In late 2015, Jeff Cornelius left me a challenge in the League of Gamemakers Facebook group: “If you make a game about mermaids,” he said, “I’ll publish it.”
Well, shoot. Talk about a walk in the park. Make a game about a thing I’m already incredible excited about? I’m in.
And that’s where Undine was born. From Jeff’s suggestion, the game bloomed into a tile-laying picking-up-and-deliver epic, featuring gorgeous Mermeeples, gold-leafed tiles etched into clamshell shapes, and watercolor-inspired art. The problem, of course, is that this all existed in my head.
Now, let’s be fair. I’m in the middle of moving, and prototyping is the last thing on my mind (that honor goes to getting the final box unpacked already), but I’ve probably spent a solid 40 hours talking about Undine on my way to and from work, taking my meager box of small tiles to game conventions, and chit-chatting with total strangers about how, “It’s really gonna be so cool…when I make it!”
That’s when I came across this article from Jessica Abel and started looking into the concept of Idea Debt. Her article read like a checklist of things I was going through! And if the game designers I run with are any example, it’s widespread in the industry. We all have dozens of ideas to chew through over lunch, a handful of pet projects we’ve spent hours ideating, and a drawerful of alpha prototypes.
It’s all well and good to think things through – Michael Domeny wrote a great article about the power of incubation here – but when it comes to holding onto super cool ideas that don’t feel right for you right now, it’s time to let it go! Remember last year when I talked about pitching, publishing, or getting off the pot? It’s time to do the design version of that.
THAT THING THAT’S BEEN KICKING AROUND YOUR HEAD FOR A FEW MONTHS? STOP TALKING ABOUT IT AND MAKE IT REAL.
TIRED OF LOOKING AT THE SAME OLD ALPHA PROTOTYPE YOU SCRIBBLED OUT? MAKE TWEAKS AND UPGRADE IT.
AND THOSE IDEAS YOU’VE BEEN DRAGGING AROUND FOR YEARS? IT’S OKAY – REALLY, I PROMISE – TO JUST LET IT GO.
Abel suggests breaking down your “someday” list into actionable steps and then actually doing them. But you can do much more than that to actually get your thoughts onto the table:
1. Write down a list of publishers you could take your idea to. Making a tangible goal can help you push to get your idea out.
2. Bring on a partner or find a feedback group. Maybe you need input from others to take your idea to the next step.
3. Consider how your game idea would look in other media. Maybe it’s not actually a board game, it’s a novel or screenplay or comic.
4. Take some of your ideas, and mash them together. What would a mermaid tile-laying game look like mixed with a resource management game? Christina Major hit on mashups in Farmpocalypse Pirate Ninjas: Making Mash-up Themes Work.
5. Do something else. (As Michael points out, your brain needs something to work on!) Just, and this is key, make sure you intend to come back and work on it.
And if you let your idea go? Don’t sweat it. Maybe later, it’ll be time to revisit your old ideas. And in the meantime, step up the designs you are working on. That way, next time you’re out to lunch, you’ll talk about the rad new publisher you’re working with and not the same game idea you’ve been talking about for weeks.