Brainstorming Ideas And Turning Them Into Concepts
All games start out as ideas. Some games come from one powerful idea, but most are formed by combining many ideas to create a unique whole. It’s very possible that initial ideas will be (or should be) abandoned, and lots of new ideas will be considered during the process. It is usually the responsibility of a game designer to come up with ideas for a new game, but often the entire development team participates in generating ideas during what is called a brainstorming session. At one game development studio I worked at, Jet Morgan Games, we always kicked off a new game project for a client by inviting everyone in the company — designers, producers, programmers, artists, even the bookkeeper — into the conference room for an initial brainstorming session.
Brainstorming is a group creativity technique in which members work together to find a solution to a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by everyone in the group. In games, brainstorming is used to generate a large number of ideas about game’s concept, mechanics, setting, characters, etc. The term “brainstorming” was popularized by advertising executive Alex Faickney Osborn in the 1953 book Applied Imagination.
Osborn’s method of brainstorming has four general rules:
- Focus on quantity: Try to come up with more ideas than you think you need because you may discover you need them later. You may find that some ideas that sounded really good during a brainstorming session turned out not to be so good when they’re actually implemented, and you’ll have to turn to other ideas.
- Withhold criticism: Don’t inhibit members by judging their ideas, even if they seem unrelated to the problem you’re trying to solve. Besides, ideas that sounded bad during a brainstorming session may actually turn out to be the ones that lead to solution that your are trying to solve.
- Welcome unusual ideas: “Outside the box” ideas are great, even if they seem unworkable or inappropriate, because they can help stimulate other ideas.
- Combine and improve ideas: This is why you don’t rule out any idea as inappropriate, unworkable, or bad. All ideas can serve as fuel for generating better ideas.
Here is a brainstorming exercise I do with my students at The Los Angeles Film School.
I divided my students into groups of three and ask them to come up with 100 game ideas in one hour. I give them 100 ideas as their goal so that they will stay focused on quantity rather than quality, and I keep the time limited so that they don’t spend too long on the exercise. I want them to keep a fast pace. However, I do give them the restriction that it needs to be a game that their group can develop within a two-week period (the remainder of the course).
I allow them to leave the room and go to a more playful environment, such as a lounge or somewhere outside. Anywhere that can help stimulate their imaginations. I do require for them to write down their ideas. Ideally, they should use a whiteboard because it’s best to put ideas on a wall for everyone to see, but that’s not always possible, so I allow them to use index cards, post-it notes, or just sheets of paper.
When they return from their completing their assignment (in all the times I’ve given this assignment, no student group has failed to come up with 100 ideas), I tell them not to get too attached to their ideas, because they are going to narrow it them down their lists. I explain that while there is no such thing as a bad idea during the brainstorming session, there are lots of reasons to set aside ideas afterwards:
- Technical Feasibility: The programmers don’t know how to implement the properly.
- Market Opportunity: The marketing people doesn’t think there’s a market for the idea.
- Artistic Considerations: The development team decides they just don’t like the idea.
- Design Experience: The designers don’t think they can make engaging gameplay based on the idea.
- Innovation Needs: The idea just isn’t innovative enough to stand out from the competition.
- Marketing Goals: The idea doesn’t fit in with the company’s long-range marketing plan.
- Business and Cost Restrictions: The projected revenues for the idea are less than the projected costs of implementing it.
With these idea filters in mind, I then have the students edit their 100 game idea lists down to the top 5 to 10 ideas and discuss each thoroughly. I have ask them to remain positive during their discussions and discuss the strengths of each idea.
Next, I have them narrow down their list down to their three favorite ideas and for each one, write a 3-to-5 concept treatment describing the game’s theme, play mechanics, controls, art style, storyline, and audio.
If I had more time in my class, I’d have them create a mock advertisement and packaging for their game and then hold focus group sessions with target customers to determine which ideas resonated with them more. If you are working for a real game development company, this may be something you should try so that you have a better idea about the appeal of your game idea before you spend too much development money on it.