There is a fetishization of ideas in our culture. Everyone is looking for a “million dollar idea” or great new game concept. When people hear stories about great games or great businesses, a common reaction is “I wish I’d thought of that.” The search for the million dollar idea, and the feeling that the idea will change everything, is pervasive in our culture. I want to dispel this myth, and to do that, I’ll let you in on a secret:
You’ve already had a million dollar idea. You’ve probably had several. You will have many more. Nobody Cares.
I imagine some people don’t believe me that they already have million dollar ideas. Most likely, this means that you didn’t recognize the idea when it came or you forgot it before you could write it down. If you want help generating more great ideas, here are some tips:
- Write things down. Most great ideas get lost because you forget them. Keep a small notepad on you at all times or get in the habit of writing down (or recording) notes on your phone. Keep a notepad by your bedside. I even have a waterproof notepad I keep in the shower for when inspiration strikes there. Write down even half baked random ideas, as these often spawn better ideas later. Consolidate and review these notes regularly.
- Exercise your idea muscle- Start an idea journal. Write down 10 new ideas everyday. These ideas can be about anything at all. (e.g. a game idea, an alternate route to work, a short story concept, a new sandwich filling, whatever) At first this will feel difficult, but soon you’ll have more ideas than you know what to do with.
- Read Core Design Loop Step 1: Inspiration– I include a step by step process for generating ideas there.
If you follow the above steps, you will have way more ideas than you know what to do with. Most of these ideas, however, won’t amount to anything. If you want to turn your million dollar idea into an actual million dollars, read on. You’ve got a lot more work to do.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Share your Ideas
In my experience, ideas are only about 10% of the value of any final product. Important, but not as important as everyone thinks. Think of your game idea as the foundation for a house. If it isn’t solid, the house is in trouble.
On the other hand, without all the planning, labor, and resources required to build an actual house, all you have is an empty lot. Sharing your idea early helps make sure you have a good foundation before investing in building your house.
I’ve encountered multiple designers who were terrified that someone would steal their brilliant game concept. So terrified, in fact, that they never showed it to anyone. Those game ideas may have been brilliant, but no one will ever know because they never saw the light of day. The iterative design process requires constant testing and feedback. This is true even before you build your first prototype. If you don’t show your ideas to others and get input, you are unlikely to make it very far. Adopt an abundance mentality when it comes to ideas. You will always have more, so don’t be afraid to share them liberally.
- Execution is Everything
A good idea is a critical foundation upon which to build a game (or a company, or anything else), but the heart of creative work is execution.
There are two sides to this realization. On the one hand, it is a bummer that you can’t just think of a good idea and make a million dollars. On the other hand, this realization is empowering. There is no magic or genius “out there” that you don’t have. You can make a great game, found a great company, or create a great product. All it takes is the willingness to do the work of execution. There are always barriers and roadblocks and the path to bringing ideas to life will often cause them to change and shift far beyond what you initially conceived. The Core Design Loop works just as well for any creative endeavor as it does for games, but I’ll boil it down even further. Execution has two basic steps:
- Work Hard.
- Learn from your Mistakes.
That’s it. Get in the habit of capturing and testing your ideas. Avoid the habit of cherishing them so much they cannot be scrutinized or changed. That is how brilliant ideas turn into brilliant realities.