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The Next Big Thing

May 9, 2008

I was once told, “Make a game you love, because nobody will love your game if you don’t.” Whenever I start making a game, or even while I’m making a game, I always ask myself two questions:

1. Do I love this game?
2. Will anyone else love this game?

The first is an easy enough question to answer. Very often, your answer will be yes, simply because you think your game is going to be the next big thing, but don’t jump ahead of yourself and use your assumptions to answer question number two.

The second question can be easily answered by someone with way too much confidence, only to find out that, in fact, no one likes their game. You must keep in mind that while you may be developing a great game, it is not the next big thing until it actually becomes The Next Big Thing. Getting the game done is the first priority, and there’s only one way to make sure people love it: playtest with you in the other room. If you can plop your game down in front of friends or total strangers and have them play it successfully, you have a working game. To have them leave the game smiling is the accomplishment you want to aim for.

So you’ve got your game and you’ve nailed down the mechanics and rules and people can understand it by skimming through the manual or mucking with the controller for a couple minutes. So how exactly do you make this game The Next Big Thing?

Controversy.

Every time a bell rings, an angel earns its wings, and every time you hear the words “Grand Theft Auto IV” on CNN or Fox News, a thousand more copies get sold. Controversy is the cheapest form of advertisement, because you get people who are pissed off at you to inadvertently sell your game. Usually it’s because the people criticizing your game come speak in such an uncivilized and uneducated tone as to alienate themselves from the general public. This is what you want. This is what moves product. This is why GTA4 has raked in over $500 million. They don’t even really need to advertise. Honestly, Rockstar should just cut out their advertising department entirely and let the reporters, concerned mothers, and lawyers do all the selling for them. Just for another example, I’m currently developing a game about Stalin. Do you think I’m not going to put Stalin’s face all over it just because he ruled with an iron fist over Russia for several decades? Hell no. Stalin is the selling point,

Remember that scene in Adaptation after the screenwriting seminar when Nick Cage/Charlie Kaufman is talking to Brian Cox about how he is making a movie only about flowers and wants to show the beauty of flowers, etc. etc. to which Brian Cox responds, “That’s not a movie.” If you’re only making a game about flowers, well, that’s not a game. Not in the public’s eye. A niche market? Cult following? Sure. Will it be the next WoW? God no. It might be a great game. It might be the game you’ve always wanted to make, but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to love it as much as you.

Probably one of the greatest examples of controversy in a game is one Julia is designing. I’m not going to give it away but I’ll just say that every time it comes up, my jaw drops and I crack up at the same time. And it’s not even the same brand of controversy as GTA4. It’s really much more twisted.

So in closing this post, my suggestion to all of you who read this blog (all two of you) is to never be afraid to shock people to sell your game. That’s what free speech is for. The more people you anger, the better your game is going to do. Granted, you can take subtler routes to your controversy as well, if you don’t want to deal with as much hatemail. But when it comes down to it, if you want your game to be The Next Big Thing, you better show us why.

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