By Alan Emrich
Copyright (C) 2019 Alan Emrich; all rights reserved
So, you have been around the game table a few times, maybe a few years. Now, you have this great idea for a game. You know a lot of people would like it – you would like it, right, so why wouldn’t a lot of people? The real question is: how do you go about actually creating a new game?
Begin with some self-assessment. In much the same way that many kids grow up wanting to write a novel, gamers grow up wanting to make a game. It is a creative urge inside us desiring an outlet. Know that your desire to make a game is not out of the “game stream” and quite common. Every gamer, and I mean every gamer, has their “great idea for a game” inside them; if not now, they will soon. Like The Walking Dead, among gamers we are all infected.
About the Author
In my articles, I will stake you to some valuable advice about making games. Whether it is systems, mechanics, ergonomics, publishers, printers, crowdfunding, marketing, or gamers themselves, I have been living “this dream of making games” since the mid-1970s. I’ve worked with more programmers, artists, and managers than I can remember and have assiduously tried to learn from each of them.
When I started my journey there were no courses, no books, and no schools to teach me about making games. Unable to turn to an internet that was still decades from invention and well before the age of personal computers, we created and published great games applying the same art, craft, and science still used today (now made easier by modern technology).
The Time Capsule Mentality
Let us examine making games together and, just as every great journey begins with a single step, I would like you to share a series of epiphanies with me for your first step. These will light the path’s beginning to game creation. Be warned, this is not the advice you might be expecting; it is something far more fundamental:
A great game always begins with a great idea for a game. In a future article, we will examine what makes a game idea great and where these ideas that become games originate, but for right now you believe in your game idea, so let’s go with that…
Creating games is primarily an act of communication. This is a people endeavor; by people and for people. Game creation and publishing only works where there is excellent communication – internally among the creative team; between that team and intelligent, experienced, and decisive management; to and among the fan base (from the gaming “tell”igentsia opinion leaders to the eager and attentive card-carrying dice-chuckers playing for fun); via marketing and promotional outreach; supporting the hobby media; and right down to communicating the game rules, systems, mechanics, and graphics to players. Ultimately, all game endeavors rise or fall on communication where type, quality, and timing are everything. Where you fail in communication, your game fails.
Creating games is a written communication venture. When making games, unless you are the only person who will create it, market it to, and play it, you are going to need to communicate with others in writing. It is impossible to overstate the importance of high level written communication skills when making games. There are no “for dummies” here; dummies don’t make games and dummies don’t play them (unless you are onto something in the Uno or Exploding Kittens ilk, which do broaden the common denominator considerably). Developers and customers are smart enough to actually afford great games, they have the time and brains to learn them, and they are dedicated enough to do their reading about them. You are definitely aiming at a more intellectually curious “geeky” crowd with modern hobby games, and these people read. Your seeds of writing will find fertile soil among them and, as your writing grows roots, you have a singular opportunity to cement coworker and customer loyalty. Be a great written communicator!
All writing, and I mean ALL writing, is a time capsule for an intended audience at a future time. This is the key: not that you have to communicate your great game idea in writing all along its path (you do), but who you are writing it to and when they will need that communication from you. When writing about your game, the intended audiences vary greatly from a publisher, to your developer, to playtesters, to marketing, to sales, to the box-back copy. Harder still is to communicate instructions (i.e., rules, charts, tables, cards, mapboards, etc.). Don’t be discouraged if you feel you really suck at this. “Precise technical writing” is a brutally hard skill to develop but, like eating horrible vegetables or insane exercise workouts, sometimes you have to do this because “it’s good for you” (if you want to create games) and it gets easier if you apply yourself and keep at it. Just know who will be reading what you write, and when, so that you can craft appropriate written communication; this will make you a much more effective force in the game industry and community.
By now you are thinking, “This guy must be a frustrated English teacher!” If so, you missed by 180 degrees; I was a faithful failure in English classes until I started writing about things that I really cared about – games. Ironically, me, the kid who couldn’t spell, was publishing four different game magazines when he finished college. And the hardest thing to learn was that I could not rely on the receiver of my information for effective communication, only the sender (me).
And here ends the lesson. You’re not going to “talk” everyone into helping you create or later buying your game. At some point, almost every point really, you must put things in writing to have your game taken seriously. Improve your written communication skills; know who you are writing for and what communication they seek to be an effective communicator. Remember, you are the only person you can count on to communicate properly (because, for all you know, your audience is too tired or distracted and they can’t help you at all, but you still need to reach them!).
The first step in being a superhero to your great idea for a game is improving your written communication skills.