Idea to Thing: The Idea Part

We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.

Since I don’t have anything new to talk about on the Cinemechanix front right now (I’m in the process of implementing all the things I’ve already talked about), I’m going to spend at least a few posts musing about the “idea debt” concept I rationalized my way out of believing in a few posts ago. I ended by suggesting that maybe there was “good idea debt” and “bad idea debt,” which isn’t hard to translate into the idea of an “idea investment.” From there the trick is deciding which are good investments and which ones are shitty default swaps that threaten to collapse the world economy (or at least waste your time).

In order to talk about “idea investments” (possibly including examples of my own often-terribly misguided day-trading), I think I first need to go through a rundown of how an idea goes from an initial concept to an actual product (and therefore actual money). It’s kind of like that “How A Bill Becomes A Law” Schoolhouse Rock cartoon, but Bob Dorough won’t return my phone calls and all of my artists friends hung up on me when I offered to pay them in nickels and glory, so instead of a delightful cartoon and a catchy little song, we’re going to have to make due with the glorious magic of text.

Before you can turn an idea into a product, you have to have an idea. This may sound obvious, but I’ve met a surprising number of people who don’t understand how crucial this step is. “I want to design a game/write a novel/create art/start a band,” they’ll say. “Oh really,” I’ll ask, hoping that feigning interest in their (almost certainly) dumbass idea will make them more likely to buy some games. Sometimes they’ll tell me their idea, which is usually “like D&D, only BETTER!” Other times, though, they’ll stare at me like a Kardashian trying to solve a calculus problem and say something like “hmmm, I don’t really know, but I’d really like to [do whatever]” Then they’ll start drooling on themselves or telling me about their RIFTS character and I’ll question my life choices.

Anyway, the point is that you can’t make an idea investment without first having an idea. It doesn’t have to be a good idea, or an original idea or even a non-moronic idea (see last week’s blog), just an idea. The first step is having the idea. Sometimes an idea comes from wanting to create your own version of the things you like (QAGS), sometimes it comes from a random thing that catches your attention (Sharktoberfest), and sometimes it just pops into your head for no easily-explainable reason (American Artifacts). A lot of my favorite Hex products came about because we were sitting around talking about something completely unrelated to gaming and someone said “hey, we should turn that into a game!”

Now, if you just have an idea and immediately try to turn it into something you can sell to people, you’re probably in for a bad time. Not all ideas are workable. The first test is whether it leads to other ideas. If you think (or someone says) “this should be a game” and are immediately compelled to start thinking or talking through the idea, you may have a worthwhile idea on your hands. If you immediately get distracted by other things, it’s probably not very compelling and chances are that you’ll forget all about it before you get started.

Of course, just because you start thinking or talking about an idea doesn’t mean it’s one worth pursuing. People think and talk about and even do stupid shit all the time. If they didn’t we never would have gotten “Ate My Balls” pages or the Hamster Dance in the early days of the internet. That’s why just spending time thinking about your idea when it first comes to you doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea. If you start working on it at this stage, you might end up with “Ted Raimi Ate My Balls.” That’s not something the world needs (or is it?)

That leads to the second test: time. If you wake up the next morning and don’t remember the idea or find yourself asking “what the hell was I thinking?,” the ide probably isn’t worth pursuing. If it still sounds like a good idea in the cold, hard, sober light of day and you’re still interested, you can move on to the next step, which we’ll discuss next week.

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