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High Concept – Familiar/Unique

July 29, 2010

As I said in the introduction, I believe that the high concept is a very important tool and each designer should be able to handle it. Maybe you like to get together with your co-workers and try to come up with some high concepts for your favorite game, if you’ve never used high concepts before. You can also take a look at the available loglines from movies or other games to get a better understanding.

A very good method to improve these concepts and to approach them is called the concept of unique and familiar. This concept is proposed by Karl Iglesias for screenwriting and here I’d like to show how we can use it for games.

How can something be familiar and unique at the same time? Isn’t this a contradiction? It is, but still can be used in one sentence by combining a unique element with a familiar one.

Usually the unique element is the part of your idea no one has done before or at least not in this way. To find this idea you may want to ask yourself the questions “What is new?” or “What makes this game unique?”

The familiar element is something we can relate to, for example emotions or definitions. Questions to find this element can be “How can one relate to this idea?” or “Is it understandable?”

Here is an example how a high concept for the game SimCity can look like:

“Be a god-like major and create/manage the city of your dreams.”

Clearly the familiar element is “god-like major”, because back when the game was developed, god games been a solid part of the market and everyone could relate to the control schemes and design ideas. The unique element is “create-manage the city of your dreams”, because even if we might have some ideas how this may look like, back then we didn’t had a chance to see it in computer games.

Using the same principles for your own concepts today may not only result in a clearer vision, but also in a concept which gets higher attention during pitches.

Finally I’d like to share some don’ts according the high concept that proofed being useful for me.

  1. Never compare your idea with an existing one within the high concept. If you do so within this core vision it simply can’t be unique any longer, because using sentences like “It is like X mixed with Y” simply indicate that you propose something that’s in general been made before.
  2. Avoid being too general, because if you are too general you’ll miss the chance to communicate the beauty of your unique idea.
  3. Don’t complicate it, because a high concept should help to communicate your idea not to confuse others.
  4. Avoid scientific terms, because you never know who’s reading your concept and if he would be able to understand these terms.
  5. Never use any possibly insulting term, because again you don’t know who would reading your concept and you surely don’t want to unintentionally insult the executive who is supposed to sign a development deal.

These are my thoughts on this topic, which are surely not the ultimate answer, but I’d like to use them to kick-off an exchange of ideas. I hope that this exchange will help us all to grow and to proceed in the quest of creating better games.

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