We all have great ideas. All the time. More than we could ever pursue.
Way back in ’96, I started telling all my friends about an idea for a game. It would be an RPG dungeon delving game, with lots of procedurally generated content and pretty art. But the BIG idea was designing a software structure that would allow me to sell add-on paks. These packs wouldn’t just contain new monsters and treasure, they would contain code for complex extension of the core game. The dragon pak (for instance) would contain dragons, dragon AI, dragon minions, and code to seamlessly integrate dragon lairs into existing dungeons.
The best thing about the idea (besides prolonging the shelf life of the original product), was that players could choose which paks to add. If you don’t like orcs, just leave out the orc pak. Mix in the add-ons you want to create your own play experience.
So, good idea, right? Obviously, because…
there are many games now that use the idea. I’m thinking of Oblivion and Fallout 3, but there are many games extending their shelf lives though addon paks and/or downloadable content (Sims, World of Warcraft, and the list goes on).
So clearly I had a great idea, and "they" stole it from me, right??
No, of course not. First, my idea was inspired by earlier stuff like roguelikes and the AD&D goldbox games, so I can’t count it as completely new. Second, new technology (the internet and connected consoles and Steam) quickly make a radical idea into a forgone conclusion. But most importantly, I’ve found that there are NO unique ideas. By that I mean, one can never have an idea that never occurred to anyone else.
To have a great idea, and strike it rich, you have to work hard to execute the idea before any of the other people who are simultaneously having the same idea (they are, or they already did). If you don’t, they will.
But there’s a flip side. If others are working on the same idea as you, it doesn’t mean you should stop. Instead it means that your idea is validated; others think it’s a good enough idea to work for, which means your idea isn’t so crazy. You also shouldn’t stop because many, many projects never get finished, usually because of things that have nothing to do with the validity of the original idea. If you’re working on Project X, and two other groups are also working on their own Project X, the odds are good that those two groups won’t finish, or won’t get it right.
Two more examples:
In ’97, an artist I was working with came to me and said, "Let’s do a 3D game about navy SEALS." I shrugged and passed. I wanted to make fantastical games about dragons and spaceships; modern infantry seemed so boring to me. Now, Modern Warfare 2 has just broken all sales records. Boy did I miss THAT boat.
In ’93, I came up with a simple puzzle game called Pipe Ball. It was a hit in the office, and my co-worker asked, "If you don’t sell this game as shareware, can I?" I said I would, but never did, and years later I found out that he tired of waiting and made and sold it himself. People close to me feel the idea was stolen from me, and initially I WAS disappointed that he’d done it. But after all I’ve just written, I’d be a total hypocrite if I really believed I was wronged.
The idea is one thing. But acting on the idea is everything.
"Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."
"I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident. They came by work."
– Thomas Alva Edison