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Selling complete design documents?

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This is a fairly short question, but I need to know the interest of the particular matter before I'll elaborate the whole thing. Is there a market for selling complete design documents for low-budget games to indepentent game developers

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I doubt it, for three main reasons:

1- In the case of a low-budget game, the budget would be spent on the most cost-effective products: graphical or audio assets, and programming libraries, because these are generally the most difficult to come up with. A lone programmer can do game design quite well, but he can't get the art or sounds right on his own.

2- A design document, alone, is almost worthless. A lot of things that sound fun on paper are actually quite unfun when being played, and a lot of the fun in a game comes from tweaking the parameters of the game once it's running. Only a small portion of a design document makes it in the final game, when compared to the amount of design work done during playtesting. People usually need a professional designer not for the initial groundwork (which is both easy and non-essential), but for making the actual on-the-field decisions once half the initial ideas turn out to suck completely.

3- Most of the time, indie developers work for the pleasure of implementing their game idea. Coding isn't fun — it's the realization of one's vision that really matters. Few indie developers would do all the implementation work themselves and pay someone to have fun designing the game.

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Original post by ToohrVyk
I doubt it, for three main reasons:


Quote:

1- In the case of a low-budget game, the budget would be spent on the most cost-effective products: graphical or audio assets, and programming libraries, because these are generally the most difficult to come up with. A lone programmer can do game design quite well, but he can't get the art or sounds right on his own.


That is true, no deny in that.

Quote:

2- A design document, alone, is almost worthless. A lot of things that sound fun on paper are actually quite unfun when being played, and a lot of the fun in a game comes from tweaking the parameters of the game once it's running. Only a small portion of a design document makes it in the final game, when compared to the amount of design work done during playtesting. People usually need a professional designer not for the initial groundwork (which is both easy and non-essential), but for making the actual on-the-field decisions once half the initial ideas turn out to suck completely.


Yeah, but even though you have bought a design document you are still able to change/tweak the entire concept.

Quote:

3- Most of the time, indie developers work for the pleasure of implementing their game idea. Coding isn't fun — it's the realization of one's vision that really matters. Few indie developers would do all the implementation work themselves and pay someone to have fun designing the game.


I know, I was in the phase of starting up my own company devoted to indiegames myself but it's rather harsh to get a company up and running with low financial assets. Buying a complete design document that I like, might save me and the company one or maybe two monthts and that is a very important timespan in the startup-phase of a company.

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Original post by Wixner
Yeah, but even though you have bought a design document you are still able to change/tweak the entire concept.


So, in essence, I'd be buying a large design document, then throw away 90% of it and then spend time re-designing major portions of what's left? Why not start the design directly?

Quote:
I know, I was in the phase of starting up my own company devoted to indiegames myself but it's rather harsh to get a company up and running with low financial assets. Buying a complete design document that I like, might save me and the company one or maybe two monthts and that is a very important timespan in the startup-phase of a company.


There are important distinctions to be made. A typical design document contains concept art, story information, and game design information. Concept art and story information are kept almost in their entirety, unless something goes extremely wrong. However, most indie games do not have large amounts of graphical assets, and the story is generally limited, which means that the vast majority of the design document, for a low-budget game, will be the game design itself.

As I said earlier, initial game design will not save you months. You only need a few day's worth of initial design to get rolling out prototypes. Once the prototypes are done, you generally realize that most of the initial design ideas are abysmally boring or frustrating, even though they sounded fun on paper. Most of your initial design went down the drain, so you had better not paid a lot for it...

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Any good game design is based on the vision of a person or small group of people. This vision can't be "transferred" in a document, the only thing that can be documented is a set of rules and some art that try to convey that idea to others as well as possible. Usually this person/people will be around until the end of the project to act as the vision holder, and continue to make sure the project is unique to the original vision. So the best thing a person would be buying is either a game design with no vision, or an idea. And everybody has ideas that are equally as good as yours, some better.

Commonly, the people who do what you're describing are actually "Design Consultants", who will not just sell a document but will work closely with the team throughout the prototyping phase and then periodically throughout the life of the project. To be taken seriously as a consultant, you generally have to have an impressive resume of game designs and a very strong personality.

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You'll never be able to sell a design document- to anyone. Why should a company be interested in your ideas? Everything a company comes up with will be based on market reaserch, and in the case of Indie developers, as said, they'll want to implement their own vision into the game. There is literally no market for this kind of thing. Besides all that a design document is a living, breathing thing. It will change and be updated by all team members as work on the game progresses- not be written and then looked at as reference like you seem to intend.

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That point about prototyping is so true. I only have time to code when I'm on holiday. So, four times a year I churn out a prototype for a game that's been bouncing around in my head for the past 3 months, only to find out that it's not nearly as fun to play as it was to come up with.
If I'm lucky, it's fundamentally flawed and I can just shrug my shoulders and move on.
If I'm unlucky, it's off because of balancing issues. I have to sink time into fixing the balancing issues in the prototype before I can even judge if it's fundamentally flawed or not.
And in 4 weeks time I'm set to repeat the cycle again. Oh well, coding engines is fun.

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In addition to the reasons above you targeted "low-budget". Even if they did want it they probably wouldn't have any money to pay for it.

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Just look at the Help Wanted threads.
People are struggling to find others to work on their ideas for FREE, now you want them to even pay for it? ;)

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Now, selling a design doc and a fairly complete prototype with few built in assests might be something you could maybe do with luck. Something that would basically allow a group of semi-professonal artists to take and turn around after just a few months of basically finishing the work.
However, such a prototype could likely be easier to 'sell' as something for people to invest in a startup company, or taking to a publisher and saying "Hey, I have this done so far, stable and without art or polish, but look at this demo level, and take a look at some of these tools I've made/aquired for it. Give me some money, time, and some art guys, and we can turn around and sell this as a B game"

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I have no idea about starting up a company, but once again I guarantee you even with a demo you won't sell anything. If you can make a decent demo and design document then go to a company and apply for a job. Things like that look very good in an interview. But unless your Supreme Lord of Designing Games the publisher or developer or whoever will probably just look at you and laugh.

"Hey, I have this done so far, stable and without art or polish, but look at this demo level, and take a look at some of these tools I've made/aquired for it. Give me some money, time, and some art guys, and we can turn around and sell this as a B game"

"What? So? How do I know this appeals to the market? Did you do any research? Form any focus groups? Do you even have any real experience? Sorry, go get Shigeru Miyamato or someone to endorse this and maybe I'll consider it."

You have to be realistic about things like this. The fact of the matter is your not going to get to make your dream game.

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Hey, it worked for the Behemoth with Alien Hominid. They pretty much took the flash demo of Alien Hominid they had made and started showing it to publishers until they got the funding to make a console game.

However, they also had experience in developing for consoles, and a huge amount of positive feedback from their newgrounds release. There are some intersting podcasts and interviews from the Behemoth on gamasutra.com detailing how they got their break.

The team that made Narbicular Drop (and the upcoming Portal), Desert Combat, and of course, Counterstrike, have similar, but not identicle stories. Again though, they had more than just an idea. They had working games, proven ability, and large fanbases.

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Different from what the OP was talking about, yes, but exactly the same as something to "sell" to convince people to invest in a startup company, or take to a puplisher.

Which was from the post you were quoting, not the OP.

"Hey, I have this done so far, stable and without art or polish, but look at this demo level, and take a look at some of these tools I've made/aquired for it. Give me some money, time, and some art guys, and we can turn around and sell this as a B game"

"OK the Behemoth, you've done your homework and have some experience. Here is some money, go make a game."

Hence, it worked for the Behemoth.

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Quote:
Original post by Talroth
Now, selling a design doc and a fairly complete prototype with few built in assests might be something you could maybe do with luck. Something that would basically allow a group of semi-professonal artists to take and turn around after just a few months of basically finishing the work.
Afraid that is a very simplistic view. The code would need to be 100% done, rock solid, with clearly defined specs for the art if your concept were to work. Otherwise there would still be a lot of code work to do. Even with commercial middleware a lot of dev skill is still necessary to get a game done.
Quote:
However, such a prototype could likely be easier to 'sell' as something for people to invest in a startup company, or taking to a publisher and saying "Hey, I have this done so far, stable and without art or polish, but look at this demo level, and take a look at some of these tools I've made/aquired for it. Give me some money, time, and some art guys, and we can turn around and sell this as a B game"
Won't work. Publishers don't fund inexperienced teams, even if they have a demo. As with the Counterstrike guys the game needs to be complete and popular.

Behemoth not only had a completed Flash game (with an established fan base) but they had industry experience and they put a lot of their own money into developing the console versions.

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Original post by Obscure
Quote:
Original post by Talroth
Now, selling a design doc and a fairly complete prototype with few built in assests might be something you could maybe do with luck. Something that would basically allow a group of semi-professonal artists to take and turn around after just a few months of basically finishing the work.
Afraid that is a very simplistic view. The code would need to be 100% done, rock solid, with clearly defined specs for the art if your concept were to work. Otherwise there would still be a lot of code work to do. Even with commercial middleware a lot of dev skill is still necessary to get a game done.
Quote:
However, such a prototype could likely be easier to 'sell' as something for people to invest in a startup company, or taking to a publisher and saying "Hey, I have this done so far, stable and without art or polish, but look at this demo level, and take a look at some of these tools I've made/aquired for it. Give me some money, time, and some art guys, and we can turn around and sell this as a B game"
Won't work. Publishers don't fund inexperienced teams, even if they have a demo. As with the Counterstrike guys the game needs to be complete and popular.

Behemoth not only had a completed Flash game (with an established fan base) but they had industry experience and they put a lot of their own money into developing the console versions.


Well then, don't GO to a publisher if you really don't think it is going to work, (and when I mentioned lacking art, I ment finished art, but everything has atleast a fully animated placeholder. A few cubes that flex and stuff can go a LONG way to show off a game)

Start your own company, and look for investors. We have lovely things like stockmarkets, private investment and other things of their ilk.

Will it be easy? Will you work for a week or two and then be making billions?

Nope.

Could you fail?

Yep.

Then again, you could find out the company you are working for has been cooking the books and is now closing down and laying off all their people tomorrow. Or you could get smucked by a car while sitting in your living room. There is nothing 100% sure in life. Just because you are unlikely to win the lotto isn't a reason to not spend a spare buck or two a week on tickets. Someone has to win after all. With luck, you can too!

(Or fail horribly while we all laugh at you)

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"Won't work. Publishers don't fund inexperienced teams, even if they have a demo. As with the Counterstrike guys the game needs to be complete and popular."

Nuclear Monkey Software, the team behind Narbacular Drop, are an inexperienced team with a demo. After being very impressed with that demo, Valve offered them funding to work on a complete game, Portal, which has generated a fair amount of buzz. Largely surrounding the very idea of it's portal based gameply.

So it probably doesn't often happen, but it does happen. Change "Won't work" to "Rarely works" and "don't fund" to "rarely fund", and you're about right.
Although again, there are a few mitigating circumstances, like Valve's legendary support for the community, and the fact that Valve approached them, not the other way round.

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Quote:

Nuclear Monkey Software, the team behind Narbacular Drop, are an inexperienced team with a demo. After being very impressed with that demo, Valve offered them funding to work on a complete game, Portal, which has generated a fair amount of buzz. Largely surrounding the very idea of it's portal based gameply.


Valve didn't offer them funding, they offered them jobs, and they were college graduates (they graduated with me, in fact). Furthermore, they were trying to get Valve's attention; it's my understanding that they showed a demo of Narbacular Drop during an IDGA session that some Valve guys "happened" to be at. jbourrie might know more. In any case, this is not quite the same thing, and still qualifies as a massive exception to the rule.

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My bad, a news site I read gave me the impression they'd been head hunted.

Still: Small team + Idea + Demo + Publisher = Their game being made.

I'm not saying it's not rare, I'm just saying it happened.

[Edited by - CIJolly on October 3, 2006 5:08:38 AM]

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other exceptions to the rules:

Big Rigs.

anyone remember that 'game'? if so, join me in a moment of silence.

go watch TV on early weekend mornings (not the cartoon networks) and see how many infomercials or whatever they're called you see of crapy ideas that people are actually apparently selling. How did these people get all their money? hard work and all out of their own pockets? Nope, they found their suckers.

you can find your suckers too and get your own half assed version of Bigrigs published too! No one will want to work with you after that, and it will be a lot of work to find the suckers in the first place, but my point is that with 6.something billion people on this rock floating in space, chances are there is one of them with money to put towards your projects, you just have to find them.

Saying there is no way in hell that you are getting your game published unless it is complete in every way shape and form is just walling yourself up. EA doesn't want your fully working 'game' with a single level, and 10minute placeholder models? Take it to MS. They don't want it? Try nintendo. Go through all the major publishers, then break out the yellowpages online and start looking for smaller companies. It is a multibillion dollar industry, with new companies starting and folding all the time.

Then again, the effort you put into finding a publisher to pay you to finish your game may end up being more than finishing it yourself, but thats a risk you take in the business world.

Oh, and a suggestion for finding your funding: Hang out with business students at a university. Because of them, I've met a few people this morning (that is, people with lots of money to invest) and have them really rather excited at simply a game CONCEPT! That is, no design docs, no art, and not even the vaguest idea of where to start coding. They want me to keep in touch with them, and suggested maybe helping me start my own company after I finished my degree. (However, not sure how comfortable I would really be with that, as it kinda sounds like they would more than likely have like 75%+ control of the company, which would suck for me)

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