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Indie Game Design 101-Finding a Game Idea

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A successful game starts with a good game idea. Popular games like Minecraft, Fortnite, Farmville, Super Mario Brothers, and Gamescapes, were all once an idea.

The game idea is the base of all your game efforts. Your game will be shaped around this idea.

So, finding the right game idea is important. But it is also one of the biggest challenges an indie game developer has to face.

What is a good game idea?

How can you define a good game idea? How can you know that your new game idea is good enough to continue?

Here are some answers. A good game idea is about…

Something you would also enjoy playing

A good game idea is something you are excited to work on. Think about the game. Would you like to play it? If your answer is no, probably people won’t want to play it either. So, don’t lose time with it. Try to find another idea. But if you are excited as a player as well, then this is a good sign.

Something excites people when they hear about it

When you tell your family and friends about your game idea, their reactions might help you assess it. If they look excited, ask you questions, and want to learn more details, you are on the right track. Before telling them about your idea, ask them to be as objective as possible. Yet more, ask them to be as harsh as possible. Let them criticize your idea, challenge it. Otherwise, they might be too positive about your game just for your close relationship, which might misguide you.

Something you would like to work on

Finding the game idea is just the beginning. Designing a game has hundreds of other details, which means you will have a lot of tasks to complete. So, when you find a game idea, think about the rest of your game. What will you need to work on? What kind of details does it include? Would you like to work on each? This might include the game mechanics, which software you will need to design your game, or the visuals like 2D or 3D. These details might help you to evaluate your idea. If working on these details sounds ok, then you can keep your idea. If you won’t be happy with working on these details, try to find another idea.

Something that people know

A totally new game idea might sound cool, but something people already know might help you reach more people. In other words, your game idea can be about something that people are familiar with. Your game should be easy to understand. For example, a game about something that the player would like to do in real life might work, such as playing football, raising plants, competing with someone, etc.

Something that evokes emotions

People tend to embrace things that evoke their emotions. This is the same for the games too. Many players would like to have an emotional experience while playing a game. So, while considering a new game idea, make sure that it evokes emotions. The answers to the questions; “What sort of emotion is this game trying to evoke in the player?”, “How does the game emotionally affect the player?” would help you choose a genre, define your storyline, and develop your characters.

Sources of a Good Game Idea

A game idea is not a totally new thing. It is rather an arrangement of interesting things. So, game ideas come from lots of different places. Anything can help you discover a new game idea.

Games might be a good source for discovering new game ideas. From traditional games to board games and PC games to mobile games, each game includes interesting elements that might inspire you.

Many games that we already know have evolved from other games. For example, a mobile Rummikub game is a new form of traditional Rummikub. Backgammon, Poker, Chess are also similar examples.

Any cultural form might include an idea that can be transformed into a game. Books are among popular sources for game ideas. For example;

Famous game The Witcher is based on The Witcher book series.

Assassin’s Creed is based on a novel named Alamut.

AndAR-based mobile game Harry Potter might be counted as both a book and a movie adaptation.

Sport is another source. People already enjoy sports. Transforming any type of sport into a game is always a good idea. It is not surprising that the most downloaded and purchased games belong to this category. FIFA and NBA games are among these examples.

In short, anything humans do in real life can be a source for a game idea such as shopping, cooking, decorating, raising plants, fighting, etc.

How to Find Game Ideas?

No idea is totally new. It is a transformed form of something else. So, anything can give you a game idea. What you need to do is to watch the world around you to discover ideas. As you find an idea, transform it into something interesting by adding something to it, removing something from it, or combining it with something else.

Know The Game Elements

At the very beginning, make sure that you know the game elements. This will help you to analyze games accurately. Each game has elements covering the game story, gameplay, user experience, aesthetics, etc. Knowing these elements will help you analyze games accurately. You will be able to ask the right questions. Only then will you be able to evaluate your own game idea.

Be Curious

Having good ideas is about being curious. Finding an idea requires an active process. Great ideas usually don’t just pop into your head. You just need to search for ideas actively. Look the world around you with a curious mind. Try to see the interesting sides of things. There are lots of game idea sources, as you can see above. Try to see the things around you as sources of ideas. You will realize that there are lots of game ideas out there that you just didn’t pay attention to.

Ask the Right Questions

While you evaluate some idea sources such as a game or book, ask as many questions as possible. This will help you to make sure it is the right idea. Ask questions like “Why do I like this?”, “Which part I like the most?”, “If this was a game, how would it be?” etc. Your answers to these questions will help you fill in your idea and guide you through your game development plan.

Take Notes

Idea search is an active process. Ideas might come from anywhere. So, keep a notebook with you and whenever you find a new idea, write it down. Thus, you can notice new patterns and feed it with new ideas until you reach your big idea. Try to find as many ideas as possible and write them down to compare them later. Your ideas will change and evolve into something else. So, keeping track of your ideas will help you to see their change and reorganize them. Thus, you will never lose a good idea just because you forget it.

Brainstorm Regularly

Finding an idea requires practice. This means you need to spend time brainstorming. And you will need to repeat this regularly till you find your final game idea. Give yourself at least 20 minutes or half an hour. This will train your brain for a continuous search. So, as you brainstorm regularly, the ideas will start to percolate in your head while you are doing something else like cooking, driving, etc.

Practice: Brainstorming with an Idea Tree

1. Start with an idea tree

Plant 3–5 ideas that come to your mind. Make sure they are interesting enough for you. Because you will need to expand these ideas with more details, which is not easy with something you are not interested in. Let’s say your ideas are: Fashion, Tennis, Decoration. You will expand each, but for now, let’s pick fashion.

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2. Create two other branches

Create two other branches that come off of your first ideas. As we proceed with fashion, we will expand this idea. What does come to your mind when you think about fashion? Models and Designing Clothes can be your following branches.

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3. Expand your ideas

Expand your ideas by adding two sub-branches to your current ideas. So, what can you add under the Models title? Maybe your fashion models can be humans or robots. Let’s add these sub-branches. And for your designing clothes title, you can pick ready-to-wear or haute couture as your sub-branches. Do the same for your sub-branches. Both for robots and humans, you can add the following sub-branches: Male and Female. And for ready-to-wear and haute couture titles, you can create sub-branches by focusing on time. For example, you can design these clothes for today in the 2020s or for the future like the 2300s.

4. Pick the best of your ideas

Look at your tree. Look at your boxes. Which of them are more interesting? Pick them. This will help you define your final game idea. If we return to our idea tree, we might pick the following boxes: robot models, female, haute couture, in the future.

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If we define our game idea, it is “a fashion game set in the future where players design haute couture clothes for female robots.”

5. Build the details with additional questions

As you picked an idea, you will need to enrich it with the details. This is possible by asking questions about game elements. Ask questions covering the game story, gameplay, and design features. You might ask questions like:

  • What is the player doing?
  • What are their actions?
  • What are their constraints?
  • Who are they interacting with?
  • Where is it done?
  • What are the story components of the game?
  • How does the game look?
  • How does it feel?
  • How is the user experience?
  • How is the ambiance?
  • How is the visual design?
  • What is the general feel that somebody gets from the game?

You can add more questions. And your answers to these questions will let you evaluate your idea in terms of applicability. How would you name your game? Can you prepare a minute-long elevator pitch for it?

If you can’t, this might not be the right idea. So, start over. Go back to your idea tree. Work on other ideas, add new ones. And keep on practicing until you find your best idea.

Conclusion

All games start out as ideas. Some games come from one great idea, some are formed by combining a couple of good ideas. So, finding a game idea is the first step in indie game design. You can find a good game idea from anywhere. What you have to do is to be curious, search for new ideas, practice brainstorming, and be organized to keep track of your ideas.

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