The perfect gem of thought embedded in your forehead shines so brightly that you are sure that everyone else can see its glorious light. You have in one deft mental gymnastic plumbed to the very heart of Game Development and are emerging with a priceless treasure... except... except that it's boring, or the rules are too complicated, or it actually is so good that someone else already had the identical idea (and went ahead and published it years before you, the fiends!).
This happens all the time. I keep sane by reminding myself of a few important points:
- It's not the idea: it's the execution. You may have the same idea as someone else, but they may not have made the most of it. The project that I'm currently working on is dangerously close to being a combination of Chutes & Ladders and Sorry. Except, it's completely not for some very important implementation details. After playing it, I am willing to bet that very few people would make the connection. Other details, like design polish, can make the difference between a mediocre game and a great game. Art and component design are also important factors.
- Most ideas stink. For every design that makes it to a second round of prototyping, I must have at least 10 that don't even make it that far. Either they go back into the pile to ripen a bit, or they get consigned to the trash. I used to be bothered by this, but now I'm okay with it. My favorite game idea is one that I've been working on for at least eight years with no sign of a finished product. I love it, but I just can't get it to work.
- You can reuse components. Lately, I've been reducing my per-project budget by designing the components to be reusable. Part of this is in purchasing (lots of dice and poker-chips), and part of it is in design. Monorail's track cards could easily be repurposed either as-is or with creative use of some markers. My current game project has lots of little outer space tiles. It will ship with at least two different rule sets for the same cards. Even game mechanisms like rules can be reused.
- Sometimes you just have to Lego. Or hide and seek. Or do something non-structured. At Bryan's age, I make sure that he spends enough time interacting with things that are not games. We also write stories and do science demonstrations together. In one particular case, Bryan has developed a setting he calls Power City. It is so ripe with game potential that I have to make sure that I don't take it over and try to turn it into a game for myself.