Originally Posted by MMO-Champion
What are the biggest factors that stop great ideas right in their tracks? Specifically in game design and conceptual creation.
In general, I advocate *not* trying to stop great ideas right in their tracks. Game designers in particular are so comfortable with analysis that they can immediately shift to pointing out why something won’t work instead of trying to figure out what to do so that it can work. In my work, I try to structure idea generation into two phases: a purely creative one where you don’t accept any constraints, and then a more pragmatic phase where you shift from asking “Is this cool?” to “Should we build it?”
I don’t think that was really the spirit of your question though, so I’ll try to go a little deeper. Let’s assume the idea has gotten through the pure brainstorming phase and now you’re critically evaluating it. What would kill it?
1) Technical realities. Programming time is expensive in terms of opportunity cost. In my experience, very few engineers will tell you no. Instead they’ll tell you how long something will take and what you may have to give up to get it. There are a limited number of programming hours in the day, so if you shift some of those hours to a new idea, you have to give up something else. Sometimes that’s the right call because the new idea is so awesome. But if every idea is awesome (in terms of shifting resources to pursue it) then nothing is. (This can happen with other resources as well. Art is probably the second most likely to bottle-neck an idea after programming.)
2) Doesn’t fit the game. This actually comes up a lot, and it can be a tough thin to arbitrate because different developers on a team might have different opinions of what fits or not. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about setting precedents because the games I have worked on have long lifespans. The developers today may be opening up something cool (or a Pandora’s box) that future developers are going to have to contend with. Think of relatively simple but hugely impactful decisions like “Should WoW allow third party mods?” The definition of “fit” here can encompass a lot of things, like whether it’s a feature players actually need, whether it matches thematically, and so on.
3) Causes unintentional player behavior. You have to really think through this one because by definition it’s often hard to anticipate what the outcomes will be. Some outcomes are perfectly fine. I don’t mean to imply that every time players do something unexpected that it’s inherently bad. But you can also cause players do things that are really unfun. Imagine you give players a chance to get a reward once an hour. Are you encouraging them to set their alarms every hour while they try to sleep?
4) Confusing or janky. Some great ideas are inelegant enough that they will cause a lot of confusion. It depends a lot on your game about how much of this you’ll tolerate. Sometimes the idea is worth the extra price in complication. But complication can have a real price as well – confused players might open support tickets, which are a real hit on a game’s bottom line. (Publishers generally want to offer player support because it helps make the experience good for players, but they also want to build the game in such a way that players don’t need to hit up player support constantly.) You could also argue that if the idea is too inelegant that maybe it doesn’t qualify as great.
5) Collision with some upcoming feature. This is where project or team leads can really earn their salt, because they can provide a bigger picture that individual contributors may not have access to. “Hey I thought of a great idea to minimize our download time!” might be rendered less useful if you have the information to say “Great idea, but we’re working on continual streaming next milestone, so downloads are no longer a big player pain point.”
There are a bunch of others, but those are the ones that came to mind.