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Opinion: Why No One Listens To Your Ideas

In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, WB Games Seattle's Mike Jungbluth explains all the various reasons why your killer idea for a feature, character, or moment was never implemented in the final game.
[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, WB Games Seattle's Mike Jungbluth explains all the various reasons why your killer idea for a feature, character, or moment was never implemented in the final game.] For as long as games have been developed, there is a story every developer knows intimately. You had this amazing idea for a new feature, character, or moment in the game you were working on that would have absolutely made it crest the 90 Metacritic mark. But when you pitched the idea to someone on the team, each word dripping with unbridled excitement, it fell on deaf ears. Why? It is a pretty important question to not only ask but to have answered. Because pitching an idea means you are investing a lot of yourself into the game. You are emotionally attaching yourself to a portion of its success, and that is a sacred trust you are bestowing upon its development. To have that ignored crushes your enthusiasm and leaves you apathetic, bitter, and jaded about the process. And that is about the worst thing that can happen to both you and the team. Figuring out the "why" going forward is the first thing you should do the next time you have that killer idea that doesn't seem to get any traction. But what about those ideas of yore for which you can't track down the specific "why"? Well, I've got a few ideas: You Pitched It To The Wrong Person There are three avenues most people go down when pitching an idea for the game. First step is usually saying something to the person sitting next to you. If you went no further than this, and you aren't sitting next to the creative director or design lead, then look no further as to the "why". This is NEVER enough, though it can be a good first step. If you see the eyes of the person with whom you work most closely gloss over, then you know your idea has some holes. But if they agree it sounds great, or even added something valuable to the mix, you might have something. Next step most people take is sending out an email to the team with their idea. This gets a lot of eyes on it, and can get a lot of enthusiasm from different people, but for anyone that can actually approve your idea, your email is like spitting into an ocean. The leads and directors of games get HUNDREDS of emails a day. They will glance at your email, and most likely forget about it as they rush to another meeting.
Be mindful of warp pipes that can fast track your pitch. You can't cheat a good idea.
And while you can get a wave of people behind your idea, if there is something wrong with the idea, you will also get a wave of apathy or anger about clogging up the email stream for the entire team. BUT, if the team is behind your email and a Lead or Director chimed in that it seemed cool, you've got to advance to level 1-3. Knock on the door of a person that can actually make the decision to implement your idea. Pitching it in person shows how invested you are and gives them an honest chance to react to your idea. Very rarely have I taken an idea to this stage and not been given the "why" as to whether it would be doable or not. Just make sure before you go in you've thought through the idea, because if every time you get a random thought you feel the need to bend the ear of the director, very quickly they won't take your ideas as seriously. Your Idea Didn't Match The Design If you are going to pitch an idea that affects the game, you should probably take the time to really think about how your idea impacts the gameplay. That means know which of the core pillars of the design your idea falls under and what takes place in the game before, after, and around your idea, so that you can speak how it fits in overall. An idea is something anyone can have, so inherently they are rather cheap. Taking the time to flesh that idea out and how to implement it is where you will find their real worth. It forces you to think it out as a whole, and gives you answers to many of the questions you will be asked. Just being able to answer a designer when they start trying to find the holes in your idea is going to give it a lot more weight than 95 percent of what gets tossed around from the rest of the team. Can your idea be exploited by the player? Does it clash with another feature or goal in the game? Is it too complicated? Is it too simple? Is it too ambiguous? What happens if the player fails? Is it something the engine supports already or does it need significant engineering? Does it need a tutorial? Is the action out of character or out-of-place with the narrative? You should be able to answer all these questions and more if you are serious about getting your idea into the game. You Pitched It At The Wrong Time So your idea was actually a good one and everyone you talked to thought it would be awesome, but it didn't happen. Chances are you pitched it too late or too early in the development process. A game's R&D phase is when the most ideas are being tossed about and when leads and directors actively ask the team for ideas on what should be in the game. This essentially turns into email threads and wikis full of ideas popping up, which means your idea can quickly be lost. Especially if the idea you had was for a small detail or moment in the game when the broad strokes are stilling being figured out. It's a good idea to throw it out there so it gets logged in an email or wiki for future reference, but it's up to you to hold onto that idea and pitch again when the core features of the game needed to make it work are functioning. The other common problem is after a game starts full production, and you get an idea that would be a fundamental change to something that is already implemented. These are often the "not better, but different" types of ideas. Or they can be a better idea than what is being executed in game, but to really move forward on your idea would be like pulling a thread on a sweater because they define so many other parts of the game. Big ones are changes in player movement, combat design, or adding a new feature for a level that doesn't exist anywhere else, ie stealth. Making games is a learning process, and better ways to do something always present themselves throughout production. You shouldn't turn off the part of your brain that has ideas once full production starts, but before you get into a passionate discussion about your latest brainchild, think about where the development cycle is at. Not many studios have the luxury of scrapping something and pushing back a deadline just to try out a new or different idea. You can always save it for your next game. Your Aren't The Problem Your idea was embraced by everyone around you. You thought through the design ramifications and it all made sense. It was during that sweet spot in production when it could have been added to the game as part of the normal workflow. But it still got tossed aside. Why? Well, since you went through most of the steps proving out your idea wasn't just a good one, but a correct one, that doesn't leave many options. At best, there was a serious lack of honest communication between the decision makers and the rest of the team. Or at worst, the decision makers aren't really interested in what the team has to offer. In either case, you are being severely hamstrung in the creative process and there is something toxic in your work environment. Another sign that this could be the case is if a lot of senior people on the team are withdrawn or scoff at the idea of pitching an idea. If it is just one person, it means that they probably didn't follow through with their idea in the proper manner. But if it is an entire team, there is a good chance that investing your soul in the game is about as smart as handing over a newborn to a pack of wolves.
I'm not naive enough to think that if you follow everything laid out that your idea will make it into the game. But they should give you the answer as to why it didn't make it into the game. Some ideas will naturally fall through the cracks, no matter how perfect they were, but if the common theme is that they are rejected with no answers to your why, other than the need of complete creative control by the captains of the ship, then it may be time for you to evaluate if that is the type of place you want to work For some people, that type of design dictatorship is what they want after a long line of wishy-washy creatives that are unable to make any sort of decision. But if you are brimming with ideas and have the ability to think them through the entire development process, that type of controlled environment probably isn't for you. Unless of course you are in line towards being that iron clad ruler of decisions, in which case, best of luck when you get there. Just make sure to wrap that iron glove in velvet when a proper idea comes across your desk. Those are coming from people just like you, who care about the game as much as you do. And you wouldn't want to lose them the same way other studios lost you. [This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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