Game idea != Product

Scott McMillian, formerly head of MacGuffin Games, gave another great presentation at Boston Post Mortem Wednesday night.  It was a second showing of “Death of an Indie Studio”, a post mortem discussion the rise and fall of his own small business.  There should be audio and perhaps video of the entire presentation coming along soon.  Which will be really valuable to get the nuance of some of his statements (the art and business continuum, for example).  For now you can find my notes and links to the slides.  The official post from Boston Post Mortem is now up, with more visual goodness!

One of the points that he makes is Art != Business.  Additionally he sites the old “Time = Money” and lends his personal experiance to it.  He describes what he means very well, so I will not try to add any more.  However there are a couple logical relationships that add to his points.

  • Game idea != Product
  • Product != Company
Many gamers have a great game idea.  Experienced game developers frequently scoff, and don’t jump on board.  Why is that?  There are a couple very good reasons.  A great idea is not a product.  You can’t make money off a product that doesn’t exist. It takes time, effort, and no small amount of stress to take 1000 great ideas and make them a game.  Professional Game Devs often have great game ideas faster then they can actually make a single game.  So understand that if you are a gamer with a great idea for a game, you still don’t have anything.  A prototype on the other hand…  Now that’s progress.

Similar to that is something that my Project Management professor drilled it into our heads.  In actuality he just mentioned it and we all accepted and understood it as sage wisdom.  This man is so experienced that he uttered sage wisdom with even passing remarks.  And he’s a damn good lumber jack too (I’m not kidding).  You really must have a product (or service) before you can make revenue.  The plan for a project that will create a computer game is not a company.  The execution of the plan can result in revenue, but not always.  The silver lining here is that if you want to create a computer game, you do not need to create a company to do so.

Scott has been searching for a way to state this more elegantly.  Just because you have a game idea, does not mean you need to start a company.  Understand that start up business fail frequently.  New computer game projects also fail frequently.  If you take the plunge and gather funds to start a company, and fail, you have lost whatever money you put into the company.  Sometimes you lose other peoples money.  Starting a project is less involved then starting a company, and does not require raising capital (i.e. Debt).  If the project fails, you are not saddled with paying off the debts that would be incurred by closing a company.  You have most likely still learned a ton.

Gamers are lucky in that creating games is more of an art.  The tools you need to start making games are very easy to acquire.  Anyone with knowledge (or the ability to learn), and persistence can make a game.  But unless you really want to start a company staying a hobbyist is a really great idea.  It may take more time, but you won’t lose other peoples money.

4 thoughts on “Game idea != Product

  1. What's the specific difference between a project and a company? Is it the number of people involved in making the product, and their relationships; the reliance on outside investments; both; neither; or other considerations?

    In this context, would you say that a company is likewise different from a business entity (an LLC, etc.), or a brand name?


  2. Great Question!

    In this context a project is an organized endeavor to develop something. Could be a paper game. Could be a computer game. What ever you and whoever wants to help are creating.

    A company on the other hand is a legal business entity, which has a budget, and expects to make a profit for it's employees (if private) or shareholders (if public).


  3. If you're skilled at doing a little bit of everything (design, programming, graphics, audio) this is fine but what about those that have great ideas but no idea how to execute them? How do they go about gathering the necessary resources and collaborators to start a project?


  4. Great question FPQA, and one that I frequently try and find the answer to myself. In fact this blog is one of the answers to that question. But my first and foremost suggestion is community. Start one or find one. Personal connections are better but if you happen to live far away from the handful of cities which have established game design firms then remote will have to do.

    Attending Pax or Pax East is effective for the gamer looking to get in. I would not recommend GDC right away. But that would be a good step after starting out.


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