Ideas are super-cheap: a dime a dozen or so they would have you believe. But regardless of the actual value of creatives’ ideas, the quantity supplied is much greater than the market’s demand (this being the number and scope of ideas actually implementable). So how do developers decide which ideas are worth transacting? There are three models:

1. Authoritarian

Some central figure decides what is right and what is wrong. This is the one where the lead designer or executive producer says “Because I Said So”. Apple’s Steve Jobs uses this to great market success. This is likely successful because the ideas that Jobs finds palatable resonate with the public so well. You are very lucky if you share that quality with Mr. Jobs.

Pros:
Team wastes little time arguing and money researching.
Singular vision.
It’s easy.

Cons:
Junior folks are left out of the decision-making process.
Risk that the authority is wrong.
No buy-off from line folks can mean uninspired implementation.
Can cause bad blood.

2. Scientific

You do a study and use the results of the study to validate ideas. Playtests are a form of this in the game industry. A problem with this approach is understanding how granular your research must be.Do we test what color the submit button is? Or how about the entire genre of the game? In doing research you have to present multiple options, so this often leads to having work thrown away. This can be expensive if the research is too broad.

Also, there is the risk that your method for measuring preference is unsound. Often times, customers don’t know what they want until you give it to them. You can’t count on market research for creativity because most often these reports come back with “bigger, better, shinier” instead of resonating with innovative and scary ideas.

Research is expensive and takes time. Groups can always say “We will do research when we get to an appropriate point and then make a decision,” but more often than not that point never reaches and the group defaults back to an authoritarian model. “Oh well, we didn’t have time to try it out; let’s just go with Proposal A.”

Pros:
Decisions are based on quantitative results.
No arguing.

Cons:
Expensive.
Difficult to do correctly.
Can’t create innovation on its own.
Often subjects don’t know what they really want.

3. Collaborative

Groups of creatives get together and riff off each other to figure out what is best. The difficulty with this method is that consensus has to be reached. If everyone wants to be the authority, this cannot work. And since ideas are so personal, treading wrong can cause a lot of dissonance and hurt feelings. Your team has to gel well together to create collaboratively. They also have to be willing to be accountable for other people’s risky ideas. That’s tough in a lot of organizations.

Pros:
Most organic and innovative model.
Ideas can build off of each other leading to real discoveries.

Cons:
Groupthink.
Difficult to successfully mediate differences unless the team is balanced well.
Group may never reach consensus.
Can take significant courage, time and energy.

The best method is likely some combination of the three tailored to your project and your team members. I realize that is a bit of a cop-out, but I have been part of teams using all three and each has had their successes and grand catastrophic failures.


PS – I’m getting tired of having to update the Games Industry Death Toll post every day, people. Can you just stop publicly releasing people and sneak them out the back door so we can pretend that the economy isn’t completely broken?