One thing that surprises me in the indie game community me is how often people are looking for groups. What surprises me even more is how many people seem not to do even basic research before they start.
Note: The term Looking for Group, or LFG, originated in MMO games where players were looking for a group with whom they can explore, fight monsters, and share loot that they would not be able to do alone.
It is rather amazing from several perspectives. I cannot imagine any other business where people would join random strangers to build something that will hopefully feed their families. I know, many of these ad-hoc teams aren’t really bread winners, but it is still a large part of the indie game scene.
Quite often, however, I see someone posting a request for programmers, artists, writers, musicians, and so on, because they have an idea for the next big thing in games. They think that they can promise revenue sharing as a viable compensation to these people they want to hire because they do not really have any money.
Now, enough things have been said about revenue sharing and how it never works. And really, it never works in the same way. I can say that nobody ever writes Facebook. Sure, one person did, but it is not really a viable business model to expect that to happen. However, even granted that, revenue sharing never works when the idea person initiates it.
The Problematic Ideas Person
Here is the problem with the idea person: your idea may be great but there is no way to know whether it has merit or is just another waste of bits and bytes. It takes a lot of work to prove that your idea is valuable and, please do not let this stop you, most ideas are not valuable.
As a programmer, I can know whether my code is any good because I feed it a bunch of data and get a result and if I am any good at what I do, I get the result I want repeatedly. It takes work but I have a very clear path from no code to code with specific rules or patterns I can follow to get the results I want.
The artist can know whether their art is good because they can show it to someone and have someone say “Wow, Picasso would be envious” or the complete opposite, “Wow, Picasso would be disugsted”. The music person can play his clip to friends and get immediate feedback in the form of “Wow, my ears just had an orgasm” or “Wow, my ears just got raped”.
If only Justin Bieber has solicited such feedback, he might have turned into a carpenter or something like that and the world would be a better place.
The idea person, however, has no such benefit until you have all the other elements. You cannot explain to someone what fun is in a repeatable way. You need to feel the game idea to understand whether it is interesting.
Let me give you an example: Explain to me, please, the premise of Faulty Towers in a way that makes me laugh every minute as I usually do when I see the show. Or pick any Monty Python movie any other show or movie that makes you laugh. Pick Arrested Development if you cannot come up with anything else.
Explain that show or movie to someone in such a way that they truly get how brilliant those shows or movies are. My friends has tried, several times, to explain why Arrested Development or Bones are really cool series, and even knowing them and that our tastes are very similar, I can’t really say I want to watch either.
Just try it; it is exceptionally difficult to convey a final product in a short idea even when you know the product is brilliant. The term “I guess you had to be there” is a perfect example of how someone experienced something that they cannot really convey later.
That’s not to say your ideas are worthless, only that having an idea and getting someone else to be enthusiastic about it is really, really difficult. The engineers and artists who build code or pictures or sound have it easy. You have it hard and frankly, most of you are really bad at it.
To make matters worse, this is a very typical “well, how hard can it be?” situation for everyone who isn’t on the inside. It is really easy to get started conjuring up ideas but the work from there until you have one other person agree with you is very hard.
Dogfood, Eggs, and Baskets
I work for a game company called MOBSoft and used to work for a company called Lobster Games. We built a range of different games, from small quick projects like Letter City or Twisto to major undertakings like Final Arena that we don’t even know whether we’ll finish.
I’ve come to appreciate the ideas coming from the other members, or minions as we call ourselves, of the team. We don’t know whether those ideas are good or bad so we need a method for finding out.
At my previous company, we took ideas that come up and build them to a prototype stage very fast. Twisto went from “Hey, I have an idea” to first playable version in less than a week. Two weeks later, we had a fully feature complete version. After three weeks, we released the first public beta. We went from idea to public launch in four weeks.
At MOBSoft, I often build out an idea within a matter or hours, often reaching a playable version in a day.
That rapid pace means we can quickly test whether our ideas work for the audience. If it doesn’t work, the risk to us is low and we can move on to other projects without necessarily feeling too bad about the loss of time or money. It takes a bit longer and costs a bit more than an elevator pitch but has the same idea behind it.
There are other strategies that may work very well too to reduce the risk. The key question, however, is that as someone with mostly an idea, what exactly do you do to mitigate the risks of the team? Because that’s part of your job.
Have a Game Idea? Run With It!
Although everyone always needs to start with an idea, it is very hard work to get that idea to something that has real value. I am not discounting your ideas in any way. In fact, unlike many people in the community, I encourage you to come up with more ideas.
However, you must realize that it takes a lot of effort before anyone will buy your idea from you and that is why you struggle when you are looking for a group as an ideas person. You must understand that when you approach someone with an idea, you need to not just explain your idea to them but also how you plan to make that idea into reality. That takes skill from your side and if you don’t have that skill, you probably should hold off from trying to recruit others to your fledgling empire of awesome, as much as you are certain it will be just that.
My current company, MOBSoft, can help evaluate your game ideas and take it from a game design document to a prototype quickly. Get in touch and we’ll talk!
(Note: This article was originally published on Gamasutra. We have edited it for readability)