you'll see that this is what I usually do when people ask this sort of question. I'll say, "Well, it'll probably be OK, but what's it about, who are the characters, what do they do, and what mechanics are you going to use to get to that place." I assume that if the poster has read the posting requirements that he can state these things and that we can then move on to a substantive discussion of the potential for the game. So, as part of this rant, consider all those questions asked.

    I'm not for a moment saying that these games shouldn't be posted about on the forum (the napkin comment should stand as the qualifier). I'm saying, get beyond the worrying about the concept stage, and start presenting the actual game. At that point we can really make comments that will help. Before that, there's really no good annswer.

    Oh, you'll get opinions. "I really like space games!", "Another fantasy game!" etc. But that doesn't tell you anything. These opinions are certainly not indicative of an entire market. And in any case, even if they were, they don't matter. I've seen people come in with yet another fantasy game, and actually make it a game lots of people are willing to play (Donjon?). So, despite the fact that, as John points out, there are loads of terrible fantasy games out there, that doesn't mean that the concept is bad. Only bad implementations. (So, yes John, my point is not just make it, but make it well).

    And, Jeph, I think there is some room for discussions of genre and the like in theory. But not on the level of the questions that I'm referring to. So, what you get are things like "How does one make a Courtroom drama?" not "Should I make a courtroom drama?" the former asks particular questions about the difficulties that can be answered. The latter, again, can only be answered, "Yes, if you do it well". And these shouldn't go in Theory either.

    I'm not saying don't ask. I'm saying ask something else for goodness' sake.

    Mike
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    Jack Spencer Jr
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    « Reply #9 on: August 29, 2003, 08:14:14 AM »

    My position is to simply not post to these threads. Doing so makes sure they die. I do, sometimes, post anyway if the concept intrigues me. Prehaps a good rule of thumb is to not post if it doesn't interest you. It's discouraging for a new person, but necessary if the new person fails to read the stickies first. Anonther good rule of thumb is if the original poster does not respond, perhaps it's time to stop or take it to a new thread.
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    Lxndr
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    « Reply #10 on: August 29, 2003, 08:39:00 AM »

    Quote
    I'm not saying don't ask. I'm saying ask something else for goodness' sake.


    Yes, indeed.  Hear, hear.
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    Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
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    Windthin
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    « Reply #11 on: August 29, 2003, 10:43:07 PM »

    Huh.  The funny thing for me reading this is... ideas I have no dearth of.  Never have, never will.  I have a lot of good ideas I am working on currently, and a lot that are just overflow.  Too many.  Far too many.

    Anyhow... I can empathize with people who ask if a concept is good or not.  But for me, I come here because while I can write and spin yarns and easily envision my worlds and peoples and cultures and all that fun stuff... numbers, raw hard numbers, are where I find myself scrambling and scraping.  I'm not dumb, I can understand them, I can comprehend, I catch onto a system and how to work within it and with it with extreme rapidity, can blend and tweak and suggest and advise and alter, but I realyl do work better with something in front me rather than nothing.  It is the system most of all, the mechanics as many have put it, that I seek to refine, to develop, to mold into what I need to help expression my visions.  Is my saying "will this system spin work" any more or less troublesome than the people who are reaching for concepts?  I don't know.  I DO agree with the original post in here, though... there's almost NOTHING you can't turn into a good game.  Or even a mediocre one that lots of people will play (I personally feel the gaming industry is often driven a little too much by cool ideas and too little by the substance and logic and thought and work needed to back them).  Life from the perspective of my budgies?  Sure, why not!  Just remember, the aboriginal word for them actually means "snack."  And there goes the concept...
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    "Write what you know" takes on interesting connotations when one sets out to create worlds...
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