How To Generate Game Ideas – My Main Method
I’m going to show you a quick method that I use to generate game ideas. It’s something that I’ve been asked about a few times. I think it’s pretty useful in the wider range of game development. Personally, I’ve never actually struggled with game ideas. I’ve always struggled with the problem of having too many game ideas. I always had way too many ideas and not enough time. But talking to a bunch of developers, going to places where they hang out, communicating with them—people on our Discord, people on our email list, people on YouTube—I hear that a lot of them are having trouble coming up with ideas. So I thought I’d share a method that I used when I taught game development in a school for kids with behavior problems.
A couple years ago, I taught a 6-week course on how to make a game. One of the things that we did in one of the early classes was we generated a bunch of game ideas. The kids had behavioral problems so it was very hard to get them to sit down and be creative. They were preoccupied with all kinds of stuff. So I had to come up with a way to get their attention, wherein we could maximize everybody’s creativity and everybody’s input and get the whole room involved. This method works just as well with just yourself —I’ve done it a few times. I’ve done it specifically to generate ideas for actual games because it’s really versatile. It works with many different methods and things of that nature.
The method is pretty simple. You have to get yourself post-it notes. I actually don’t like the slinky kind—they kind of drive me crazy. But those are the ones I ended up with. I would get a few different colors of them, and then what I’d do is simple. I’d take the first color and I’d assign it something like GENRE. This is the genre list. I will use the post-it notes on every genre that I can think of that I’d be interested in. I write as many as I can one after the other, one per post-it note. Then, I hang them all on the wall in a vertical arrangement on a big, wide-open wall.
Start with genre. Then decide on your main character. I do a lot of mobile games that are single mechanic—super simple stuff, so my main character most of time isn’t even a dude; it’d be like a triangle, or cube, or a dog, or a balloon—whatever I feel like. If it’s a story game, it could be something like a fireman or a policeman or Batman or something. I put all of those on a different color in the next vertical column.
For the third column, I’ll do something like an obstacle or an objective. For example, you can do things like defeat the overlord, or escape from whatever. Just list a bunch of stuff that are potential obstacles or potential objectives for the player. You can expand this any way you like. That’s the basic version of what I do.
With those 3 columns you can mix and match all of the different post-it notes in different columns. For example, to make an FPS game take the first post-it note. If you choose a fireman as a hero, take the second post-it note. If you want him to save kids from an evil villain, that’s the last post it note. So now, you have a concept. So that works really well for story idea generation. If you’re making a story game, you can put plot points and stuff on the different post-it notes then kind of mix and match them. It also works really well with just basic stuff. You can also make a column of mechanics that you like.
I prototype a lot of games. So I have, at any given time, 10-15 different single mechanics that I like, that I prototype out. They’re not necessarily games. They don’t have any concepts. They don’t have any art. They don’t have any story to them. They don’t they don’t mean anything.
Sometimes I’ll just list the mechanics in a row and then I’ll try and give them context. I’ll try and give them color schemes, or art styles or whatever it is. So the basic method is pretty simple. It’s just post-it notes in vertical columns. You can mix and match the different pieces of post-it notes. The thing to not get confused here is that it’s not limited to exactly what I said. Genre, character, and obstacle, for example, is a great way to generate a bunch of different actual game ideas, but there are so many different things that you can list.
Sometimes you know the genre you want to start, so listing the genre might not even be necessary. Sometimes you might list the mechanics, or the story, or the story arc of the plot lines, or the journey, or user experience kind of stuff. That’s basically what I do whenever I run out of creative ideas. One of the things I noticed is that it’s not just about the ideas that are on the wall, it’s also about what doing this exercise does to your brain.
When you see all this stuff, your brain starts generating more and more ideas. Your brain just goes in a creative mode because when you’re writing down on a post-it note you can’t see the whole picture, so you’re not going to get lost in that. Like, “Oh that’s a dumb idea, or no I shouldn’t do that”, or whatever. A lot of people, when they’re coming up with ideas, are so critical in their head that they shut themselves down.
When you put all your ideas one by one on post-it notes, it’s a lot easier. You can go through a whole bunch of them. You can list like 10, 20, 30, or a hundred of them in a row and just keep going. You could do that with each piece, and then you end up with an exponential amount of different ideas when you mix and match all the different pieces. That’s something I found really useful. I hope you guys found it useful too. If you did, let me know in the comments, I love to hear from you guys.