I’ve got a friend who designs games and his games are good. I don’t mean good as in “hey, dude, good game”. I mean GOOD. I like his games and I’m not even close to their target audience. If I were I’d be drooling at the opportunity to play again. And yet…
And yet my friend doesn’t do anything with his games. He pulls them out occasionally on game nights. He tinkers with them, making small changes that he sometimes reverts. Sure, he’d like to have his games published but…
Maybe he doesn’t know how. Maybe he doesn’t know anything about the business side of game design and he’s scared to find out. Maybe he doesn’t even know where to start finding out.
Perhaps he’s afraid that he’ll be rejected (that’s a given, everyone, even brilliant designers with brilliant designs, get rejected). Perhaps he’s got bad experiences with money, or authority figures or showcasing his work. Whatever it is, it’s stopping him from moving on.
Me, I’ve moved on.
I figured out that I wanted to get my games in print and I didn’t want to do it myself. That left one option open: find a publisher, pitch them my games, get them interested and land a licensing deal. I’m not there yet, but I’ve begun. I’ve got games in the slush piles, I’ve had one-on-ones with publishers, I’ve talked to and learned from other designers. I’m further along than my friend.
Sure, you say, he might not be interested in getting published. Except that he is. He’s talking about it occasionally in a sort of wistful, “wouldn’t it be great if” way. For him getting published is a dream. For me it’s a plan.
I can see the steps I need to take in order to get published. I might encounter steps I haven’t got the faintest clue are there (like a giant tax-troll lurking under the revenue bridge – I’ve encountered that one once and let me tell you he ate all the Billy Goats Gruff). But I always know what the next step is. I can see that, I can act upon it. I know it’s there so I dare to raise my foot and walk.
My friend doesn’t.
There is no other difference between my friend and me. We’re equally good designers (OK, he’s a lot better than I’ll ever be). We’ve got the same type of educational background, the same type of background in gaming. We even like the same type of games and design for similar audiences.
But right now I am a lot further along in my career than my friend. Not because I’m better, not because I’m more skilled, not because I’m more tenacious. I’m further along because I found out what I wanted and what was stopping me from getting it.
I wanted to have my games published. What was stopping me was that I didn’t know how to do that. So I read up. I went to a couple of game designer conventions. I took steps to turn my dream into a reality and the difference between dream and reality is spelled “plan”.
I’ve got a plan. It’s a vague one, full of holes and broken deadlines and empty promises, but it’s there. I’ve got games out on review. I’ve got more games in the making. I’ve got a fistful of publisher’s business cards and a notebook full of analyses of who publishes what and why. I know what my next step should be.
And yet I’m not there all the time. I’ve got a request for a game once I fix what the publisher saw as a fatal flaw. I’ve been working on that for some months now. I should be playtesting it. But I’m not.
I’ve come further than my friend but I’m still stuck. I’m stuck on something completely different: I don’t know how to balance a game using elements that aren’t in it. That is, if I add or remove an element, what will happen? I don’t know. And I don’t know how I should find out.
But at least I’m aware that I’ve got a problem. I can work on that problem, focus on it, narrow it down until I figure out exactly what it is that’s missing.
And then I’ll be able to fix it.