Original Ideas, Part 1 - Misconceptions

When talking with many aspiring game developers, I often hear a similar sentiment - “I’d love to make games, but everything has been done already.” If you read that sentence and were just as angry as I am every time I hear it, you probably don’t need to finish this article. For those of you that weren’t enraged, let me explain why any developer (or anyone, really) needs to stop thinking like this.

Let’s start by addressing where people who think there are no original ideas are coming from. I often hear this as an extension of “there are only 7 stories to be told." This is false for a number of reason, but I’ll narrow it down to two here. First, and most importantly, this concept is about and only applies to FICTION NOVELS. We aren’t writing fiction novels, we are writing game universes and mechanics. World building isn’t fiction writing. It can be part of fiction writing, and often is part of good fiction, but it isn’t everything. The second thing that irritates me about this concept is that it oversimplifies what a story is. To understand this, let’s look at what the supposed “7 stories” are:

  1. Overcoming the Monster

  2. Rags to Riches

  3. The Quest

  4. Voyage and Return

  5. Rebirth

  6. Comedy

  7. Tragedy

Just in case it isn’t obvious how much of an oversimplification these stories are, lets look at some examples to really drive the point home. Two of my favorite movies are lord of the rings (we can pick any of them, but let’s just go with Fellowship for simplicity’s sake) and Dogma. The differences between these films are innumerable, but they could both full under the same category. A group of heroes go on a perilous adventure across a continent - a quest. While they both tell “the same story”, the two are so radically different that it feels like a stretch to say they’re the same. Each is it’s own story, and each has a right to be made. This example doesn’t even take into account the fact that many of these stories are very similar, and in no way mutually exclusive. So, we have an infinite combination of these few stories by combining them, changing the setting, and adding subplots.

Another reason people think everything has already been done is because every idea they come up with is inspired by or very similar to something that they’ve already seen/played/read/etc. What they don’t realize is that every creative person gets their inspiration from somewhere. Inspiration is wonderful, inspiration is encouraged. Just make sure it is actually inspiration and not imitation.

Inspiration and imitation are on two sides of a very fine line. Inspiration is something that inspires you to make something unique. Imitation is just on the legal side of plagiarism. If one thing works kind of like something that was already made, it’s inspiration. If everything is exactly the same as something already made except in name or other incredibly minor differences, it’s imitation. Inspiration is amazing, inspiration takes things like Frankenstein and Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and creates stories such as Young Frankenstein and Beauty and the Beast. Imitation is boring, why would someone want to watch Chop Kick Panda, made with an uninspired team and a bare-bones budget, when they could go watch the real Kung-Fu Panda which was made by a professional team and a decent budget?

We’ve covered some common misconceptions about original ideas, and debunked said misconceptions. Hopefully this will inspire you to come up with your own original ideas, regardless of how inspired they are. Next time we’ll cover why I get so frustrated with the “no original idea” attitude.