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FAQ 11.

"MORE about what to do with your original game concept."


Originally written: January, 2002. Latest update: June 18, 2017.


I. INTRODUCTION - THE TOPIC THAT REFUSES TO DIE

Q: "I have a great idea for a game. I'm not a programmer and I don't know anything about the game industry. How do I pitch it to publishers to get funding so I can develop it?"

I wrote extensively on this, in FAQ #1. But this topic just never goes away. I have been in many discussions about the topic since writing FAQ 1, some years ago now. And I've thought of a lot more to say that was not covered in FAQ 1. (It should go without saying that you ought to have read FAQ 1 before going further. After reading this FAQ, should you decide to proceed anyway, make sure you also read FAQ 21, all about the submission process.)

Let's assume that you have written your game concept into a full-blown design document. Anyone reading the document will understand the full glory of your concept, in exacting detail.

You cannot sell it and make money.

You cannot pitch it to publishers and get funding to develop it.

Especially if you are just some guy on the street (that is to say, if you do not work in the game industry).

As is explained in FAQ 1.

IF YOU WANT TO GET THAT GAME CREATED, YOU NEED TO BE IN THE INDUSTRY. (Sorry for shouting there. I wanted to make sure that you heard me.)


II. POSSIBILITY VS. LIKELIHOOD

I'm not saying that it's impossible for you to sell your game idea. I acknowledge that it is, in fact, POSSIBLE.

It is ALSO possible that Santa Claus colluded with green men from outer space to get the dinosaurs killed off so that he could have humans to make toys for. I didn't say that this theory of life, the universe, and everything, was likely. I merely acknowledged that it is possible.

I just wanted you to get a realistic understanding of what I mean when I use the word "possible." Something that is "possible" in theory is not necessarily likely, in the real world.

Point understood?


III. TWO FACTORS

There are two factors to take into consideration in determining one's chances of success at getting anything for his game idea:

To examine these two factors in greater detail...


Below, you will see how the above two factors can be put together to form a matrix - a matrix that shows your likelihood of success depending on what you present, and what level you are at, in (or out of) the industry.


IV. WHAT TO DO WITH A COMPLETED DESIGN DOCUMENT IF YOU ARE NOT A GAME INDUSTRY PROFESSIONAL


V. WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR GAME CONCEPT ONCE YOU BECOME A GAME INDUSTRY PROFESSIONAL WITH A TRACK RECORD

Let's assume that you've got a game concept and you are not able to publish it yourself. Perhaps you have the wherewithal to create the game, but (as industry professionals know), publishing it is a hugely risky proposition, thus you probably need to get a publishing deal.

So you contact some publishers and find out who the submission manager is, and initiate contact with several. Let's examine one typical case.

After you first contact the manager of submissions, even if you are already in a business relationship with them (perhaps you develop games for them), they will probably require that you sign a submission agreement.

Then you can submit your game. Your chances of having it accepted (your chances of licensing the game to them or of getting a distribution deal) depend on the form of your submission. In decreasing order of likelihood:

REMEMBER THOSE TWO FACTORS I MENTIONED ABOVE (in section III)? HERE'S THAT MATRIX...

Taking the ideas presented above, and also taking into consideration the possible matrix from "I own a game development company" all the way on down to "I don't work in games, I'm just a guy with a game concept," you can consider it as being a grid like this:

REJECTION RATES

Professional game developer

Industry professional

Professional but not in industry

Not in industry; not professional

Complete game

90%

91%

92%

93%

2/3 complete game

93%

94%

95%

96%

1/3 complete game

95%

96%

97%

98%

Small interactive demo

96%

97%

98%

99%

Non-interactive animation

97%

98%

99%

100%

Written presentation

98%

99%

100%

100%

Verbal presentation

99%

100%

100%

100%

Idea in your head

100%

100%

100%

100%

Conversely, these "rejection rates" convert to "success rates" thusly:

SUCCESS RATES

Professional game developer

Industry professional

Professional but not in industry

Not in industry; not professional

Complete game

10%

9%

8%

7%

2/3 complete game

7%

6%

5%

4%

1/3 complete game

5%

4%

3%

2%

Small interactive demo

4%

3%

2%

1%

Non-interactive animation

3%

2%

1%

0%

Written presentation

2%

1%

0%

0%

Verbal presentation

1%

0%

0%

0%

Idea in your head

0%

0%

0%

0%

It is hoped that you get the general idea, without getting hung up in thoughts like "How did he calculate those numbers??" - the numbers are just to illustrate a point. There is no way to actually calculate hard numbers, so I made these up, based on my twenty-plus years' experience in the industry.

Here is how I arrived at these numbers:

A publisher probably gets ten finished games to review for every one game that they decide to publish. Or (another way of looking at it) a developer probably has to take his finished game to ten publishers before he finds one to publish it. And the finished game is, of course, the most likely to succeed, compared to any of the other possible submission formats listed above.

So I plugged in numbers to illustrate the point.

You may have noticed that the success rate for a non-industry, non-professional with a completed game is the same as that for a professional game developer bringing a 2/3 complete game to the table. If a non-industry, non-professional were to manage to actually make a completed game, then guess what -- that guy is THIS CLOSE to being an industry professional. When you make a completed game, guess what you are? Inside.

If you want to get your game accepted, you need to be in the yellow area on this matrix. You do NOT want to be in the gray area.


VI. WHY?

What do you mean, "Why?" Do you mean, "why does the industry make it so difficult for me to make money from my idea?" Isn't that the same question as "why doesn't everybody want to just throw millions of dollars out the window?"

It's all about managing risks.

The game business is... a business.

Some guy waltzes in with an idea, and they should just give him a million bucks? I don't think so!


VII. "THAT'S SO UNFAIR!"

No, it's not. Take off the rose-colored glasses and see the world for the way it really is. Besides, even if you could make a good case for it being unfair, what's your point? Who ever said the world was fair? Remember what I said in FAQ 3, about whiners versus winners. Whiners are people who go around constantly complaining about the unfairnesses of life. Winners are people who figure out how to deal with the unfairnesses of life and get what they want in spite of it all.

Which do you want to be? A whiner? Or a winner?


VIII. "I DON'T CARE IF I GET PAID..."

That doesn't change anything. I have often heard, "I dont care if I don't get paid - I don't care if my name is on it or anything - I just want to play the game." -- It doesn't make any difference. Games cost too much to make. Besides, even if you don't care about royalties at this moment, intellectual property laws would be invoked at some point by someone. Game companies can't take the risk of using someone's idea without paying. There's too much money at stake.


IX. A BETTER WAY

Now we've come around full circle to where we were at the beginning of this article. I don't want to discourage you from writing down your game concept. I want to show you a better way to proceed after you've written it down.

If you have a passion for designing games, and you are not yet in the game industry, then I hope that you are planning to get into it. It will require hard work, and you'll have to be patient and professional. But if you want to make games, I don't see any way to do it except from the solid footing of being an industry professional.

If you have game ideas, write them down.

If you love games, play them. Chat them up on the forums.

If you see opportunities to beta-test games, go for it. Participate in game contests and online events.

If you don't have a college degree yet (and you are of college age), then get that degree. Then go get a job in the industry. (It is harder to get a job without a degree, but it can be done. See FAQ 3, FAQ 4, FAQ 5, and FAQ 7.)

But I hope I've explained it sufficiently. If you want to make games, then where else should you be, but in the game industry?

If this still doesn't make sense to you, then by all means post your questions on the Game Design bulletin board!


Make sure you also read FAQ 21 and FAQ 35, all about the submission process.

And read FAQ 31 ("What If I Have The Ultimate Idea, Though?").

And read Dan Marchant's guide for pitching, at http://www.obscure.co.uk/the_pitch.shtml.

Click here for extracurricular reading material, about the finances involved in game development.

I hope this lesson has been helpful. If you have suggestions for improvements to this lesson, please put them on the bulletin board.
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© 2002-2010, 2017 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without permission of the author.