Creativity Within Constraints
Many people thinking about entering the video game industry do so under the impression that they will get have creative freedom to do whatever type of game they want. Unfortunately, the reality is that they will be working on whatever they are assigned, just like any other job. If they are programmers, they will be coding the game mechanics and game rules determined by the game’s designers. If they are artists, they will be creating the pieces specified by the game design under style guidelines enforced by the art director. And if they are game designers, they might not even be designing for their own game idea, but for a concept thought up by their boss or their publisher.
And so many wannabe game developers dream of starting their own companies, of being indie game developers, rather than working as an employee of an established game studio or publisher. Yet, even then there are constraints. If you are self-funded, you are constrained by the budget you have available for developing your game (this is, of course, true, for any game project, but indie game developers work under much tighter budgets than do developers working on AAA games for major publishers). If you do manage to get investors who can contribute a substantial budget, they will undoubtedly also demand some say-so on your project so that they can ensure that their investment is being spent wisely. Even if you raise money through crowdfunding, your supporters will put pressure on you to stick to the vision that you outlined in your initial proposal.
Then there are the technical constraints. Every platform — console, pc, mobile, browser — has constraints in terms of screen resolution, processing speed, internal memory, external storage memory, download speed, input device capabilities, and so on. There may be additional constraints imposed by the features of your game engine or the capabilities of your fellow development team members.
Your team members may also put up additional constraints in terms of their own ideas about the direction and details of a project; after all, game development is a team sport. And if you are working on a console project, you can bet that the console manufacturer will have a long list of changes they will want you to make on your game before they will license it for their system.
Finally, there’s the player, the one you ultimately have to please. No matter how much you love your game idea, if the customers don’t like it, they aren’t going to buy it. So, to prevent yourself from finding that out after spending many months and millions of dollars on your project, you should be constantly holding playtest sessions with target players, listening very carefully to their reactions to your game, and make the necessary changes needed to please them.
There are a lot of constraints developers work under in game development, but that does not mean that there is no room for creativity. In fact, quite the opposite. What restrictions do is take away some of the choices available to us, and with them, the paralysis of choice that may stop you from starting to do actual work. If instead you are given a blank, white page from which to work and you allowed to do whatever you want, it s almost too much freedom.
Many creative people are actually inspired by their constraints. Constraints often force you to think outside the the box and come up with innovative ideas that you might not have otherwise. You should think about your constraints not as obstacles to your ability to innovate, but instead as a puzzle that holds the opportunity for creativity and great work.
On the other hand, if you cannot be bothered to strive for creativity in spite of whatever limitations are placed on you, or to revise your initial idea when you run into a roadblock, you better get used to saying the phrase, “Would you like fries with that?”