Before the article starts, a quick word of explanation from Jason: this piece came about on the message board at Atari Age and the main reason for it needing to be written was simple; at that time a large number of people were offering up their suggestions for the next big thing in gaming and trying to find a programmer in order to wave little more than a vague concept at. Since developing on any 8-bit system takes a lot of time, effort and knowledge of the hardware restrictions, these requests were usually met less than favourably and Bob Montgomery (himself a 2600 coder with an impressive catalogue of titles) attempted to explain to these idea peddlers why that was the case. The article is reproduced here with permission.

Programmers already have more ideas than they know what do do with; without any of yours. They don’t need your ideas. Probably most of them don’t want your ideas. Most game programmers have more ideas already than they have time to begin, let alone complete.

That said, a good, well-thought out, well-presented idea is worth looking at, always

So if you want a programmer to even consider your idea for 30 seconds, here’s what you need to do:

1. Present a concrete, good idea with lots of visual aids. Writing a game takes hours and hours of work. If you want a coder to even consider, for a minute, dedicating that kind of time, you had better put in some serious time of your own preparing your idea. Time measured in hours. Make mock screenshots. Design some sprites. Learn the capabilities of the machine you want the game written for and fit your idea to them. It isn’t easy to understand the Stella guide if you aren’t a coder, but if you want somebody to even glance sideways at your idea you better be willing to put in the time to at least understand a little of it. Do some legwork and demonstrate it. Spend some time working out your idea on paper; playtesting it to make sure it works.

2. Present a compelling reason why a coder should take on the project *other* than the fact that you think it would be really cool. Does your idea fill an underserved niche in the 2600’s library? Is it a completely unique concept? Are lots of people clamoring for a game of this type? Does it present a unique, fun challenge?

3. Be humble. You are asking for far, far, far more than you are giving or will ever contribute. Coders already work for pennies/hour working on their own ideas, if that. You want the programmer to do something for you, essentially for free? Don’t make demands.

4. Be flexible. Be willing to put in yet more time reworking screenshots, rethinking game mechanics, designing different sprites.

The gold standard here is Adam Tierney (salstadt over at the Atari Age message boards). Find some of the threads he started to publicize his own ideas and see what he did. See especially the Prince of Persia thread, and see how much work he put into that, over a period of weeks. You don’t have to be the artist he is, but you better be willing to make up the difference in sweat.

What’s a good idea? Can’t give an exact definition, but here are some starters:

1. It is unique. Either absolutely unique or unique to the platform.
2. It has a tested, proven game mechanic. Which is fun.
3. It uses the capabilities of the machine it is designed for well.
4. It is fun to more people than just you.

The most important thing is to do some work. If your idea doesn’t have some mock screenshots, then it is worthless. Period.