Updated: Mar 6, 2021
Because, "Games are never finished, only published."
By Alan Emrich
Copyright (C) 2019 Alan Emrich; all rights reserved
Alan Emrich has been a feature of the game industry since the mid-1970s and has worn more hats in it than a haberdasher’s apprentice. Go ahead, Google him, but his corpus of works extends long before the internet!
I always smile quietly to avoid laughing out loud when someone in the game making pipeline says, “It’s done!” At best, they mean their part or current task in it is over, but games are never finished, only published. There is always something else you can do with them and for them, even after shipping to customers and stores (support, corrections, expansions, sequels, clones, new editions, interviews, convention tournaments and demonstrations, How To videos…. the list is endless). The game industry makes a constant lie out of the phrase, “It’s done!” That will be the subject of another article, surely, but today I want to take you to where life begins in game making – the moment of conception; for although games have no ending (“It’s done!”), they certainly have a beginning.
There is no great controversy here. Some games never gestate (the idea is rejected for whatever reason; often replaced by another game idea that, perhaps, does gestate), some are stillborn (developed and not published – although never say never, they still might be in the future!), others are murdered quietly in their cribs (disappearing after the initial small printing reaches backers and stores, quickly to be remaindered and discounted and never to be carried again), while those we commonly recognize have a chance to grow and mature, their celebrity typically fades to the ubiquitous Cult of the New where their place on store and gamer’s shelves is usurped by the games that follow them.
Still, every published game has one thing in common: someone believed in it enough to publish it. Whether that belief was born of blind faith, hope for a new venture, the work-a-day publisher’s profit motive to keep the doors open, or greed that the game would make them rich – publishing requires belief in a game; enough for honest people, at least, to put their money where the bills are.
Seeking that belief in a game often goes back to the pedigree of its inception. Where did this game idea come from? How did it originate? Does this game have a destiny with success? To assess this and improve our understanding, we must look through the jaded eyes of game industry veterans, think as a publisher, and grasp fully their understanding of game conception.
It takes a lot of love to make a great game, and the love shared by that game’s stakeholders to put in the extra hours and attention to detail is the result of “natural conception.” Its conception is recognizable by that light bulb moment when an enthusiastic gamer mulling a game that interests them says “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” as they consider a new theme or mechanic; or some gamer considers a subject before them (e.g., watching sharks swim at the aquarium or a crane lifting a beam at a construction site) and remarks, “You know, that would make a good game.” Perhaps it is a gamer that, while playing, sees something more in it… wants something better from it… and not finding it available, launches their talent into creating the game they want for themselves.
This mental intercourse between gamer and game idea is how game conception should be. It is why publishers still seek outside designers who solicit the fruits of their passion projects for publication. Publishers know those designers really care about that game and will want to assist as best they’re able in the process of its development, marketing, publication, and after-market support. Just as you can hear in the voice of the radio announcer whether they’re pitching a product they truly believe in and use themselves or are just reading some sponsor’s scripted ad copy and are “paying the bills,” you can tell in the intimate medium of playing a game how much love went into it by its attention to detail that could only come from people who really cared to deliver something great, something special to them.