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Educational Feature: The Idea is Not the Game
Educational Feature: The Idea is Not the Game
September 23, 2008 | By Jill Duffy

September 23, 2008 | By Jill Duffy
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    6 comments
More: Console/PC, Student/Education



It's been said that good ideas are a dime a dozen, but what are aspiring game designers supposed to make of that advice? GameCareerGuide.com has just posted a new article about where and how game designers get their ideas and what they do with them between inception and realization.

The article is written by Dr. Lewis Pulsipher, a NC-based instructor and designer of non-electronic games. He shares some professional insight about no just where to get ideas (everywhere), but how to work at getting more, as well as how to keep track of them (he actually suggests specific software for this).

He also stresses the importance of understanding that there are almost no new ideas, but that there is great value in appropriately recycling old ideas. Even The Sims, he says, wasn’t exactly a new idea when it came out:

“In video games, there have been many technical advances, but few really new games. The Sims comes to mind, but it was preceded by a game called Little Computer People, which Mobygames calls “the mother of The Sims”; have you ever heard of it? A new idea does not guarantee a highly successful product, and highly successful games usually have no new ideas.

It doesn't make sense to try to come up with ‘a great idea.’ Your chances of coming up with one are worse than one in a million. And if you did, would you recognize it as a great idea?”


He also shares some of the harsh realities of working in a highly competitive creative industry:

“Remember the conventional wisdom that upwards of 90 percent of the video games that are initially funded -- that is, the plans are good enough for someone to be willing to pay to have them developed -- never reach the public. At some stage they’re canceled or the studio fails for other reasons.

A relatively well-known and successful board game designer has estimated that 60 percent of his completed games will not be published. For every idea that is good enough to warrant someone trying to turn it into a game, there are many, many ideas that don’t make it much farther than that mark.

You want to get to a point where you have far more fruitful ideas than you can possibly turn into games even if you live to be a hundred. Ideas beget ideas, so the more you come up with, the more you get. As novelist John Steinbeck said, ‘Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.’ But this means you need a great many ideas.”


The complete article is now available for reading on Gamasutra sister educational site GameCareerGuide.com.


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Comments


William Armstrong
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The fact that articles like this have to continuously be published, reminding the youngling designers that "having a good idea does not mean you are a good game designer" reminds me that game design is still completely misunderstood and that education professionals (high school career counselors, college advisers, etc.) still have no idea what they're talking about or how to focus young, eager minds.



Really, the case could be made for an IGDA-sponsored pamphlet, distributed to career advisers and schools that explains exactly what the careers available in game design entail and what steps students can take to begin their journey.



I wish something similar and 'official' had been available to me back when I started. It's the responsibility of those who came before to help those who follow to avoid making the same mistakes. Articles such as this are a good start, but we really need to get the educators informed. It's very likely that we'll see more interest in our industry, and it's up to us to steer those minds away from ill-conceived notions that "Even YOU can be a millionaire Miyamoto by sitting on your duff, controller in hand, dreaming up cool new game ideas!"



And whoever made that Collin's College commercial where the 'designers' are sitting around in recliners playing video games needs to be shot.

Wyatt Epp
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A sponsored pamphlet? Not a bad idea. Actually, tying it in with what you said there, there should be at least some excerpts of an interview with Mr. Miyamoto or someone of similar stature to those peering in from the proverbial "outside." It can be sponsored by the Pope, Yale, the federal government, AND the IGDA and still not have any clout when held up against people's perceptions of what game design is. That commercial? Atrocious when you know how things really work, but it looks and sounds good to the lay-person and thus carries weight with them. The only way to counter that would seem to be for the truth to come "from the horse's mouth."

William Armstrong
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It would be difficult to arrange such a thing, but worth the time, effort, and cost; the game industry is too cannibalistic and too xenophobic, and unless there's an influx of new blood, games are going to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Is the industry doomed if we don't get new people? No, probably not. But we also won't grow by leaps and bounds.

Lewis Pulsipher
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There's a fundamental problem in game curricula that a pamphlet cannot repair. When you teach game design, you are teaching critical thinking. You are teaching habits and attitudes that contribute to success as a designer. And you are teaching people to DO, to actually design games (generally to begin with, non-electronic ones, and electronic ones later).



What you should not be doing, because it's very little help, is teaching people to memorize a lot of material and regurgitate it on multiple-choice tests. Yet most teachers are content with that memorization as "teaching", not just in game curricula, in all curricula. I recall one college teacher who insisted on teaching the Windows 2000 operating system even though the school's computers only had Windows 98. She showed the students slides from the textbook. She said "they're scoring 80% on the tests", and I said, "but I bet they can't DO diddly squat." In another case a LONG time ago, a college taught COBOL at a location where none of the computers (Apple IIs) could compile COBOL. "Do"?



High schools have become pure training centers, where students are taught to memorize the answers to the end-of-class tests. The kids get to college and have no clue about thinking or about learning. Unfortunately, "memorize and regurgitate" is the easy way to teach, and multiple choice tests are easy to grade (Blackboard can do it).



Actual successful practitioners are often not allowed to teach subjects because they don't have a degree in the field. Teaching is more and more a matter of "those who have never done, teach".



Until we change this situation--and we're going the opposite way at the moment--teaching at any level will tend to be mediocre, no matter what the actual practitioners hope for, no matter what they put in pamphlets.

Wyatt Epp
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Lewis:

Salient points, all. To clarify, in this situation I consider the pamphlet (and by extension, better awareness all around) more of an effort at preventing our field from becoming further diluted with the very talentless peons you mention. It's not a solution to the (long-standing, well-documented) problems in education as a whole-- it's a small effort on our part to daunt all possible newcomers into switching to something like accounting before leaving secondary school and to possibly plant the seed of doubt in the heads of the irresolute (it's very easy for students to change focus these days).



Small outlay; continual benefit. Every little bit counts when you're defending your profession from incompetence.

Lewis Pulsipher
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I don't know whether such a pamphlet would make a difference. It's worth a try. Unfortunately, there are many teachers (and even more college administrators) who are unwilling to tell the truth to students, ultimately to tell them "you might be better off pursuing some other subject". Those awful advertisements are an example of the lying that goes on.



Many colleges are desperate to replace the shortfall of technology students, as members of the millennial generation are comfortable with using technology but rarely interested in it as a career. Technology enrollment is weak at most schools, and game subjects are seen as a source of replacement bodies.



Dollars rule in 21st century education. If the school isn't willing to tell the truth, will the students ever see the pamphlet?


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