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Off The Record: Coming Up with the Idea

Ever since we started creating Toxic Potato, people have asked, more than any other question, how we came up with the idea.

I’ve thought about that question a lot and think the answer applies to just about any new idea in just about any industry.

I think there is a misconception that ideas just come to you like a lightning bolt from the sky.

In my experience, ideas are more of a byproduct of experience than anything else. If you want to have a great idea about something, live in that space for awhile and once you understand what works and what doesn’t, the ideas will start flowing.

So if you are looking to make your first game (or any other idea), here is the framework that we used that eventually led to the idea of Toxic Potato (and a bunch of other games we have in the works).

1. Know Yourself – Why are you doing this?

A lot of people want to create a new game, but I don’t think they spend the time to ask themselves why. I have seen two types of people here:

  1. One-time deal – Are you super passionate about tabletop games and want to create something, but you aren’t looking to turn it into a full-time business? Are you okay if your project doesn’t “take off” and your audience mostly consists of family and friends seeing your work?
  2. Full-time business – Are you looking to start a business making games? Are you prepared to deal with the marketing, finance, production, and logistics that will go into making your company grow in the long run?

Figure out which camp you are in before you get started and be realistic about what it will take to turn an idea into a reality.

For Mak and me, we have been running small businesses for years and wanted to move into the tabletop gaming space because we love to play games.

Understanding that was our goal from day 1 made a big difference when it came to our idea generation.

2. Know Your Audience – Where do you fit in the market?

    The tabletop gaming space is huge! There are about a million different ways that you can go with your game, so it is imperative that you know who you are making this/these games for.

    If this is a one-time deal and you don’t plan on making more games after this, the possibilities are endless. You probably have a favorite game type (strategy, rpg, party, etc.) and should put your energy into that niche.

    If you are planning on releasing more games in the future, think through who your target audience is.

    The last thing you want to do is create a game that appeals to one audience and then switch to a completely different audience when you release game two.

    Mak and I are a split family haha. I like to play strategy games like Settlers, Ticket to Ride, Risk, etc. Mak doesn’t enjoy those types of games and wants fast-paced, quick games where you can play several rounds (which I also enjoy).

    We play a lot of games with family and wanted to make games that we could play with older kids, but that would still be really fun to play with adults only.

    So we decided our company will release games that are fun for kids and adults, quick to play, and family friendly.

    Maybe down the road we will jump into more long, strategy games, but for the foreseeable future our audience knows what types of games we will be releasing.

    3. Research, Research, Research – Play the types of games you want to create.

    Now that you know what type of games you want to create, spend time actually playing those types of games.

    There is no better way to come up with ideas for a game than to play a bunch of games that already work in your market.

    So explore a lot of different options: we watched dozens of gameplay tutorials, bought and played new games suggested from friends, read reviews on other games, etc.

    I’m not joking when I say we have spent hundreds of hours just seeing what works in our corner of the market.

    And guess what, we came up with dozens of different ideas for games and mechanics that we liked from other games.

    Since we knew we wanted our games to be very simple, we thought of some of the simplest games that we loved to play growing up: go fish; old maid; rock, paper, scissors; and hot potato (of course).

    From there our goal was to come up with a way of taking the simple idea of the base game (i.e., passing a potato before the timer went off) and applying different game mechanics or rules to it that would make the game super fun.

    From that point it was just a matter of narrowing down the list.

    4. Play Test – Get your idea out for people to try.

    Now that you have a list of ideas, sit down and write out the rules. You will quickly realize that there are several things that will keep an idea from working and narrow down your list.

    We probably passed on ten different game ideas by just writing down the rules and realizing that the mechanics weren’t that great.

    The rules shouldn’t be set in stone, but get them to a point that you can try playing the game.

    Now, play test the game. Find some people that you trust and just try it out. You will know more about the potential of your idea from just playing the game than any other thing you can do.

    Our first experience playing Toxic Potato was so painful. There were so many things that didn’t work with the mechanics.

    But we could see that the base idea could be something really fun once we started refining the game.

    Plus, that base idea would meet all our requirements from step 2 once we eventually finalized the rules.

    So from there we play tested about a million times to refine the game and prove out the idea.

    Once we reached a point where we stopped needing to add, modify, or change the rules to make the game work, we sent out a rough prototype to people in our target market.

    That group helped us clarify instructions, anticipate questions that would come up, and modify some of the rules to make the game clearer.

    At the end of the whole process, we knew we had an idea that worked. Now we could get to work on turning it into a reality!

    Coming Up with an Idea Conclusion

    In our experience, coming up with an idea is more of a process than it is a single moment.

    If you know why you are creating a game, who you are creating it for, and spend time playing those types of games, you will have a decent sized list of ideas.

    From there it is a matter of separating the good ideas from the bad ones through play testing, refining, and play testing some more.

    By the end of that whole process, you will have your final idea that is proven out and ready to move on to the next step: the game creation.

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