Your Watermelon Isn’t Too Big, Your Mouth Is Too Small

This morning, a coworker showed me Your Game Idea Is Too Big, a semi-tongue-in-cheek calculator to show what your game idea will cost. The idea, at least to those in-the-know, is that features can pile up and be multiplicative. @ArchAzrael wrote up a nice critique of it. The essential point the critique makes is that this is telling people cannot make games when they can. I wholeheartedly agree that everyone can make games if they want to. But I have a different perspective.

As an educator, I see students struggle with this every damned day: they have no experience to tell them what a Thing will cost to make, so they just propose that they will make 20 Things because 20 is a respectable number and Call of Battlefield has 20 Things in it and they love that game. They generally do not make the cognitive leap that Infinity Dice has 100 experienced professionals working for ten months where they have one, maybe two folks with no idea what they are doing and a deadline in four weeks. The problem is that there is no a priori way to get a handle on scope. You have to have experience. So 99.99% of students overscope. The deadline sweeps in as it always does. And they fail. Hard.

You want to know what discourages people from being in the games industry? Not people telling them that they cannot do it. But trying, failing and convincing themselves that they cannot do it.

They try to make Call of Duty when they could have made a clever shift on Bust-a-Move. They try to make Skyrim when they could have done a serviceable Jumping Flash platformer. They can have Big Ideas in both of those areas. And those ideas are scope-feasible.  Then, when they understand what goes into making a game more and more… hell yes, shoot higher and higher.

You know what encourages people to continue? Success.

I just signed up for a new gym. There are a shitton of muscleheads in there. Just because I see them bench pressing 300lbs and (suppose) I want to bench press 300lbs, doesn’t mean I should just throw some plates on a bar and go for it. That’s a surefire way to a crushed sternum. Nor should I quit because I cannot bench press 300lbs right this moment. Instead, I should start at whatever I can do. And I can then build confidence, understanding and ability. And work my way up. A little more every month. Then maybe, some day, I’ll reach that goal.

The problem isn’t that features take some thumb-in-the-air Scrooge McDuck vault of money. But neither is it the case that if you can dream it, you can do it right away.

Students ask me all the time about what that extra thing they can do to be noticed or feel like a real designer. I always tell them to stop writing documents and start finishing games. The smaller the better. Go to Game Jams. Join a hacking community. Do something. Then they whine and complain that they are bad programmers (of course you are… you haven’t done a lot of it… you will get better) and need someone’s help to implement their MMO Zombie Apocalypse meets Zelda dream game. And they sit on their Big Idea forever and wring their hands over why they aren’t a big time designer yet.

If you sit on your idea forever because you cannot motivate yourself to make it, then that idea is too big.


2 thoughts on “Your Watermelon Isn’t Too Big, Your Mouth Is Too Small

  1. Your perspective >is< an important one. *nods*

    But it's often lost with phrases like:

    "You can't even imagine the server horsepower blizzard uses, their a multimillion dollar company, you're not"

    "Content gets consumed too quickly to do that"

    "C++ is a hard language, you'll have to learn it to do this"

    I get sick of hearing people provide one line reasons, or some other pedantic metric why people can't possibly accomplish something. It really honks me, because I think the industry is on the verge of exploding beyond the "There's AAA, Facebook, and everyone else" point. But, you're right. In some cases, people's ideas are unrealized because they sit on them too long. I would argue that, thinking big is meaningless unless you're willing to take that first step, no matter how many people scream at you that it can't be done. =)

  2. Luckily, even really big games can be broken down into smaller parts, or even smaller games in their own right. If there’s a particular game design thing you are exploring, it’s perfectly fine to take those small pieces, make them, and then continue exploring, releasing bigger or more intricate variations on that theme. Eventually you’ll have made a great work.

    You can kind of see this in action with a game like Minecraft – it started out as just a test of drawing cubes in a java applet. More and more stuff got added, and there were some overall goals in mind, but each step that was completed was pretty small. Today it’s a monolithic multiplayer system with incredible complexity.

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