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Subject: How many of your ideas should you throw away? rss

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Ian Walton
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Like many others on these forums, I have a lot of ideas for games. And like many other people, I tend to get most excited about the idea I've just had, which usually distracts me from the idea I should be working on. But that's the fun bit, right?

Anyway, I've seen a few threads lately in which designers have talked about how many projects they currently have on the go, which prompted me to get views from the collective BGG wisdom on this question:

What proportion of your ideas should you throw away, to give you assurance that the ones you keep are good enough?

For a big game designer that we'd all recognise (Bruno Cathala, Jamey Stegmaier, Isaac Childres), we see the ideas that make it through to production, but how many did they bin to get to that point?

My reason for asking is that I have a feeling I'm not throwing enough ideas away - I'm not arrogant enough to think that 80% of what I do is brilliant, but so far I've only thrown away about a quarter. So what is the "right" proportion to shelve? Half? 90%?

Let me know your views and experiences!

Thanks,

Ian
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Ian Walton
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I should add, of course, that you only really know if an idea is good enough once you've tested the bejeesus out of it; I'm thinking more of how many you shelve before they even get to that stage, or when early testing shows that the writing is on the wall.

Reasons I've had for binning ideas so far:

Someone else got there first - 3 games (so frustrating, but also great that someone else has already done all the work!)

Just plain boring/takes too long - 3 games (one being reworked, two binned altogether)

Against which, I've got 6 at various stages of development (one fully produced, two in testing, three at prototypes stage). So I'm binning half.
 
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Rob Harper
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I have a back catalogue of about 30 games that have got to a state where they were a playable prototype that actually got tested with other people at least once. (I've had many dozens of ideas that I have worked on at least a bit, but which never got to this stage.)

Of those, maybe a dozen of them have been through a few rounds of testing and development.

Of those I have 2 currently signed with a publisher, and about half a dozen that are still in "the oven" and being moved forward at varying speeds.

The others are mostly "shelved" rather than fully abandoned, though I am sure that probably half of them will never see the light of day again.

Sometimes I find that an old, abandoned game comes back to life -- I had one like that earlier this year, a game that had been on the shelf for something like 3 years that I just had some inspiration for to get me over a problem that I hit with it beforehand. This is basically an example of the concept being OK, but me not having the design skills to implement it when I first tried. I'm gradually learning.

Of the reasons to shelve an idea, for me it has never been because I found that "someone else got there first". There is space out there in the market for similar games if the new versions are implemented well enough, and also there is a lot of educational value in making games similar to existing ones, even if there is no chance of them ever being published. You can learn a lot by doing that, and as you get more experienced you may start finding that you are "accidentally" being more original in your work.
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Koen Hendrix
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When I think I have a worthwile idea, I prototype it. Obviously there's already some filtering going on here, in mentally determining whether an idea is worthwile.

I abandon/shelve about 50% during solo playtesting.
("Seemed like a nice idea, but doesn't work.")

Then another 50% during actual playtesting.
("It functions, but it's not fun or interesting or different enough.")

The remainder becomes pitchable, but they can get shelved sooner or later too.
("I thought this was good enough, but publishers evidently don't want it.")

So which percentage should you throw away? I don't know, it depends on the baseline quality of your ideas meeple Definitely more than half, I would say.

But I also think most designers like having multiple projects going on simultaneously, it adds variety and allows you to "take a break" (ie swap projects) when you're stuck on one game.
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Paul DeStefano
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Some ideas are thrown away when you bring up the concept at dinner. If you're talking that level of development, thousands.
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maf man
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I'd bet it changes as the designer becomes better. I've just started taking game design more seriously so I have only a handful of ideas a little more fleshed out than just brainstorm level; I will probably follow them through because they are my first. That attachment is strong because I've spent so long thinking about them that I have sold myself on them being a good idea.
What I do have hope in is that I can see throwing away an idea more like scrapping for parts, that will make it easier on me thinking that I can make something better out of the idea later.
So maybe consider labeling all your ideas your not totally stocked about "on ice" and try revisiting them at a later date. You will be better then and maybe finishing other projects will help.
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Jeff Warrender
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It's not so much a matter of throwing things away, because probably actually relatively few ideas that a designer has are genuinely bad. That's not to say they're all good either, but rather that at the idea stage, you just don't know.

I think it's more a matter of prioritizing. Most of us have limited playtesting hours, and prototyping is for most of us a real time sink. So you have to run the hardest after the ideas that show the most promise to be something special.

My process tends to be to go as far as I can until I reach the first impasse, and then put the thing on the back burner until I can come up with a way around the impasse. I have early stage ideas that are on the back burner, and late-stage close-to-done projects on the back burner. None of these are thrown away, per se, they're just frozen in carbonite waiting for the right configuration of circumstances to thaw them out.
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XL Jedi
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WHAT!! When it comes to creative ideas NONE!

If I think it's a neat idea, I jot it down in my database. Sometimes it's good to have reminders as to why an idea may not work; so I don't waste further time on it. I actually forget sometimes why I dropped something a year or two ago and think about going back to revisit, and then I look at my notes and say, "Oh yeah..."

Also, there have been instances where a barrier that I thought existed, gets solved while working on something else. Which can bring a dormant idea back to life!

Sometimes I design a cool little element that in the end doesn't fit with the current project and gets omitted. I keep track of those as well. I might be able to use it somewhere else.

Granted, most of this has to do with game programming... but I see a lot of similarities in game development, particularly in the early stages and prototyping.

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Laura Creighton
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What xljedi said. You would be amazed at how often I concluded 'well this just doesn't work', shelved the idea, and then months later, generally while kayaking, which I find really good for this sort of thing, I get a whole new insight.

Wait...wait...if I made the game about *losing* money instead of about *making* money, then all of those objections go away! Where's my phone! I need to dictate something in a hurry!

The assembly-line is my candidate for best-of-civilization for the late 19th and 20th century, beating out antibiotics and electronics and a whole host of other entries. It's great stuff, and exactly what you need if you want to get rid of soul-crushing poverty. But you cannot create in an assembly-line fashion. Creativity is, by definition, not routine.
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Craig Stockwell
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In the past four years, I've outlined over 100 games; I've taken 22 to basic prototype, 16 to public-testing prototype, and pitched 10 of them.

There's not a particular proportion which should be set aside or discarded; rather, it's when they fail to meet a criterion for success.

One example: A game about popular elections, public perception, and machinations of the system -- which was a very accurate simulation of 1980s-90s American politics. Which would really only be fun to people who lived through it, or study it. [target audience too small]

Other times, I get a game to an "80% [of amazing]" state, but can push it no further. Shelved.

One of my games did very well with playtesters (even blind/remote), but publishers weren't interested, and gave conflicting feedback. Shelved. [Probably not marketable]

There's also a split between "throw it out" and "shelve it somewhere" -- that goes all the way to the pinnacle of designers (e.g.: Eric Lang is a thrower, Mike Elliott is a shelver).

When I think about some of the more prolific freelance designers I know, it seems like they're able to carry 50% or more of their ideas from early prototype to pitch-ready -- but that could be a combination of their experience allowing them to identify the best kernels of games, as well as efficiently iterating.
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Carl Nyberg
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You should throw away your first ten mediumly developed ideas
 
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Derek H
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bill437 wrote:
You should throw away your first ten mediumly developed ideas

You have not defined "mediumly" - but I have thrown away pretty much all games developed to the almost-at-playtest stage. Over the years, nearly hundred, I would say. I guess no VP for me
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JPotter
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"How many of your ideas should you throw away?"

I'm pretty sure it's somewhere between none and all.

IME, experience breeds more, and better ideas, so at first, the answer is nearer to all. If you keep at it, the answer should start sliding toward none.

Not that it will ever get close to none, especially if you are lucid enough at all times to recognize and count each and every passing spark as an 'idea'.

Hmm, may need a prequel thread. At what point is a thought an idea
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Pelle Nilsson
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I very sporadically add ideas to a org-mode text document to track them.

But throw away ideas? No, never. I have settled on the following states for the games in my document: IDEA, WIP, ONHOLD, DONE

Some ONHOLD games in the list are games I started working on in the 1980's that are not complete and probably never will be complete, but never say never.

92 boardgames in the list (of 160 total games). Perhaps all the ideas that not even make it into the list are the really bad ones that were thrown away?

But of the games that are just in state IDEA, some are just a single sentence, but most are at least a paragraph of text, and some have several pretty long chapters of design-notes and lists of cards to include etc etc. Many ideas have many variant ideas below them. I do not put many different similar deck-builders on the list for instance, that is just a single idea, and then I have a list of different possible designs for it as sub-headings under that IDEA.

As soon as I have started making a prototype it becomes WIP (and then, usually, soon, ONHOLD). I do not think I ever removed a game from the list.
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Fertessa
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I never throw away ideas. You are constantly changing, thanks to life and how it affects you. The idea you came up in one headspace may not function until 2 years later when your perspective has switched, and suddenly everything makes sense. Be flexible with destroying and rebuilding your game as many times as it takes, but don't destroy the inspiration which created it. It may not work for THAT game, but it could inspire something else- something better in the future.
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marc lecours
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In my case I should probably throw away all of them. (I probably won't but I should ).

I have had ideas for hundreds of games.

Of these, there are about 20 that I worked on enough to fill a notebook each.

Of these there are about 10 that made it to personal play testing.

Of these there are 5 that made it to play testing by people I know.

Of these there are approximately 0 that have made it to blind play testing.

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Nathan Hansen
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I think it depends on the rate that you generate ideas. The faster you generate them the more you have to throw out by necessity. Otherwise, you'll never get any done.

In my case, I sometimes have 3 or 4 game ideas a day. In a "dry spell" I might go as low as 2 or 3 a week.

Obviously, I can't develop that many games. So, my only goal before I make a prototype is to find a reason to drop an idea before any real work is put into it. Any reason.

I probably drop 99% of my ideas before I make a prototype.

If I can't find a reason to drop an idea after about a week I'll make a prototype. Of those, I probably drop half during my solo testing.

If I get to testing with other players I'm fairly certain it's worth pursuing, but I have on occasion dropped an idea after seeing other people play it.

For context, I have 9 published games (including one self-published), and about 30 current projects. I'm sure I've thrown away thousands. Of those 30, 2 have been picked up and are in a publishers queue. And 3 are submission ready.
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Bez Shahriari
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What do you mean by 'throw away'?

In the past 2 years, I created eactly 20 distinctly-different prototypes for completely new games.
One has now been kickstarted.
One I plan to self-publish in 2019.
One I hope to sell to a publisher with a bigger budget.
Two I'm actively working on.

That leave 15, which I probably won't return to within the next 2 years.

But I wouldn't say that they are 'thrown away'. I can return to them in a decade if I wish, whether to return to, for inspiration or even for the sake of nostalgia/reflection. I might take elements from a few or totally change them into a new thing.

In any case, I have a strong objection to the word 'should'.

There is no 'one-size-fits-all' method to design. I don't think there's any universal rule (except for basic self-evident things, like "if you spend no time on anything, nothing will be started, let alone finished").

Whatever works for you is OK.

Do whatever you want and don't worry excessively about what other folk do.
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Gary Boyd
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Walnut Games wrote:

Someone else got there first - 3 games (so frustrating, but also great that someone else has already done all the work!)


I don't think you should ever throw away an idea just because someone else designed a similar game. What you end up designing might be informed by the presence of their design, but your design will be much different, because you're you and they're them.

Just my 2¢.
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Every idea can probably be massaged into something good. Prototype, test, and keep improving anything which doesn't feel right. Even if you take something out it might work for some other project, or give you some ideas for later.

Setting and mechanics can sometimes get tangled up. Perhaps it works best for your game to have a strong connection, or perhaps it's best to abstract mechanics to the point where they could work with any setting.

Jamey Stegmaier doesn't seem to be afraid of reusing good ideas from other games (the AI in Scythe was also seen in Viticulture), or taking mechanics others designed (as it seems the third Scythe expansion does). If something works well, it works well and shouldn't be ignored just because it has been done by others

Put your own spin on things if you can though.
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Ian Walton
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debiant wrote:
Walnut Games wrote:

Someone else got there first - 3 games (so frustrating, but also great that someone else has already done all the work!)


I don't think you should ever throw away an idea just because someone else designed a similar game. What you end up designing might be informed by the presence of their design, but your design will be much different, because you're you and they're them.

Just my 2¢.


A couple of you have said that - and in the examples I've had, I would partly agree with you, but it depends on what aspect of the game is already "out there".

In example 1, I had designed a board for a game that involves travelling between islands. The mechanic I use when you arrive on those islands is, as far as I've been able to research so far, unique. trouble was, the map I drew to test this on turned out to be identical (properly identical) to Ryan Laukat's Islebound. So the game still stands but it can't happen in the environment I'd intended.

In example 2, I had what I thought was a great idea, in which you collect animal body parts to assemble a hybrid creature, lying picture cards alongside each other to form a mutant of your choice before battling them. Then someone showed me Bears vs Babies which is, basically, that - even the cards looked the same.

With some many games out there and so many thousands more as WIPs, this is inevitable, right? But in those cases above, my ideas need a fundamental rethink!
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Ian Walton
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I should have qualified in my OP what I meant by throw away/shelve/bin!

I never throw ideas and work/drawings/notebooks in the bin (much to my wife's chagrin), but I do put them in a box indefinitely. By coincidence, one of my shelved ideas underwent a Lazarus-like resurrection this very morning when I woke up with the idea that (I think, subject to some testing tonight) may have solved the slow gameplay and low interaction problems that particular game idea was having.

Ha! I said, as I re-opened one of the many boxes and drew out one of many dusty notebooks, ignoring the sounds of Many Eyes Rolling and striding to my desk to pick up where I left off a few weeks ago.

I think where this thread has taken me now is to question the point at which you know the game has reached the Stage Beyond Which It Cannot Go - be that playtesting, blind testing, pitching or whatever, and that's just a matter of listening to feedback, getting plenty of it and making damn sure you've got the best thing you can have before you take it any further. So I will not throw any of my ideas and prototypes away - I will, however, put up some more shelves and buy some more notebooks, to hold the next 10 years of hare-brained schemes!devil
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Ian Walton
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aesthetocyst wrote:
"How many of your ideas should you throw away?"

I'm pretty sure it's somewhere between none and all.

IME, experience breeds more, and better ideas, so at first, the answer is nearer to all. If you keep at it, the answer should start sliding toward none.

Not that it will ever get close to none, especially if you are lucid enough at all times to recognize and count each and every passing spark as an 'idea'.

Hmm, may need a prequel thread. At what point is a thought an idea


I'm glad you've said that - I've lumped lots of different 'things' under the very general category of 'ideas': settings, mechanics, graphics, scenarios, even ways in which players might interact. I'd call all of those ideas, but it doesn't make a game until you can bring a bunch of them together in a coherent way (and even then, it might be boring, slow, frustrating, ambiguous etc).

I have several spare mechanics that I haven't yet found a game 'home' for, but I think that I'm much better than a couple of years ago at tempering that initial rush of excitement with a bit of "now slow down there, let's just see if this is rubbish before we clear the diary"...
 
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Ian Walton
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lacreighton wrote:
What xljedi said. You would be amazed at how often I concluded 'well this just doesn't work', shelved the idea, and then months later, generally while kayaking, which I find really good for this sort of thing, I get a whole new insight.

Wait...wait...if I made the game about *losing* money instead of about *making* money, then all of those objections go away! Where's my phone! I need to dictate something in a hurry!

The assembly-line is my candidate for best-of-civilization for the late 19th and 20th century, beating out antibiotics and electronics and a whole host of other entries. It's great stuff, and exactly what you need if you want to get rid of soul-crushing poverty. But you cannot create in an assembly-line fashion. Creativity is, by definition, not routine.


Yep, agree with both of you on that. As noted in another post here, I put stuff in a box, I don't completely throw it away. And you're right about ideas - I find if I really fix a problem in my mind, then forget about it, a solution will pop in to my head at some point when my mind is in a semi-dormant state (first things/last thing, or in a boring meeting, walking to the shop etc). There's nothing better than that breakthrough moment!
 
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