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I'm a lone programmer with an idea for a game. I believe I can code the mechanics of the game by myself. I do not think I have the expertise, time, or creativity to create the graphics and audio of a marketable game. I have a very good understanding of how to design applications that are loosely coupled to their front ends and I feel I could create the game with an ugly UI.

I was wondering if I were to create a game, would I then be able to sell or license my game to a game development company that has the resources to replace my UI with quality work? If this can work, are there any examples of other people doing it?

I imagine the scale of the game would be a consideration for this approach. A large scale game would probably be more attractive, but there is no way a lone programmer could create it to begin with. A small scale game may not be worth the time for a game development company.

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This has already happened

All Points Bulletin was started by Realtime Worlds. RTW failed to bring it to completion as they went into administration in 2010 and ceased to exist. Reloaded Inc took over, re-releasing the game as APB:Reloaded, a free-to-play team vs team sandbox shooter.

enter image description here

Doing the Unflinching Walk in the city of San Paro

Now, 6 years later they are still developing the game.

Now granted: this has been tough for Reloaded. RTW left the code in a state that is best called "a complete mess". Despite using the Unreal Engine, RTW had used so much custom code that Reloaded has had a very hard time to develop the game because as soon as they touch one thing, three others break. They have struggled for over two years now to try to replace the old 3.0 customized Unreal Engine with a standardized 3.5 UE, so they can do some actual work on the game without breaking it every time.

Thankfully that work now seems to be coming to a close, as they have gone into a beta release (or "soft launch") of the XBox One version, based on the new(er) Unreal Engine.

So yeah, it is feasible. But do not expect it to be an easy ride.

As for the core of your question:

I was wondering if I were to create a game, would I then be able to sell or license my game to a game development company that has the resources to replace my UI with quality work? If this can work, are there any examples of other people doing it?

You are kind of missing the point here. Coding is not the issue. Development of the game involves so much more than that. What you are selling is not the code, you are selling the concept of the game... the intellectual property that is the game.

Is this possible?

Oh yes... just look at Portal. Not only did Valve buy the concept, they even hired the programmers that made the predecessor freeware game that demonstrated the concept, Narbacular Drop.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ APB was not developed by a single developer and it was a completed game (albeit flawed) when the next developer took over. It was not developed with the intention to be sold to be completed. It was a failed MMO that was taken over by a new group. \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelHouse Jun 20 '16 at 22:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Byte56 Calling APB "completed" in the state it was left by RTW would by like the Ryugyong Hotel the same thing, just because you could sleep there if you bring your own tent bed and a sleeping-bag. In any case that was not the point... point was: can a company take over an incomplete game and finish it? Answer: yes. APB:Reloaded is large example of that happening. Portal is (sort of) another. And this can of course be scaled down as well. \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelK Jun 21 '16 at 6:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, it's obviously subjective, and you're presenting it as fact. Either way,. one team of developers taking over a failed game or some developers being hired to make a new game with the same mechanic is not the situation OP is asking about. The ideas or concept of a game cannot be owned, portals are not intellectual property. So, they cannot be sold. \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelHouse Jun 21 '16 at 14:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Byte56 Actually it can. Or it can be agreed upon. Intellectual property can be warded. \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelK Jun 21 '16 at 14:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ An example of that actually happening would be great. We're not talking about the assets of the game, just the concepts (like portals). \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelHouse Jun 21 '16 at 15:51
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Anything is possible, but the situation you describe is highly improbable. Software developers rarely like picking up where someone else left off, and are much less likely to pay for that opportunity.

However, you might be able to create a technical demo to try to pitch your game. Either to gain the funds (via crowdsource or otherwise) to hire developers yourself, or to gain the attention of a publisher who might hook you up with a development company. Either way, it's likely the game will be rewritten from scratch.

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This is technically possible. You can take any game you've created and sell it or license it out or engage in a contract with somebody else to extend or to finish it (provided you own the right to do so for all code and assets you used, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera).

In practice, however, this is unlikely to work out for you. Generally companies already have plenty of their own ideas and projects to develop, or are paid to develop somebody else's idea or game rather than paying for it themselves.

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