So, I am very interested in making great games that the consumers will love, but I am not the best at programming or art, and I don't have a team. If I show that my ideas can bring in a steady stream of profit, will big game companies like Ubisoft hire me and give me a team to develop them?
will big game companies like Ubisoft hire me and give me a team to develop them?
Having worked as a game designer at Ubisoft for 10 years: no, they will not.
The role you're describing is what we often call the "idea person" - it's a common belief among players and folks outside the game industry that there's someone like this as the seed/leader of many game projects, but it's not a real position that exists in actual game companies.
The closest parallel might be a "Creative Director", but this differs from the role you describe in a few ways:
The creative director does not come up with all the ideas for a game. Their role is to lead the team and curate the artistic vision of the experience. The game pitches they work on, even if they become the most visible champion of them, are frequently workshopped by teams of people, and informed by high-level directives from the company leadership / marketing & business analyses, etc.
Even in "auteur" -focused games with famous household-name creatives like Hideo Kojima or Sid Meier headlining them, I'd be willing to bet that many if not most of the specific ideas and solutions in those games arose from the collaboration of the whole development team, supported by their creative leadership but not dictated/micro-managed (at least, if they're good creative directors 😉)
The way I put it to my game design students: as the number of people working on your team increases, the probability that you have all the best ideas drops toward zero. A great designer or director recognizes this, and knows how to collaborate with their team to get the best work from everyone. I like to use the analogy my role as a designer as an "idea shepherd", tending to the team's flock of ideas, guiding and grooming them into a harmonious ensemble, and occasionally putting down those ideas whose time has passed.
A creative director I worked with at Ubi described the role as shining a spotlight, highlighting a wedge of possibility space for us to explore as a team. Too narrow a beam, and we spend too much time course-correcting as we zig-zag in and out of the target, making little forward progress. Too broad, and the game is aimless and lacking coherence. Finding that balance and communicating/motivating the team to explore it together is the CD's role. Charting the specific course for how to explore it is something entrusted to the experts who make up the team.
No one is hired directly into a creative director role. Unless you're founding your own studio and appointing yourself that role, it's something you work up to over years. Not just by having good ideas, successful solutions, and shipping popular/profitable games, but also by demonstrating skills in managing and leading teams, collaborating with specialists from all departments, successfully championing projects through the corporate/editorial hierarchy, and in some cases being an effective public spokesperson for the game at things like conference reveals and community events.
So, there's a lot more to it than having good ideas. There are many folks who have at least a few ideas with a tonne of potential, who could never lead a successful team to execute on them. So just showing up with a great idea isn't enough to convince anyone to hand you the reins to a team and the budget to fund it. You need to build a track record, reputation, and trust over years of work in the industry.
Many folks who eventually work their way into design leadership roles - either as directors or lead designers and the like - start smaller. They might be hired as a junior designer focused on smaller-scale tasks like updating documentation or tuning a specific feature, or a level designer tasked with laying out and scripting play scenarios, or even a QC tester working in tandem with developers to find and diagnose bugs. Then through experience, they gradually move up the ranks as they grow their skills, develop a track record and rapport with their teams, and demonstrate their ability to collaborate with and lead fellow creators.
Jumping straight to the helm of a game is mostly a fluke of luck for the few successful indies, or a historical artifact for folks who happened to be at the right place at the right time in the early days of the industry. It's not really a career path you can plan for.
It's also important to point out that ideas are not in short supply. Everyone who's ever touched a game has dozens of ideas they're sure could be immense hits - and perhaps many of them could be, with the right execution. But it's that execution that makes the game a success, not really the idea. Most game ideas suck - including yours, and mine. "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy". Turning the seed of an idea into a successful game is the hard part, and that requires team collaboration and iterative refinement. I've never seen a game that went straight from pitch to player's hands unchanged. What game studios need are people who can get their hands dirty in that collaborative process of iteration to make an idea into a good game, not just more ideas.
So: what can you do instead with your ideas and enthusiasm for games? If getting hired just for the strength of your ideas isn't in the cards, what else can you try?
Make your own games. It doesn't matter if you're "not the best at programming or art" - even the folks who are the best in the biz today didn't start that way. They worked their way there through practice.
Just start small: your first game will not be your dream game. Pick something tiny in scope to match your current level of skill - maybe re-implement a classic arcade game, then for an extra challenge, try adding your own new twist. If you're not confident in your art, use free art packs, or pick a game that doesn't depend on fancy visuals. If you're not confident in your programming, try using templates/assets that let you remix common building blocks, or node-based scripting tools like PlayFab/Unreal Blueprints.
If you run into snags, this site and other game development communities are here to help you.
If your first attempts end up bad/not fun, don't be discouraged: that's entirely normal. There's a saying in the games industry, "your first ten games will suck, so get them over with as fast as you can". Each attempt, even unsuccessful, will teach you more, and you'll quickly build up a foundation of skills that will allow you to tackle more challenging problems.
Join game jams. These are short (usually free) events where folks try to make a new game from scratch in a weekend/week/month (depending on the jam). The games are often experimental and just for fun, so the stakes are low and it's easier to jump into than interviewing for a paid position right away. Some jams will have matchmaking services to help pair up lone contributors with teams they can help.
This will help you get experience making games with other people, practicing the collaborative skills I emphasized above, and getting used to the iterative process of going from initial spark to playable build. They also let you test out ideas that might be too unproven to throw a budget behind right away. And they can help you make connections to other creators who might be able to help you find paid positions, and you'll build up a portfolio of game creations you can use when promoting yourself and demonstrating your skills to employers.
Support other creators. Don't expect to jump straight to being the creative boss. Maybe you can find indies or hobbyists in your communities who need playtesters and feedback, or community moderators for fan discussion sites/Discords. Maybe you can find a paid role as a QC tester or intern at an existing studio, and work your way up. You might not get to work on your own ideas right away, but by being a good collaborator you can earn greater trust and responsibilities (if the company has good professional development paths).
Go to school. This isn't for everyone, and it's not a guaranteed ticket to the industry, nor a requirement to be a good game developer. But some folks find a structured learning environment to be helpful in developing their skills, and the diploma/degree you get and the portfolio you develop along the way to be a useful way to prove yourself to potential employers - or at least get past the initial HR/recruiter filter.
Just beware of predatory programs that use the hype around games to lure students, teach them a superficial sampling of game-related tasks, then set them loose without ever developing a deep specialization in any one department that would be enough to get hired at a big studio. If you want to be a game or level designer, look for a program specific to design, with the majority of courses in the program map being about that specialty (shameless plug - the Bachelor of Game Design program I teach in at Sheridan College is one I'd consider to be a good example in this regard). If you want to be a 3D artist, look for a dedicated 3D modelling/animation program. If you want to be a programmer, look for a dedicated computer science program. A "royal sampler" program that's just 1-2 years and offers a sprinkling of everything should be a red flag.
There are a few aspects to this situation.
- Video game companies usually have a large backlog of unused ideas.
- The hardest part of making a video game is not coming up with the idea, but implementing it well.
- Most video games never make a profit, so even among established teams there's no way to tell if their next product will be commercially successful or not.
So for #1, the industry generally does not have a position for a person who "just has good ideas". The closest it comes to this is probably Creative Director. These people might have the idea to start with, but it is then their job to guide the development team along the way to make sure it stays true to their vision. It's a hard job, and people who have it usually get there by having other production roles first.
On #2, since there are tons of ideas hanging around already, the real issue is finding good people to put on the implementation team. As mentioned there needs to be a Creative Director to guide the production, but that's loads more work than "having good ideas".
Which brings us to #3. Even someone who's already proven they can make successful games isn't successful every time. When there is a new idea, even from someone who has a proven track record, it has to go through a rigorous process to be vetted for full production. This involves a lot of steps, including early prototyping and various checkpoints along the way. So there's no real way for someone outside the industry to prove their ideas will be successful, because not even industry veterans are always successful.
Just as an example, Supercell, maker of the amazingly successful Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, Hay Day, Boom Beach and Brawl Stars, makes lots of games that fail. Their process includes a long period of "soft release" where the game isn't out in all territories where they test it to see if it has good enough KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to be a viable product.
Here's some information on them: https://www.gamesindustry.biz/supercells-killed-games-celebrating-lessons-not-failures
Since its founding nearly 10 years ago, Supercell has fully launched five mobile titles including Brawl Stars -- a surprisingly small number for such a successful company. I was told that, not including the studio's live titles, Supercell typically has between four and six games in development at any given time, and sometimes as many as eight. With only five total full launches, that's a lot of killed games.
I've personally played Rush Wars and Everdale, both Supercell games that didn't make it through the soft release process. So even one of the most valuable game companies still makes games that don't reach commercial success.
In closing, I'll share a bit about my story. I joined the industry in 2000 as a programmer/designer. My job was to design and program Shockwave games for browsers, about one per month. So I did have a position where I came up with ideas. But I still had to get each one approved by the producers before being given the go ahead to start production. Each game was made by me and one artist.
Over the years, I did lots of various programming jobs, with occasional design work. My goal had always been to be a game designer. But it look a long time to convince companies I worked for that I should be one. Good programmers are always in short supply. Eventually I landed this design job on Dead by Daylight in 2018, and I've been on that project ever since. Even so, every idea I come up with has to be vetted by at least the Lead Designer, sometimes also the Game Director before it can go into production.
So even as a live balance designer, I would not consider myself "the one with ideas". A large part of my job is not just coming up with things to update, but documenting them, communicating them to the rest of the team, and monitoring data on their performance once they go live.
None of this is intended to discourage anyone. It's just that it's easy to have the wrong impression of how ideation actually works inside the industry.
People sometimes have the belief the idea is the most important part of making a creative work successful, whether that be book, movie, video game, or something else. More often than not, the people who push this belief haven't gone through the process of building and selling a Creative Work. I feel that this often stems from a few assumptions:
- A bad idea can't be made into something good.
- You can accurately gauge the worth and viability of an idea before trying it out.
- The most memorable parts are always from creative vision and NEVER from problem solving.
All the above beliefs are wrong. I could lecture about why, but that's really boring and opinionated so instead I'll give some real world examples.
A bad idea can't be made into something good.
Once upon a time a writer was in an argument with a stranger on the internet about whether the idea or the execution mattered more. The writer argued that the idea didn't matter, only the execution while the stranger argued the exact opposite. They went back and forth until the writer said, "Give me the two most incompatible ideas you can think of and I'll write a story using them". The ideas given were Pokémon and the Ancient Roman Legion.
That was the story behind how Jim Butcher wrote the Codex Alera series.
You can accurately gauge the worth and viability of an idea before trying it out.
Way back in the 1990's, Blizzard Entertainment was working on the game Diablo. When working, management came to the team with two requests:
- Change the graphics from Claymation to 3D models.
- Change the combat from turn-based to active.
The first change they didn't have problems with. However, they vehemently were opposed to the second change. Management kept pushing them to change so they decided to make a prototype so they could prove to management that it was a terrible idea. Once they built the prototype, the developers discovered that the active style was way more fun than the turn-based style. They've kept this active style for the series to this day.
The most memorable parts are always from creative vision and NEVER from problem solving.
The idea for Plants vs. Zombies came about because when they were building a tower defense game, they needed something that player wouldn't expect to be able to move when placed (Plants) and something dumb that came in waves (Zombies). Creepers in Minecraft were made because of a bug. YouTube started off as a dating site where singles communicated through videos. The dating part didn't do well, but they realized that they had an excellent video sharing site. These days, everyone uses YouTube.
TL;DR With over 15 years in the video game industry, I can tell you: there are no jobs for idea people. Ideas are not valued as much as ability to execute and perform. Your best best: go to school and get a game design or software engineering degree (with a focus on gameplay programming if possible), or learn enough programming to do everything yourself (except art, almost everyone outsources art). There's tons of opportunity, with free or cheap online classes, stuff you needed to commit a four year program to access just a decade ago. There are tons of tools, including incredible game engines that would have cost thousands to license just a decade ago. With little to no programming skill, you can get your ideas made on your own, or at least with minimal assistance. That is how you best show your ideas have value.
Idea people are only team members with the power and/or respect to have their ideas listened to. The "easiest" way to get there without design or programming skill is get loads of money to start your own company. This is also the easiest way to lose loads of money and make a name that no one wants to work with. Of course, this is actually only easy for people born into loads of money. Also, making people do your ideas instead of theirs is a great way to get people to never want to work with you again.
So, you don't have money or family to force doors open for you, then what?
Well, get honest with yourself. What do you really want out of being "the one with ideas"? Is it fame, like Sid Meier, having your name in the title? Is it power, being able to tell people how to make the game of your dreams? Is it money, to make millions from your ideas and you live a life of luxury? Or is it something that's hard to name other than "fun," you simply want to make games because you love games and a creative passion to make them for others to enjoy?
Of those, only the last one is a good reason to get into the game industry. You will find more fame pursuing front-of-camera entertainment, like acting, politics (at least if you're American), or "content creator." You'll find more power pursuing business, a legal career, or politics. You'll find more money in every single tech industry that's not games, also politics (if you have no morals).
Real talk: your passion is real and powerful and important. Also, nearly everyone in games has that same passion (or at least they did when they started). Your ideas are real and have immense potential. Also, almost every one in games has hundreds of ideas they want to make, too. Passion and ideas are not enough. They are not valuable. You also cannot thrive by making your passion or your ideas more important than everyone else you work with (unless you have the money, power, or fame to get away with it, even then, that rarely goes well for long).
One path (my path as example) is to get your foot in the door, tester most likely. Then beat the odds and make full time. Then get into production, likely as an associate or line producer. From there, you can leverage your experience to do more design tasks, but you're already in the room hearing ideas. Whether you are welcome to contribute significantly will vary widely from team to team and company to company.
This was me. I did great, even found a niche in narrative design. I wrote scripts for games, including big hitters like Disney and EA! Even then, I wasn't "the one with ideas." Much of the gameplay and locations had been decided. I mostly connected existing ideas. And due to experience and connections, I finally made my dream as Creative Director for a startup publisher after 13 years. I was the guiding force for all our projects. Despite being "the one with ideas," I couldn't responsibly force others to take them. My team also had ideas, and I wanted their ideas heard. This was good otherwise they never would have hired me despite our history together. Our partners also had ideas, and we all wanted to respect our partners. My job was mostly: suggest, massage, collect, and collaborate.
Also: I couldn't code. So my ideas were always translated by someone else, usually lots of someones. I performed well and all my coworkers liked my work, but I was deeply dissatisfied that I couldn't make my ideas happen. I couldn't show anyone what those ideas were; only tell; only explain. When the company folded in less than two years (due to financials mishandled by our parent company, not because of our work; this is extremely common) I went back to school to learn programming. It's never too late. But then that changed my life. I also discovered a whole work world of competent people managers, with work-life balance and 2x pay rates unheard of in games. So, I haven't gone back to games and now I have skills valuable outside of games. Honestly, some fair amount of burn out watching people chase money over fun has been a big factor in not rushing back.
In my day, testers were rarely outsourced, so it was an easier way in. These days, the way in is more likely with a degree in programming or design, or a portfolio that communicates accomplishment with making your ideas reality. A good intern program at a school is super helpful, too. Without at least some of that, its unlikely you'd get hired at all. On the other hand, it's also much easier for a single person to make and publish a multi-platform game these days. So really ask yourself, is your goal to work at a big company or to make your ideas into games? It feels good the first few times, your name buried in the credits. It's real magic when you're on a small team, but riskier with less pay. By yourself (maybe a partner or two for coding help and/or art at some point), you get almost complete freedom for almost no pay.
Perhaps the best way to become an idea person these days is to learn programming and/or design (most artists are not as highly valued) and put out games with any of the free-to-use/easy-to-develop game engines. When its just you, you're automatically the idea person. You have to be, which can be a drawback with so much pressure and so little certainty.
If you are extremely lucky, you could have a multi-million dollar hit and your pick of jobs. Congratulations, you're "the one with an idea" that made millions, more importantly, you're a game designer with a proven hit. You probably won't be the idea person, not with only one hit, but a few years more hard work anywhere might get you into that position.
If you are just lucky, you make a game that pays the bills. Congratulations, you're still an idea person. More importantly, you're a game designer that doesn't have to worry about food (at least for however long that game can pay your bills). This could get you a job, probably low to mid level, so you won't be "the one with ideas" for a while. Maybe you could find a niche quickly, like narrative or UI/UX and command ideas with a limited scope from there.
Again, those are very rare. Most likely, you'll have learned valuable skills that will let you get better on the next project. This can be true even you publish and no one ever buys it. This can be true even if you give up on the project entirely! This won't likely get you a job on its own, but it makes a good portfolio addition.
Still, even being extremely lucky, a massive company like Ubisoft is not likely to hire you for your ideas. They might want you for your experience and skill, but not your ideas. If your game was a big enough hit, with continued profits (aka monetization), someone might offer to buy you out and then you could negotiate a directorship. Maybe. Most likely, you just have a better resume than most can hope for. Your best path would be to invest in what is now your own company, and keep putting out the hits. Which is still extremely difficult, even if its just sequels. But it ensures you remain the one with "ideas."
If that does work, then with a proven track record, you'll almost certainly enjoy the freedom of running your own studio (or at least being creative director with trusted colleagues running the business) rather than join a big company. The path there is having your studio acquired a big company, who already have their ideas and franchises. You will at best be a creative director, maybe a studio head, both of whom is more of an idea collector than the sole idea generator. But at this point, most who sell do it for the money, or to get away from the "hit franchise" and do something they can't do because their studio is too big to risk it, or just retire. A company I worked for sold because our skills, not IP or ideas, were valuable, especially the 12 of us bundled. The founders sold because, despite continued popular titles, they would have run out of funds in a year. It was way cheaper to buy us than head-hunt for 12 people with our skills.
Sid Meier, probably the industry's first famous and most well known "idea guy" got his start in 1981, already with a background in non-game programming (which was the only kind, really). He co-founded MicroProse in 1982. His name was made by putting out solid titles, all flight sims. Even then, it wasn't until Robin Williams (yes, that one! he was a huge gamer since early days and attended the tiny software conferences popping up in California) told Bill Stealey, the CEO and other co-founder, that Sid's name meant something, they should promote him like a star. They did on Sid Meier's Pirates!, because it was thought that Sid's flight sim fans would try this game, instead of ignoring it for the different genre it was. They were correct and Sid Meier's Civilization came shortly after.
This is back when computer games was barely a $1 million industry, not the $1 billion industry it is today. No celebrity comedians are going to make you an idea generator (certainly not without a string of titles under your belt). It was easier in the 80s and 90s because no one cared. Now video games are market movers. Everyone cares.
If I show that my ideas can bring in a steady stream of profit, will big game companies like Ubisoft hire me and give me a team to develop them?
Absolutely! But, how do you prove that without a studio or skills in programming and design and a proven track record?
2nd TL;DR: In order to prove your ideas are worthy of a company like Ubisoft, you have to have published successful games! It's a huge gamble to do it on your own, but that way you can be the one with "ideas" from day 1. Otherwise, get training and degrees to get hired, and you might be able to get there in a decade or two, if you don't burn out before then. Although the big companies do often grind people down, any creative work for extended periods runs a risk of burnout. Being the person putting ideas out there means putting your heart out there, and that means anyone can poke it and stab it for any reason at all. Forget ideas, forget company names, forget titles. Focus on the core of your passion. Think small. Make a game for a loved one. For yourself. Do the other stuff to make a living, to make a name, to get a job with Ubisoft, whatever sounds great, but you definitely don't need Ubisoft, or any other company, to make you happy.
PS Oh right, and Sid these days? He basically manages Firaxis now, enabling others to bring their ideas together. He can't even get his big ideas made. His stated passion is a dinosaur game, publicly announced in 2001 and publicly shelved in 2005. They're just "too busy" making games based on others' ideas to make his idea. So, in the end, even "the one with ideas" isn't free.
How do I get a job in the games industry as "the one with the ideas"?
That's not an actual job-description in the games industry outside of some very naive startup companies.
There is no individual person in most companies who comes up with the idea for the game that everyone else is going to make, and even if there is, they generally don't keep ownership of the ideas beyond that point.
The reality is that everyone has ideas.
Ideas are really really cheap. I went on holiday last month and wrote down and even fleshed out two cool ideas for games while sitting by the pool. No exaggeration.
(For the curious: A mobile game where you control a sheepdog to herd flocks of sheep, and a Subnautica-but-in-space sci-fi survival game)
Every games developer who ever earned a red cent in their career has at least a couple ideas for fun games.
In a company of 50 people, there's probably more than a hundred ideas for games to build just sitting on people's scratch-pads waiting for a pitch.
Games Companies don't need an Ideas Man, and they certainly don't need to pay for one full-time.
Super Mario's artist Miyamoto graduated from Kanazawa Municipal College of Industrial Arts. He originally sought a career as a manga artist, until developing an interest in video games. With the help of his father, he joined Nintendo in 1977 after impressing then-president Hiroshi Yamauchi with his toys.
Wikipedia lists numerous video games based on novels; here's a partial list:
- The Witcher Series.
- Metro Series.
- Cyberpunk 2077.
- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six.
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Series.
- Dante's Inferno.
- American McGee's Alice.
- Call Of Cthulhu.
'Ori and the Blind Forest,' inspired by the works of Hayao Miyazaki.
Everyone wants to do design a moving or a video game, so you have to establish your creative talent through your communicative creativity: videos, books or art-forms which garner a cult following.
If your CV gives even a small cult status in creative media, you have a better chance. Directing a video game is also about inspiring energy and communications to many people, a bit like film direction.
Write some game scenario portfolio's so that you have studied the art of communicating your talent.
Find a channel for your creativity that doesn't require millions of dollars.
- Run a crowdfunding campaign
- short movies,
- plasticine animations,
- video stories using AI art,
- creative YT channel,
- children's books,
- adult books,