Creating a Game Concept: The First Step in Getting Your Game off the Ground
There are a lot of things that go into creating a great game. You're probably aware of most of them; great story, solid gameplay mechanics and awesome art. However, while you may have an idea for the next best indie game, or another smash hit like Candy Crush, you'll need to convince the other people involved that the idea you have is going to be a success. You also need to give a road map for the other developers so they can have an understanding of what to expect and the type of work that is going to be required.
To do this you need to create a game concept, or game documentation. Let's go over what a game concept is, and the things you'll want to include in it so you can get your game off the ground and into the hands of thousands of happy players.
What Is a Game Concept
The game concept in its simplest form is the vision of your game put on paper in an easy to understand manner so that everyone involved will be on the same page, know exactly what the game is and what is going to be involved in order to create it.
This means that the publisher/investors, the art team, the developers and even the marketers will know what is going to be required of them. The game concept should really follow the stages in which a game is created, from the story to the art, and even how you're going to make money with the game.
You can think of the game concept as kind of the instruction book for each of the departments involved, but it's also where these designers and programmers are able to express their concerns and lend their own thoughts to make the best game possible.
The game concept really means different things to each department, and provides each department with the information they need. For example, it will give the animators a road map for the type of animations that will fit the style of the game.
For you, the person with idea, and the one creating the game concept it's really a way for you to sell your game. Sell your ideas to investors; sell the gameplay concepts to the programmers, and the art to the artists.
The Core Idea
The core idea should really be at the beginning of the game concept, and will present the idea you have for the game. It could be just a few paragraphs describing your game and what it is, including the universe, the type of characters and even a quick overview of the story.
It should get the people involved excited, it can really be where the writer in you comes out.
Along with the core idea of your game, you also want to describe some of the key elements of your game and what the player will be doing. Depending on how complex the game is going to be will determine how in-depth this area of the documentation is going to be. For example, you may have a castle defender mobile game. So this area can be the bullet points of the game, the goal of the game, what the player uses to defend their castle, what items they can collect and how they advance.
You don't want to make this a list that goes on for pages and pages, but instead provide a quick overview of the key features of the game, and what will set it apart from other games. The reader should get a good idea of the style of game, and have a clear vision just from this quick bullet point overview.
Keep the Investors Interested
Unless you're funding this project yourself, you're going to either need investors or a publisher that will give you the money you need to create this game.
Nobody is going to throw money at you unless they know it's a good investment, and they will get their money back. This is where your game concept will come into play. Investors will need to have a clear understanding of how you're going to make money off the game, because no matter how good your game may be, if they don't see the return investment chances are they won't bite the hook.
You'll need to have an outlined plan of how you anticipate making money off your game, whether it's monetizing ads, the initial purchase price, in-app purchases, or maybe a combination of all of these methods.
Of course, you'll also want to include a game proposal when trying to secure funding, but it's also a good idea to incorporate monetizing methods in your game concept.
Keep the Art Team in the Loop
The art team needs to know what type of game they're going to be designing. Whether it's creating 2D or 3D assets. This is why it never hurts to include some concept designs for the direction you want to take the game, so the art team will get an idea of what they can expect.
They'll also be able to identify any hiccups that might occur or the things that will be difficult to accomplish either with the time allotted, or the budget given. They will also be able to provide their own input on areas that might need adjusting in order to meet the deadline or the budget.
For example, your game concept may say the world is inhabited with giant dragons of all different designs. Well, that's a huge undertaking, and if the budget or time isn't there it just won't be possible. This will also help to eliminate any problems further down the road.
Don't Forget About the Developers
In the same way you kept the art team in the loop, with potential character designs, worlds, etc. the developers need to have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, and the extent of the development required.
This will help them identify the things that might be difficult to accomplish. As well as get them involved in the development process early on, so they can find places that could be improved upon, or things to add that can enhance the gameplay.
Platform and Target Audience
You'll also want to include the planned platforms you want to launch the game on, as well as the target audience.
This will not only give the development team an idea for what they'll need to do in order to create a cross-platform capable game that can easily be ported over to any device or system, but knowing the target audience can greatly influence not only the art choices but also the gameplay mechanics.
For example, if the target audience is around the 6-12 year old range then having complex gameplay mechanics may not be the best idea, or designing that zombie creature might deter some of the players. Knowing these things will help both departments come up with the right choices that would best suite the target audience.
Don't Ask for a Ridiculous Amount
A game concept may also be used to present to potential investors or the publishing studio for the game. You don't want to go overboard with the amount of money you'll need, try and keep it realistic. If this is your first game, find places where you can cut costs in order to appeal more to the people with the wallets. This could be something as simple as using the free 3D application Blender, or Maya LT to save money on expensive license fees.
If this is your first game, publishers and investors will be reluctant to throw money at you. Sure, games like Halo and Call of Duty get budgets in the hundreds of millions, but publishers are willing to make that investment because records show they will make that money back, and much more.
Until you release the next smash hit like Halo or Call of Duty it's good to level your expectations on the budget you'll have, and try to do what you can to work around the hurtles. Hopefully your game concept gave them enough trust to invest in your project, but definitely don't expect millions to be thrown your way.
Mistakes to Avoid
When creating a game concept you want to provide enough detailed information for every single department. Making the mistake of having a short game concept that isn't detailed enough will discourage and confuse every department involved. The game concept should be something the developers and artists can revert back to when they need answers for a question. This means providing the information they will need to work properly.
You also don't want your game concept to be jumbled and put together in a rush, take time with it, because it's one of the most important things you need to get your game off the ground. Having a game concept that isn't professional can deter not only the publishers or investors but also the artists and developers that will help bring your game to life.
If you have a great idea for a game, put it on paper, because the game concept is one of the vital ways to not only get publishers involved but developers and artists excited to work on the project. It will help create a road map for your game, and make the creation process from beginning to end much quicker so you can get your game into the hands of the players. Be sure to check out some of our other great game development articles like 10 Tips for Creating a Successful Indie Game to keep pushing your skills further.