February 29, 2008

A Game is Worth 300 Ideas

by Nick Montfort · , 6:59 pm

Check out josh g’s post about a heated discussion dealing with the inclusion of Lost in the Static (discussed previously on here) in the GDC program while a list of 300 game ideas (one of which was the basis for Lost in the Static, two of which were realized in other GDC-discussed games) didn’t make the cut.

I guess the main thing at issue is what status game ideas posted online should have when compared to actual games.

The truth is, executing a project is often a very important part of it – you can then show it to others, and you can adjust your concept and redesign repeatedly when you start working through the actual process of producing.

15 Responses to “A Game is Worth 300 Ideas”


  1. Graham J Says:

    Sorry.. that first sentence.. paragraph.. thing.. makes no sense whatsoever. As I understand it, the GDC program included Lost in the Static, while a paper was not included in the GDC program. The paper was about the list of 300 game ideas. There was a flamegame (whatever that is?) about the discrepancy of inclusion. Now josh g is discussing the flamegame. Do I have that right?

  2. nick Says:

    I reworded this, which hopefully will clear up the appearance of confusion. Incidentally, everything you said after “as I understand it” was right, so you aren’t nearly as confused as you think you are.

  3. Andrew Doull Says:

    Squidi is arguing that the idea of a game is equivalent to a game. I don’t think it is, and said so as much on my blog (Ascii Dreams which josh g links to). Execution when it comes to games is not very important – it’s the only way of ensuring the game design works.

    It’s also arguable whether Squidi provides enough on his 300 games website to constitute a design, or just inspiration for one. I do think he has a reasonable issue about not getting enough credit. But he’d been given credit by Lost in Static previously.

  4. josh g. Says:

    He actually got credited by Sean Barret at the GDC event as well, which only makes his “existentialist crisis” even harder to understand.

  5. Andrew Doull Says:

    Um. I suggest Squidi’s existentialist crisis is not to dissimilar from many other amateur game developers… working hard on something, constantly doubting you’re going in the right direction and needing validation when you get recognition. It can be lonely at the top ;)

  6. Squidi Says:

    1) Since when is an argument on the internet worth linking to?

    2) I’m not arguing that the idea of a game is equivalent to a game. I’m arguing that an idea is different enough from a game – from a particular implementation – that it may be worth giving them credit, attention, and respect separate from their implementation. An idea is abstract. It’s like the concept of “love”. It’s something which exists, but can only be understood through some form of implementation. For instance, a hug is an implementation of love, and yet it does not encompass all that is love. I’m simply saying that love is worth taking by itself, separate from the hugs and kisses and glorious naked barebacked riding. As an abstract, it has value. Similarly, ideas have value too. Some ideas are obviously WORSE than other ideas, without ever needing to first implement them to see that. I’m arguing that really good ideas, if they can be communicated clearly, can convey that value without the implementation.

    3) Ideas are cheap. Yes. But good ideas are not. If ideas have value, and they do, then the top 1% exceptional ideas would still occur only 1% of the time. Rarity increases value a lot more than effort does.

    4) By illustrating and writing about these ideas in detail, I have implemented them. I have not implemented them as games, but I have given them form such that the ideas have been made concrete and communicated to others who can pick up on the ideas without losing anything. Of the three games in the EGW, Shift / Yin-Yang / White Noise, all three of them encompassed the ideas listed on my website – adding nothing, but losing nothing either. In other words, their implementations were not greatly changed from the original ideas.

    5) When you say that you have to implement an idea to know if it will work, that’s simply not true. Just because I don’t show all my work on my Calculus homework doesn’t mean the answer isn’t correct. There is a question of enjoyability, which is something subjective and personal to the player, and that’s something you might have difficulty predicting without the aid of an implementation, but it is possible to predict it with some accuracy. The only time you absolutely, positively can not tell whether an idea will work or will be enjoy is if you lack an imagination. It’s sad, but this does describe a great many people. I think my website says plenty about my imagination.

    (And yes, not every idea in the Three Hundred will work or will work without additional design efforts. I post those ideas anyway if I think they are unique and interesting and exciting. The point of an idea isn’t necessarily to “work”. Sometimes, ideas exist to inspire and illuminate).

    6) I don’t describe myself as a game designer. I’m not a game designer. I’m a fake game designer. I design fake games. The ideas on my website are not complete games (though as Yin-Yang proved, are sometimes close enough). My website is about creativity – naked, raw, explosive creativity. It’s supposed to make people excited. Get the brain juices going. None of the ideas on that site are meant to be finished products. They are the beginning. The inspiration. But I don’t think the website is somehow worthless for it. I’ve put a lot of work into that website and I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t believe that what I was doing was worth it someone else. And based on the job offers, fanmail, donations, and readership, it appears that it is worth something to other people as well. But it’s worth is different than that of a finished game. My website is for game designers, not game players.

  7. Andrew Doull Says:

    I think it was an interesting argument, between interesting people, about interesting things. And you linked to it first ;)

  8. nick Says:

    Putting 300 game design ideas online, described in text and with nice pixel-art illustrations, is clever and a nice contribution. There’s this line which appears on every page, however … “See the about page for permission to use these ideas.” (This isn’t referring to the use of images, which is precluded, or texts, but to the ideas themselves.) My understanding is that while copyright protects the expression of ideas and patents protect inventions and so on, you don’t need anyone’s permission to use a simple idea that you’ve seen or heard elsewhere. Is there a body of intellectual property law which actually would require you to give credit for idea or follow the idea-generator’s rules when using the idea?

  9. Squidi Says:

    My website used to say something to the effect that there was no way I could copyright, patent, or otherwise protect the ideas I’m sharing, so they are free for any and all to use as they see fit. My only request was that they give me as much credit as they think I deserved. What happened is that Yin-Yang was made without credit, and a discussion broke out on JayIsGames.com on that matter that did not go particularly well. Basically, because I did not demand credit, then my not receiving it was not morally incorrect – I disagree and think it was sleazy. Somehow, I ended up the bad guy in that discussion and it turned nasty (for once, through no fault of my own). So, basically, I decided to put the whole permission thing on my website to effectively prevent that sort of thing from happening again.

    I know it’s not enforcible. I wouldn’t enforce it even if I could. But there is something to benefit from saying, this is what I’m doing, this is why I’m doing it, and this is something that I consider unjust. It’s a simple request that can be met with exactly zero effort, and by drawing attention to it, it also draws attention to the people who spend effort not doing it (exposes the sleazy, so to speak). It’s more of a public relations thing – it’s not there for my protection, but instead makes the moral implications of using the ideas from the Three Hundred easy, simple, and explicit. Keeps people from arguing semantics.

    And frankly, anybody who knows enough about copyright law to know that I’m bluffing isn’t going to be actively looking to exploit me (or if they are, will do a lot better job of covering their tracks since they can see the immediate implications of their actions).

    The text and artwork on the site, however, is copyrighted material. People can use the ideas how they like, but they couldn’t just publish the Three Hundred in a book without my permission. Also, I’ve released much of the artwork I used to do the entries under a Creative Commons license which is enforcible.

  10. nick Says:

    Okay, thanks for giving us the context of that statement on the site. Obviously if something on your site is the basis for a game, it’s polite and the right thing to do to clearly mention it.

  11. josh g. Says:

    Hrm, well I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but I feel like I might have missed giving some extra context in my post.

    I was aware of the Yin-Yang controversy, and tended to think that Squidi was in the right for expecting the developers to own up on having been inspired by his ideas list. It’s possible that they came up with it independently, and that it just happened to look awfully similar to his illustration, but it didn’t seem probable. And while they didn’t owe him anything IP-rights-wise it still would’ve been a good thing to do to give credit for the inspiration.

    What came out of the Lost in the Static / White Noise discussion was a whole different issue. Sean Barrett gave Squidi credit, but out of the further angstings came this notion, as Squidi says above: “…all three of them encompassed the ideas listed on my website – adding nothing, but losing nothing either. In other words, their implementations were not greatly changed from the original ideas.”

    Looking at just LitS for the time being, I don’t buy it. As others brought up, Sean certainly added his own design decisions into the game – this should be obvious by the very fact that Squidi says it was done poorly and that he would have rather seen it implemented differently. He remained true to the original gimmick, yes, but that gimmick wasn’t the only design decision involved. Ultimately, you weren’t the architect.

    Squidi, don’t get me wrong, I respect your 300 Games project and think it’s a great exercise in creativity. And yeah, “ideas are cheap” is an overstatement, and good ideas are valuable. But you really can’t get around the value of doing the work in actually implementing an idea, bringing it from concept to reality. It’s not that the rest of the world is lacking imagination, it’s that a lot of the time reality doesn’t conform to how we imagine things will work out. If you’ve faced those disconnects by actually developing a game, it’s easier to adjust your imagination to how real processes (technical limitations, usability, balancing flow, etc) will play out in implementing your next game.

    Someone else offered me a better statement I could’ve used, and I like it: You can learn a lot more about game design by actually making a lousy game than by having an idea for an amazing game but never creating it. Heck, that’s why TIGSource competitions emphasize finishing a short game.

    Hopefully you can see that this isn’t about putting down game designers. Just the opposite, in fact; I’m trying to say that game design is actual work that affects a game from start to finish, and that thinking design work is done when a high level concept is handed to other developers is selling game design short as a craft (or dare I say, an art).

  12. Squidi Says:

    Why does everybody assume I’ve never implemented a game before? I was a programmer in the game industry. I’ve made my own games. It’s just that I realized that I had little interest in doing it anymore. Ran out of surprises, I guess you could say. Now implementation is largely busywork. All those little decisions that you guys think are so very important – well, I’ve made them a thousand times over, and nope, not important. Most of those decisions are made for you. Taking an idea like Negative Space and refining it into a game like Yin-Yang is a very logical process with few surprises.

  13. josh g. Says:

    My mistake, I apologize. I poked around your website looking for signs of stuff you’d released and didn’t find anything. Pretty silly thing for me to assume given that the game development I’ve done was as an employee / contractor as well.

  14. Squidi Says:

    I’m not particularly proud of my time in the game industry. Took a long time to move past that part of my life and I’m still trying to forget it. Still, it’s not uncommon, with a website like the Three Hundred, for people to start giving me advice on how to get into the industry. I guess it’s probably a simple deduction that some guy posting game ideas to the internet wants to grow up to be a game designer. But nope, not me. I’m grown up. I’ve actually turned down job offers from the Three Hundred. The industry and I just don’t see eye to eye on gaming. In fact, that’s a major reason why I started the Three Hundred. I wanted to create a bunch of ideas the portrayed gaming as I saw it. I wanted people to share in that creativity and joy and wonder that you just don’t get when you are sitting in a dark cubicle at 2 am on a Saturday night trying to finish 25% of the front end by Monday’s milestone. I wanted to show the variety of interesting ideas that were out there that get weeded out by the development process. The kind of creativity that sends sparks down your spine and sends you into this moment of perfect knowledge, like for that one instant, you could take apart the universe and put it back together, better. That kind of creative epiphany is worth having every once in a while. There’s nothing else like it.

    I guess you’d have to a little naive to actively wish to drawn the practical so that the impractical may shine, but there’s plenty of practical out there already. Hundreds of websites dedicated to it. But somebody has to be the dreamer… Somebody has to say, pragmatism is just a failure to think big.

  15. Ideas for Interactive Fiction « Emily Short’s Interactive Fiction Says:

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