You know how to code, you can model, make textures and levels. But you can’t quite come up with that awesome game idea. You’re not alone.
Thinking of a new game idea is hard.
Or at least it is if you don’t have a process or methods to come up with ideas.
Some artists believe that ideas flow to them through the “Muse” or through divine creativity. And in doing so, give up any control over their creativity.
But I don’t agree with this.
I believe you can learn to be creative. You can learn to have ideas flow through you whenever you need them to. You can take control of your creativity by using processes to help you.
In this article, I’ll show you 27 ways, processes, methods, whatever you want to call them, to come up with fantastic game ideas, or any other ideas for that matter, easily, quickly, and repeatably.
How to Use this article
Before I jump into the list and explain each method in detail, I want to explain how to use this article.
Don’t worry, I’ll keep this short.
Remember: each method to help you think of a new game idea in this list can be mixed and matched with any number of the other ideas on this list.
In fact, I recommend that you at least mix two or three of the ideas together. That should be more than enough to give you some fantastic game ideas to get you started.
If you use these idea generating methods, you will create tons of computer game ideas. Guaranteed.
How do I know this? I’ve used these methods myself in the past for games after learning them from other creatives and game designers. And now, I use these idea-generating methods for when I’m thinking up article and book ideas.
So, enough with my rambling, let’s get started.
1: Merge Existing Ideas
Hashtag harsh reality: Nothing we create is truly original.
So get the idea out of your head right now that your game will be completely unique.
New products or games may seem like they’re a completely new invention at the time. But, look a little deeper, and you’ll find that all products or games are built upon ideas from past successes.
Revolution in game products, just as in nature, is rare. But evolution, that’s another story.
Knowing that nearly all creativity is just an evolution and combination of previouse ideas is liberating.
It’s liberating because you know that you could take any of the great ideas from all of the amazing games you’ve played, mix them together, and create your own amazing game.
I personally use this method in every creative endeavor I take part in. If I’m trying to think of a new article to write I will build on the ideas established in older articles while adding my own personal experience to the mix. In doing so, I evolve our current knowledge, and sombody will do the same after me.
You can do this with games easily. Take two, or more, of your favorite games’ features. For a simple example, take open-world games and space games.
These two, admittedly very large features, could be combined to make a new type of game.
How about an open world game where the player explores a vast alien space station? I know this is a very basic idea but you can probably see how easy yet powerful this idea generating method is.
A great example of merging to successful products into a new product is the Spork. The Spork is the combination of a fork and a spoon. And they have been wildly successful. Especially for people with limited space such as campers and hitchhikers.
You can do the same for a game. Merge multiple existing ideas together and see where it takes your imagination. You’ll be well on your way to coming up with great game ideas.
2: Add a Pinch of Extraordinary to the Everyday.
This game idea generation method is great for creating many ideas as you can take any ordinary situation in real life, like school or work, and add a pinch of the extraordinary to mix the world up.
For example, you could create a game about writing. Pretty ordinary, right? But what if the writer’s pen was magical? What if every time the writer wrote something with the pen, the idea manifested in real life? Now that’s cool!
As you can see, this tiny little change, this pinch of extraordinary, completely changes what is possible in this world.
J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a great example of a normal world with an extraordinary element. Magic is the extraordinary element that has been placed in our normal everyday world. Another great example of an extraordinary element is the film Hot Tub Time Machine. In this case, the hot tub that can travel thorugh time is the extraordinary element introduced to the ordinary world.
A gaming example would be, for me anyway, The Last of Us on PlayStation. In Naughty Dog’s world, the extraordinary element is the fungus that affects people and turns them into zombies. Nothing else is changed compared to our own world. Yet this small difference completely alters everything about the world
So think of ways in which you could introduce an extraordinary element to one of your favourite games.
3: Start With a Great Character
If you create a living breathing character, with flaws, desires, worries, and other real traits they become so real that they essentially write their own stories.
A great character can be dropped into any situation and they will react according to their personality and experience the writer has given them.
Once you have a character this real, envelop them in a rich world with other complex characters and inevitably stories start popping up around them like wildflowers.
But why is this useful for game idea generation?
When you’ve created a character that’s so real you feel like you know them it’s easy to make the jump to a game. Characters like this automatically create opportunities for stories. Therefore in between the story beats and plot points, you can fill those moments with gamified obstacles such as enemies and environmental hazards.
A good example of this type of character is Joel Miller from The Last of Us on PlayStation.
In between the plot points, which are mostly shown as cut scenes, the gamer gets to “play the game” by overcoming environmental and monster obstacles in the form of the infected.
So think of a great character first, and a great game won’t be far behind.
4: The Inciting Event
The inciting event, in any story, is the moment in the plot that turns the world, for the hero and other characters, up-side-down.
In the first Ironman film, the inciting event is when Stark realizes nearly all his money is made from selling weapons to the enemy. When he comes home after being held captive, his first act, after having his world turned up-side-down, is to stop Stark Industries from making weapons.
Without the realization that Tony’s weapons are sold to the “bad guys”, we wouldn’t have a story. Tony would have just carried on making weapons, and millions of dollars.
How does this help you think up a great game idea? Well, often in games the inciting event happens before the game begins.
For example, in the open-world survival game Subnautica, the inciting event is your massive spaceship being shot down and crash-landing on an alien Waterworld. So the inciting event shapes the entire game.
In fact, without the inciting event you would not have a story, never mind a game, as the ship would never have crashed on the planet. It just would have carried on crusing between the stars.
The inciting event is the moment the real story starts. It’s when a conflict between characters, or conflict between character and environment, or characters and themselves begins.
So think of an event that could shake a world up and you may find yourself on your way to winning game idea.
5: Start With a Gameplay Mechanic
We play games for their interactivity. So why not start there when coming up with great game ideas?
Think of a great gameplay mechanic you’ve really enjoyed in the past and ask how you could add to it or change it in a way that would make it different. How could you make it more exciting or more realistic?
How could you take a game mechanic, sprinkle a little spice on it, and make it even more fun?
An example of thinking of game mechanics first is Nintendo’s Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It was designed from the ground up with a physically active world in mind to provide thousands of different gameplay opportunities.
This physical world created a playground of opportunities for designers and gamers. Real-world physics meant boulders could be used as weapons by pushing over hillsides. Fire arrows could lite tallgrass ablaze, injuring enemies. You could even chop down trees so they landed on top of enemies.
The point is, the game was built from the ground up around gameplay. Nintendo put gameplay first as they understand better than anybody that gameplay is the defining trait of games. And if the gameplay isn’t fun, your game will fail. Regardless of how crips your textures are or how fancy your particle systems are.
So think up some great gameplay elements, play around with them, fit them together like Lego bricks, tweak them until they’re so fun you wanna tell all your friends about them. You’ll be surprised what ideas you can think of.
6: Start With an Amazing Game World You’d Want to Explore
Another way to manifest great game ideas is to develop a great game world you’d like to play in first. This inspiration can often come from non-gaming influences.
For example, the game Cyberpunk is based on a pen and paper RPG that goes by the same name. CD Project, the developer that is making the game, loved the world, its history, and its lore so much they decided to make a game around it.
You can do the same.
Do you have an idea for an alien world with interesting characteristics? Or how about our normal world with an extraordinary element like we mentioned earlier on?
Often, ideas for a strange new worlds act as seeds for great stories, and even greater games.
7: Theme Switching
This method of game idea generation is one of my favorites. Not only that, but it’s also really simple. For this example, I’ll use one of my favorite games, The Last of Us: Part Two.
The last of Us is based in the USA, in roughly around the year 2039.
What if we changed this theme. What if we changed to a sci-fi theme instead. By switching the theme we’ve created a completely different game idea.
Can you image how good a “Last of Us” game, or at least that type of game, would be based in space? It would be fantastic!
And you can do this with any game.
Many other games have been successful in taking an already successful game theme and applying a different theme to it. Don’t believe me? Look at Grand Theft Auto. The open world style game has been repurposed and reused in hundreds of different games using hundreds of different themes.
A more left-field example could be an endless running game mixed with a coloring game. By switching the theme of an endless running game, which usually involves running through tombs, to a coloring game you have created a completely new game idea.
8: Time Switching
Another great to Switch up games to generate ideas is to take an existing game you love and change the time it takes place. For example what if you took The Last of Us (Yes, I love these games, Druckman and co. are gods!) And rewind the clock back to Victorian times in England?
The game would drastically change. Weapons would have to completely change. There would be no modern technology, so basic items such as flashlights wouldn’t exist. Instead you’d have to use technology from that timeframe.
Instead of a flashlight you’d have to use a candle or another open flame. This would offer its own gameplay opportunities such as having limited numbers of candles or flames slowly burning out. Additionally candles might be blown out easily so you could be in a very dark environment and you have to be careful that the wind doesn’t blow your light out.
By changing the time a certain game takes place in, you can create hundreds of new possibilities and nearly endless game ideas.
9: Switch the Graphical Style
Changing up a Game’s graphical presentation is another great way to think up a new game idea.
For example, take any FPS class-based game. Next, add a manga-like look to the graphics. What do you get? You get Overwatch.
You can do this for nearly any type of game. Hotline Miami is another great example. If you changed its top down pixelated retro graphics, the game would be completely different.
You can change the graphical presentation of a game in other ways too. What about changing the perspective? What would a sports game be like if you played it from a first-person view instead of a distant third-person view?
Exploring graphical and presentational style changes for existing games can give you loads of ideas.
10: Platform Change
When it comes to games, the term “platform” is often used to describe what console, PC, or computational hardware is used to play the game on. And different hardware platforms offer different gameplay opportunities.
A great example of a genre that has taken advantage of a different platform is touchscreen sports games on smartphones.
Touch soccer games have you swiping the screen to curl a ball into a goal. Depending on where you swipe your finger through the ball and how quickly you move your finger determines speed, curl, and direction just like a foot does when striking a ball.
This is a huge departure from the traditional console soccer game that tasks you with kicking a shot at goal with a mundane press of the circle/B button.
These touchscreen sports games have proven to be extremely popular and made developers millions of dollars because this control method is very intuitive and hands-on.
And the success can be explained simply: they took an existing successful game type and introduced it onto a new platform with intuitive touch controls.
So have a think how you could transfer your favourite game to a different platform. You might be surprised how many great gaming ideas you can think of.
11: Think Peripheral First
Modern gaming is rife with peripherals. We seem to have an accessory for every possible type of gaming. Yet, every year games companies seem to find a way to develop new creative add-ons to add a physical twist to our gameplay.
And nobody is better at creating new peripherals than Nintendo.
Take for example Labo, the cardboard games on Nintendo’s Switch. You basically get a flat pack DIY cardboard peripheral such as a fishing reel that plugs into your Switch to give the sensation that you are actually fishing with a real reel.
And there are many other Labo creations such as a steering wheel for a racing game and even a giant Robot suit for kids to wear.
It’s all exciting stuff for the gamer. But, it’s even more exciting for a would be designer such as your self as these cardboard creations offer unexplored ways to interact with future games. And at a very low cost entry point.
If you start with the peripheral in mind, you can design exciting new games around this new form of interaction. So try thinking peripheral first.
12: Genre Dissection
This will be a short one.
Just think of the genre of a game you like, for example, racing games. Then start dissecting the genre. Ask yourself a number of questions including:
- What features do I like about this genre?
- What features don’t I like about this genre?
- What do I find fun about this genre?
- What don’t I find fun about this genre?
- What would I change about this genre and why?
Asking these sort of questions about your favourite genre can quickly lead to new gaming ideas.
13: Start With a Problem
The real world is full of problems.
From massive business ending problems to personal problems.
But every problem, regardless of severity, as actually a massive opportunity in disguise. Every problem offers intrepid creators the chance to find a solution. Each of us, when we encounter a problem, takes part in our own little “Hero’s Journey”, a story of how we encountered a problem, found a solution and overcame the problem to win the day.
And herein lies the potential for gamifying a problem: Every problem, big or small, is just like the inciting event in the stories that fill modern and historical culture.
So these problems, these inciting events that give rise to stories can all, and I mean all, be turned into games.
For example, What about making a game about a problem we all face these days:
I thought of an idea which I called Green Transition. This game involves the gamer having to manage the world’s transition to 0 carbon emissions as quickly as possible without destroying the economy or making the situation even worse.
How about a real world example: Take Farming Simulator.
Farming simulator is basically the gamification of all the problems that an average farmer has to overcome on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. The developers took a number of related problems, ie farming, and designed a game around them.
And you can do the same. So think of a real world problem. Think of how humans have solved that problem, or yet to have solved that problem, then ask: How could I turn that into a game?
14: Play Games a Lot
Okay, this one is going to be pretty obvious, but you need to play as many games as you can. And play all different types of games. Play different genres, good games, bad games, everything.
But there is a catch…
You need to take notes.
Get a notebook and note down ideas that come to you while playing your games. Note down features you like and don’t like. Jot down ideas regarding gameplay elements, characters, sound, graphics, anything that sparks your imagination.
Analyse the games you play. Ask why are they fun? Why are they not fun? Ask as many questions of the games you play as you can.
By playing lots of games and taking notes you’ll build a library of ideas you can call upon in the future.
15: Ask People For Ideas
A good way to get new ideas for games is to ask other people. After all, as the saying goes, two heads are better than one.
So ask friends, ask family, heck, even ask random people on the street.
Most of the ideas you’ll hear will be, in all honesty, terrible. But, a single bad idea married to a good idea can create something absolutely fantastic which will transcend its constituent parts.
So be sure to ask everybody for their game ideas. Collect them, file them away, and use them when needed.
16: Step Outside Video Games
This one is just like playing a lot of games except it involves all other media formats and life in general. Absorb as much culture, art, and creativity as you can. Watch films, good TV, music, books, comics, and graphic novels. Visit new countries, cities, parks, and historic sites.
Absorb everything you can because you don’t know where your next game idea could come from.
And above all, be sure to take notes!
17: Gamify an Action
Is there an action, or set of actions, you love to take?
Could you simulate that action and build a game around it?
For example, I played a game on my mobile phone the other day where all I had to do was move my finger up and down to slice a cake.
If that can be turned into a game, anything can.
So think of an action(s) you love to perform and try to design a game around it.
18: Keep a Game Ideas Journal
I’ve dropped this idea down sqaure in the middle to make sure you are paying attention to the most important thing you can do to help yourself think of game ideas. Sorry… That’s a little evil of me!
You must get a journal and note down all your gaming ideas.
See how I’ve bolded that for importance?
Make it your business to become a collector of gaming ideas. Build a personal ideas library and you’ll never be stuck for a game to make again. It can be digital (Eww!) or paper (Yay!).
It really doesn’t matter.
But please, which ever way you do it, just please keep a game idea journal.
Otherwise all those amazing little ideas that could eventually come together to form your first Triple-A game will be lost forever in the inner universe that is your brain.
I recommend something like bullet Journaling to get you started. A bullet Journal has been my loyal companion for years now. It’s simple yet powerful, offers unlimited customization, you can take non-linear notes, and it’s extremely organised.
It’s best you just can check the website out here. But as a heads up, don’t buy the journal on the site. It costs an extortionate amount of money and any cheap notebook will do. And don’t buy the Book that explains bullet journaling, unless it’s on sale, as half the book is waffle. Just read how to do it on the site, and look at the vids on the Bullet Journal Youtube channel.
And then you’ll be ready to start writing down your game Ideas!
19: Learn Game Design
If you want to think and take advantage of great game ideas, you really should have a grounding in game design.
You need to understand game design so you can have a better idea of what is good and bad game design and gameplay.
Knowing the fundamentals of game design will give you the knowledge to see opportunities to gamify ideas. Afterall, how can you say, idea “X” would be a great game idea, if you have no idea how you’d turn it into a game?
To start learning the fundamentals of game design I recommend a number of books in an article I’ve written elsewhere on the site called, Our Recomended Game Design books. You can check out that article, with all my recommendations, here.
20: Model and Improve
Model and Improve as an idea generation method that many businesses use to analyze an already successful product or competitor to find ways to make a similar product while improving on its weaknesses.
You can do this with any game you play. Start by pulling the game apart into its main blocks: gameplay, graphics, sound, characters, world, story, and UI.
Next you want to analyse each of these game areas by asking questions such as:
- What works well?
- What doesn’t work well?
- How could I improve this?
- How does this work?
- What technology is being used to make this work?
- Skills are needed to make this work?
- What was fun?
- What wasn’t fun?
- To be changed to make it fun?
By answering these sorts of questions about an existing game, you’ll come up with new ideas for your own.
21: Stay Up-To-Date on Gaming News and Trends
If you want to design games and come up with great game ideas, you need to stay up-to-date on gaming trends and News.
There’s no point in coming up with an idea for an arena based death match FPS when everybody and their grandmother is off playing Battle Royale.
22: Brainstorm as a Group
I’ll admit, this is not my favorite method. I’m a writer and a self-professed introvert/geek. So I have a preference to work alone (don’t all writers?). But for the extroverts out there, brainstorming is one of the best methods to come up with ideas. It’s also one of the few that only gets’s better as you add large amounts of pizza and beer to the mix…
Brainstorming is when a group of people comes together to throw ideas around in an effort to solve a problem. In this case, your problem is coming up with new game ideas.
If you have a group of people you work with, sit down together, and let everyone get their ideas out in the air.
Write them down on a big white board, or spread large sheets of paper on a table tapped together and write ideas directly down onto it.
Just remember, at this early stage, no idea is stupid, dumb, or unworkable. You need to imagine everything is possible and everything is amazing. You’re just thinking out of ideas. You can sort them out later.
As more ideas flow onto the paper/board, start connecting ideas. Start writing ideas next to ideas. Start doodling and drawing things.
You’ll be amazed what you can think of!
I’d recommend taking a look at this article on Mindtool.com. They explain how to do Brainstorming far better than what I could in this little section.
23: Quantity over Quality
When it comes to ideas, quantity is vastly more important than quality early in idea generation.
By collecting many ideas, you can mix and match them, add them together, and grow them over time. Plus, as time slides by and your experience grows, all your ideas will morph and change, taking on a greater degree of potential as you find new connections between old ideas and new.
A wide portfolio of game ideas means you can move in any direction at any time, to suit your personal tastes or changes in the market.
So don’t worry about Quality early in the game ideation process. Just concentrate on collecting as many ideas as possible to grow that library of ideas we have been talking about.
And Again, please, for the love of my own sanity, please, please, note your ideas down in a journal. You will regret it if you don’t. Seriously.
SCAMPER is an acronym that means:
- Put to another use
The idea with the SCAMPER technique is that all products and ideas are built upon products and ideas that came before them. The acronym SCAMPER contains all the ways in which you can modify an old product or idea to create a new one.
And it can be readily applied to games to think up new ideas.
A full and detailed explanation of the technique is way beyond the scope of this little section in this article. I recommend you head over to Designorate.com and read their superb article on the SCAMPER technique.
25: Attribute Listing
A nice and easy way to get the creative juices flowing is to think of all the great games you’ve played recently and list all of the attributes of these games that you loved.
Once you have this attribute list in hand you’ll have a better idea of the type of game you want to make.
26: Design a Great Antagonist
I love a great antagonist (The bad guy in stories).
Whether it’s Thanos in the Avengers Films who really believes he’s saving the universe and turning it into a Utopia by means of mass genocide or Darth Vader from Star Wars, a good antagonist has the ability to repel and disgust us while simultaneously attracting us with their determination and demanding our admiration for their motives.
If you can think of a great antagonist, you should be able to build a great world, a great opposing protagonist (hero), and a great story around them. And, as we talked about before, if you can think of a great story, you already have the potential for an even better game.
27: Think of the Narrative First
And last, but absolutely not least, we have narrative.
I’ve talked about the importance of story throughout this article. That if you can come up with great story elements you have the potential for a great game.
Well, that goes for a complete story too.
Do you have a great story to tell? If so you can build a game around it.
If you can build a great plot, with believable characters and worlds you should be able to find a way to turn it into a game.
Throughout this article, we’ve touched on the importance of story when it comes to game ideas. A story automatically gives rise to opportunities for interactivity.
So if you have an idea for a story, you already have an idea for a game. You just have to think of the best way to make it interactive.
To learn more about story in games, take a look at our article on the best Game narrative design book right available right now. Check out the article here.