This is an addendum for my original Making it Real article, but I think it deserved more than a comment in the thread with a few links.
Hat tip to Shamus for this one:
TED talks are all over the place in quality, but this one does point out some interesting thoughts on IP protection and innovation.
I have to wonder if the same spirit behind Linux might be moving things like Psychochild’s article on Elemental Advancement. He could have tried to keep that under wraps as a trade secret, but sharing it lets the blogging hivemind make the concepts better. It’s then on his head (or someone else’s!) to execute the ideas in a commercially viable way, for which he could and should be rightfully recompensed. It’s the work of execution that would be rewarded, not really the idea. This is also why you will never sell an idea to a game company. Go ahead and try; they will laugh in your face or outright ignore you. Ideas are cheap. (To be clear, Ixobelle wasn’t selling ideas there, he was selling himself, but the Blizzard response is standard; game companies will not buy ideas.)
The talk’s argument roughly suggests that ideas should be cheap, free and unfettered, and that execution is really what matters. When ideas can be free, innovation has fewer limitations. Her list of industries with different IP laws and lack of copyright is especially enlightening.
To reiterate on what I was writing about in the last article, then, if you make your game idea into reality and sell it as such, as a physical game, you are effectively monetizing the actual production and materials, not so much the idea. The idea can be taken and molded by house rules or knockoff products, but if you maintain quality, you’ll still be the standard of comparison.
Taken another way, you can make your own Magic cards and play with them. Sure, Wizards owns copyrights on their particular game art and the “tap” icon, but you can take a sharpie to blank cards and play all day long. You’ll never get them into a sanctioned tournament, but if you’re happy playing with friends at home, who cares? If you do want to play “for real”, though, you pony up and buy the cards. If you want the prestige of “real” cards and the option of playing in official venues, you go through the gates. If you just want to play with the cool ideas, you can do so at home with homemade cards and homebrew ideas.
The WoW TCG has a set of free PDFs that comes directly from the devs, allowing you to print out some game cards and play the game. It’s just a small slice of what the game ultimately has to offer, but it’s a way to get people playing. My Alpha Hex paper beta runs along the same lines, though I’m also using it to get playtest feedback. In either case, the “real” game has more to offer, and can be monetized as such.
IP laws can be weird and wild animals, as Scrusi rightly notes. I’m not sure that a totally anarchic society of free ideas would function as well as the idealists would suggest, but then, the Big Brother draconian DRM direction doesn’t seem to be paying off with much more than ill will and sequelitis with a nice side dish of piracy. We don’t make clothes (utilitarian tangible things) in video game design… but offline tangible variations might just be a nice avenue to explore sometimes.
In the meantime, throwing a few game design ideas out there into the wild just may be a good idea.
UPDATE! Scott Adams of Dilbert fame weighs in on ideas… quite coincidentally. I like his take on it, though, and his closing line is one that Ed Catmull echoed as well: “Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything.”
In a creative industry, like the one I work in, we’re paid for getting things done. Ideas are valuable inasmuch as they help get things done, but at the end of the day, if the work hasn’t been completed, and especially if there’s no product to sell, no number of ideas will make the guys writing the checks happy.