We’ve all heard the horror stories of creative people losing their projects to corporations. I remember being warned about it in college: if you go work for a major film company as an artist, they WILL own everything you create while you’re employed, so cover your ass if you’re going to do any creative work on the side. I learned to keep a fine line between my personal work and my commercial work, and it’s a line that’s left a strange mark on my portfolio. While working in gaming the opportunity to start developing new game ideas came up, and I leapt at the opportunity. While I was happy enough creating art for established games, I really wanted to be making my own games, and that drive got me into a lot of meetings where I was pitching new games ideas.
It started off small, I prototyped a little cupcake game, pulled on a UI designer, an artist and an animator, and we pitched a quick and dirty prototype during a quarterly meeting. Response was lukewarm, but the thrill of pitching potential game ideas stuck with me.
Soon I find myself in a smaller studio where new ideas and prototyping is encouraged. We schedule out time to pitch ideas in a freeform environment, and I am pitching maybe 3 ideas at a time. I was aware that I was losing each of these ideas to the ether as I pitched them, but I knew I had a million ideas. The first few flopped really hard. One or two went to the second round, but they were similarly shut down. I kept on going, my pitches started getting better, and I got the attention of a producer and developer who helped me out with my ideas. They brought new game mechanics to the table, and I ran with themes, art styles and look-and-feel mockups.
We eventually hit a sweet spot.
We designed a game that combined the ever-popular match-3 gameboard with time management cooking game mechanics, internet favorite cats wearing cute little hats, and baked goods with faces. I created a flat, pastel visual style that felt more like a cartoon on TV than your usual iPhone game. It was getting sentimental and sweet, and I was developing a connection to the game, but I also kept an eye on current gaming trends and tweaked it so that our style would stay relevant in the future.
I made quick character expression sheets and vectorized them, handing them off to our animator who did some amazing animations for each kitty. Nothing quite like ending a day at work and getting an email attachment with you drawings come to life. It’s amazing. I was staying up late putting together animated comps of gameplay, our UI artist was losing sleep to get everything perfect, and soon our dev hopped on to make the gameboard interactive, and before we knew it we had a playable slice of the game.
We pitched it to the CEO’s, and they LOVED IT.
It was one of the best experiences I’ve had working in a studio, we kept our team small, everyone was enthusiastic, we were doing all the prototyping work ontop of our usual workload, and we’d designed a game that was pulling attention. It was our little beacon of hope that we would be developing our own game in-house, and I was thrilled to see my idea come to life and everyone around me feeling motivated to push the game forward and rumors were that the greenlight was just around the corner.
So what happened, you ask? Yes, the game was greenlit, and yes, the game was released a year later, but it wasn’t greenlit until my creative team was laid off. There isn’t quite a word to express knowing that your idea was good, and now you don’t get to be a part of it. Oh, and you lost your job.
And there’s nothing that can be done because the company owns your ideas.
I lost most of my game art in the process, and am only sharing these mockups now because the gameplay mechanic is now out in the open.
It leaves me wondering if you should EVER produce ideas while you’re under contract with a company. You could possibly craft a special contract for new ideas, but I’d doubt that would ever fly. You can decide to take the gamble doing pitches and prototyping the way I did, and you could even get lucky, but what happens if the idea really caught on? It’s hard to say.
You can develop your ideas on your own time, start your own gaming company on the weekends, you can release a project fairly easily as an independent publisher. You won’t have the resources, the large platform and spotlight that a company may promise you, but the idea will still be yours.
The great takeaway I got from prototyping was pulling together a diverse group of people. I was creating ideas that was bringing everyone together, a common goal that we all shared. While artists tend to hide in their corner, I found myself working with designers, engineers and UI, and that experience has lead me to pursue design and development myself. This new path I’m on? I still don’t know if it’s leading towards a design agency, a new game, or a web design studio, but it’s going to be rad and I’m going to own it from the ground up.
Is it worth the risk? That’s for you to decide.