After my articles on stealing game ideas, Games Precipice posted this article about some concerns new designers have. One of the main points is that ego can be a big problem for new designers. I mean tot respond directly at the time, but it’s taken me a while to get to it. I agree with many of the details of the article, and I think it has useful advice for designers of every level. But they are wrong about ego. Ego is actually one of the most important things a new designer can have.
The Games Precipice article made a lot of good points, focusing on ways in which we tend to overvalue our own ideas. In fact, in my article “Someone Stole my Idea”, I mention that your idea probably isn’t special enough to be worth stealing. But I also continued that putting in the work is what makes your game special. The motivation for reaching that is ego.
You first need to see yourself as someone capable of creating a great game. You can measure that greatness in any way you choose, whether it’s a game you really enjoy, a game that makes a lot of money, or a game that a lot of people respect. When you create a game, be proud of it, and want to show it off. If you’re not excited about your own game, why would a publisher or potential customer be interested in it? You need to continually encourage yourself to complete the design, even when you’re unsure of the outcome. That is where ego can be especially helpful, by giving you that extra push to make something you can be proud of.
But ego needs to be guided by self-reflection. Some of the recommendations given to designers when they start out isn’t actually anti-ego, it’s actually just against letting your ego run wild. You need to temper it with real-world experience. Not every idea will be successful, and that’s OK. A great designer chooses only the very best ideas, and sometimes you have to try several out to know which ones are which. Your ego will guide you to those. Get input from others, because even if every idea isn’t yours, you still make the decisions. The product you are selling is an experience, so you need to know how other people will experience it. If you haven’t considered all of the options, you are doing an incomplete job. Your ego will drive you to do the job completely, instead of the lazy way. And sometimes you might just be wrong about an idea. There is no shame in being incorrect, as long as you work to fix it. Your ego will keep you striving for perfection.
But the most useful advice is to remember that your ego is yours to control. You will be working with players, publishers, and other designers, who won’t always agree with you. But getting angry or defensive won’t help you produce a better game. Really think about what people are telling you. If they are right, then be happy that you have another chance to improve the game. If they are wrong, then be happy that you already have the right answer. You don’t need to defend your ego from other people. Your ego isn’t helped by knocking others down, and it can’t be hurt by seeing others do well or helping others. Do the best job you can, to make the best game you can.
T.C.Petty III calls his blog Designer Ego. And although he really plays up the “arrogant designer” character on podcasts, in reality, he just demands a lot from himself as a designer and from his games. Ego is what gives you the strength to design a game without worrying that other people think you’re wrong. A game designer’s ego is one of his most powerful tools. It lets you know that your design is worth working on, and it guides you to making it the best it can be. And when you succeed, your ego gives you the right to stand up and be proud of your accomplishments. I think T.C. would agree that we could all learn a lot from T.C. Petty III.