NOTE: these lessons are primarily aimed at aspiring game designers, but many of the concepts described herein also apply to those who aspire to other types of jobs in the game industry. This lesson is subject to changes and improvements; reader comments are welcome.
I got another of those calls this week. You know, some guy has a game idea and he finds my website and he calls me. I found his message on my machine when I got home. I guess he was on a cell phone or something. It was very difficult to understand all his words. But in essence, I gather that he was saying something like this:
"How ya doin', Mr. Sloper, this is [name deleted] from [unintelligible]. I'm callin' to tell ya [unintelligible] video game [unintelligible]. I've got one of the greatest concepts of all time, sir. All I need is a minute of your time to [unintelligible]. I think you'll really like it. If you could call me back, sir, at [# unintelligible]. I've tried several times to reach you today, I'm sorry for bein' a pain in the butt. I've got a great game, I can't sleep, and I wanna share it with you. Thank you, sir, goodbye."
I was able to retrieve his number from Caller ID but I didn't call him back - it's long distance! And long distance money doesn't just grow on the plant on my balcony. I briefly considered calling him just so I could turn the call into an article. Then I decided to just write the article anyway. Maybe he'll read this. Maybe this article will discourage other idea men from calling me.
As I went through my day, I mentally planned out how the conversation would go if I did wind up speaking with him. All ye non-professionals who want to call me, take note! This is what you can expect if you call me about your game idea.
Idea Man: "Hello, Mr. Sloper, I'm the fellow who left the message earlier."
Me: "Oh yes, you have one of the greatest concepts of all time! Congratulations!"
Idea Man: "Yes, I'd like to tell you about it."
Me: "Not just yet. I believe you, it's great. So I assume you want my help with getting the game developed?"
Idea Man: "Yes, exactly. I was thinking..."
Me: "Sorry for interrupting. Tell me about your business plan."
Idea Man: "Well, I was hoping you could help me create that."
Me: "No problem. I'll gladly sign your NDA, then I should look at your design. Do you have your concept written up?"
Idea Man: "No, I was hoping you could take care of that for me too."
Me: "Sure, I can help with that. Here's what we'll need to do. After I sign your NDA, we'll have to meet in person. You could come to Los Angeles, or I could come to your city. I should tell you, it'll be cheaper for you if you come here - that way you only have to pay for the few hours that we meet, and for your own travel expenses. So, how do you want to go - you come to me, I come to you...?"
Idea Man (aghast): "Uh... I don't have the funds for that kind of thing. Can't we just..."
Me (interrupting again): "Let's back up a little. What exactly was the purpose of this call - how were you hoping I could help?"
Idea Man: "Well, I know that in the movie industry, producers often fund development of projects rather than go through a studio, and I assumed the game industry was like that too..."
Me: "You weren't thinking that I would put up the money for your game idea?"
Idea Man: "Um, well, you know how to get games funded..."
Me: "I'm sorry, that isn't what I do. I'm a producer/designer, I'm not a loan broker."
Idea Man: "I was thinking that you could share handsomely in the profits when the game sells. It's an awesome concept and it's..."
Me (abrupt): "Listen, I'm sorry, but I'm really not going to be able to help you. What you want to do just isn't realistic. I wish you luck with your concept."
Then I'd firmly but gently get him off the phone. I would want to just hang up, but I hate being impolite. But the guy obviously didn't read (or if he did read, he didn't comprehend) my articles here on this site.
So that's how the conversation will go the next time I get one of these calls. You see, each time I get one of these, I learn something more about how to get to the bottom line more quickly, while still behaving in a professional manner. I don't want to start off with "Okay, so you have an idea - do you have money too?" - That would be rude and greedy-sounding. All I really need to determine (as quickly as possible upon receiving such a call) is whether this is a genuine business call from someone who understands business, or just another "Idea Man" hoping to get me to work for nothing - or even to get me to pay for developing his idea for him.
So if you've got an idea and you want to hire me to help you develop it, be prepared with the following before you call me:
1. Have your game concept written down. It should be no shorter than two pages and no longer than fifteen. Don't worry if it's "in the proper format" or not. You have to write down your concept. If it isn't on paper, it doesn't exist. Nobody can write your concept but you. I can take that and write it better, maybe, but you have to start with this basic step. See Lesson 13.
2. Have an NDA ready for me to sign. If you don't know what an NDA is, see Lesson 28 and Lesson 39. To get a template, just use Google (a search string like "NDA template" should work - maybe also use the word "agreement" in there somewhere). The templates you'll find are generic - and that's good enough. (For more about game contracts, see the IGDA's Business & Legal section.) A good NDA protects both of us - you don't want me stealing your idea (I never would), and I don't want you feeling at risk that I'm going to steal your idea (I NEVER WOULD - I have my own great ideas).
3. Have at least a rough business plan. At this stage, you don't need a formal business plan complete with spreadsheets, drawn up with the help of a CPA and a lawyer - I just need you to outline (at the very least) what process you expect to go through with your idea. What is your target platform - video game console? PC? Cell phone? Once the game is developed, what is your anticipated sales model - CD through bricks & mortar? Online download? Self-publish, or mainstream publishing deal? I don't know what you're thinking unless you think it through and then tell me what your thinking is. If you are not wealthy, how do you expect your project to get funded, and how do you propose to pay me to assist you? Do your own research before contacting me. Read all my Lessons, and read all the Business & Legal articles on the IGDA website. Who are the various parties you expect to be involved in taking your concept to fruition, and especially, what is it you expect ME to help with in the process? If the concept uses any other party's IP, the plan should mention what kind of deal (even if just in general terms) you expect to work out with the IP owner, and who you expect to work out that deal. (If you don't know what IP is, see Lesson 28 and Lesson 39.) Your business plan must not be any shorter than two pages - and if it's any longer than ten pages, I won't necessarily read it all (especially if it has spreadsheets) - not yet, anyway. Do not expect me to work gratis in the expectation of future payment. We pros do not work that way.
Do not call me unless you have those three things... and one more thing as well:
4. Either have game industry experience, or be an established and respected professional in some other field (film maker, screenwriter, novelist, artist, movie star, rock star, historian/author, toy maker, computer business executive, etc.). See Lesson 11. If you're a "street corner Joe" (Lesson 29), you'd darn well better have done a really thorough job of steps 1, 2, and 3 above. Street corner Joes have a much harder row to hoe.
Make a checklist of the above four items. Put a checkmark beside each one that seems reasonably taken care of. Don't call me to ask me how to do steps 1, 2, or 3 "properly," or to ask me if you fit the bill for step 4 or not. If you think you've taken care of 1, 2, and 3 as well as you can, you probably have. If you have doubts that you fit #4 or not, you probably don't. If you don't have checkmarks on the four items, and you have questions, email them to me - do not phone me. Your answers will be given on the Q&A Bulletin Board.
I'm sorry if you are an ordinary guy with a "spectacular" idea for a video game or computer game. I have already written my advice as to what you should do. If you are young enough to go to college, go to college (see Lesson 25) and get into the game biz (Lesson 4, Lesson 24), and Lesson 27). If you are already in a non-videogame career, then switch to the video game biz (see Lesson 41). Another option is to form an indy game endeavor with volunteer amateur help (see Lesson 16).
Street Corner Joes cannot just come up with a game idea and sell it and get rich. Get real! If it was that easy, I would be snorkeling every day behind my beach house in Hawaii, and I'd have a gorgeous young thing living with me (and she'd be wishing I would hurry up and die so she could inherit all my easy money)! Read my articles. It's all there. If there's anything missing, email me and your question (and my response) will appear on the Q&A Bulletin Board. I even have advice for those who choose to ignore my advice! See Lesson 21. Don't call me with your game ideas - what do you expect me to do, change the world?
My services are available to professionals who are prepared to hire me to write or analyze game designs, produce games, train personnel, troubleshoot projects, or help with acquisitions. I'm not an agent - I won't pitch your game or your development services to publishers (that's not what I do). I don't work for free, I don't work on spec, and I certainly don't fund games. If you don't know what "on spec" means, see Lesson 28.
I also don't review amateur game designs. Don't even send'em to me, I'll delete them or send'em right back unopened. What does the amateur want from me anyway - to say, "Hey, this is really great!" - is that it? OK, if I say that, then what? Then you think you have a better shot at selling it than the next guy? Lesson 1 and Lesson 11 still hold. It doesn't matter if you have "The Ultimate Idea" (Lesson 31).
Or worse, what if I read it and I think it sucks (or is just ho-hum) - then what am I supposed to say to you? No, thanks. When a professional game developer asks me to review a design, I provide detailed feedback... for pay. If you're not a professional in the industry, please. Don't even ask. My professional services are for professionals.
Well. This has been a satisfying rant, but I'm not deluding myself. I'm sure there will be more Idea Men who will call me, whether or not they've read this.
Oh - if there are any publishers reading this, I have some great game ideas - or better, I can come up with one that perfectly fills the bill for your particular needs...!
Got a question about this lesson? No need to raise your hand -- just click here to go to the bulletin board. You'll get answers!
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© 2004 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.