Being a Game Designer: How to avoid Scams?

This is kind of an uneasy question for me, because I would like to trust each and every person I meet no matter what. But as we all know, thats not how social interaction works in general.

First of all, to pull myself as a person out of the scope of this discussion: Lets assume a young woman, called April.
So, assuming April is an unknown game designer, and furthermore assuming she wrote a 200 page design document. Based on a game concept idea thats at least above average.

Now April is looking for some guys n gurls to team up, to develop the game and strive for either greenlight or a successful kickstart. (So it´s more than a mere free time project, it involves actually at least a minor financial aspect and some kind of obligations)

How can April make sure, not to be scammed? She has to expose at least a reasonable part of the design concept she wrote in order to apply at a developer team (same goes when recruiting by herself). So the developer team has deep insights into the design paper, yet they can easily turn down April but still develop (and maybe even ship) the game April designed. Even other Game Designers could deceive April when she is trying to recruit team members, and easily steal her concept.

Of course, working in Teams always comes with risks, human behaviour is a rather complex thing after all. But are there any guidelines to how to approach this issue? This problem may arise for other roles in development teams as well of course, feel free to discuss those issues as well, but regarding the usual work flow, its probably mostly an issue for game designers, so I imagine at least.

Is it even an issue? How do you, as a Game designer behave when applying? How do you, as a Programmer/Artist/Producer make sure to be reasonably fair towards applying Game Designers?

The vast majority of the time, you don’t need to worry about someone stealing your idea, everyone has their own game ideas so yours isn’t going to be worth anything to them. Especially for large studios who have people working on coming up with new ideas they are already well equipped.
Besides that, if that situation did come up, you would need to have some way of proving that you had the idea before them, so documents with some kind of verifiable date can help, having an NDA that they sign to join the project can help as well.
Note though, that if you are only offering your game idea, it’s unlikely people will want to work with you to create the game. If people aren’t getting paid for a project then it’s difficult to motivate someone to work for free and especially so if you aren’t contributing as much time as they are.

So being a company owner (Angry Penguin Studio LLC) i run across this question(s) all the time.
I have had 1 programmer with me, nearly a year. Charged me for stealing others ppl code, selling me stuff from another project and using it on my own, pulling kite demo c++ code and smashing it with other free code. Guy probably did an hours worth of his own code. Charged me thousands.
Now, like darth said, a NDA can be signed. But let me get your mind right real quick with this. Lets say Programmer X lives in Brazil, you live in the US. You think the US government is going to track him/her down? Sure, if you can afford the cost of it all. Can you? Maybe you can. Maybe you cant, i see most ppl complain to no end about spending $50 for this-that-and-the-other fees all the time, so … imagine paying out thousands to track someone down, then, bring them to court.

NDA and “legal” paperwork is only as good as your ability to enforce it yourself. Let me make that 100% clear because people seem to think the some magical group of friends … like the super friends … will come out and save you from bad programming.

Anyways - i digress …
What can you do? Nothing, but trust the people you hire. If you dont trust them, dont hire them. I denied several reputable people from these forums for employment (very very reputable) for someone else. You need to hire smart. Its really a risky thing to hire outside, in any business. I had 1 issue for a year with someone. Hes gone, now i have someone else. This someone seems to be amazing so far.

Alright, thanks for sharing your opinion, you seem to be kinda experienced in this area, so you may be right regarding the description of the field. Still, I feel the urge to object to some of the things you say: While I agree, that Ideas themselves are nothing worth stealing or getting upset about, there are a lot of creative people out there. But I explicitly stated an elaborate design document, which is FAR MORE than a “basic idea”, but the complete design of the game mechanics. I have been designing board and pen&paper games for a hobby for about 12 years now, and those designs and the playtests and adjustments consume an enormous amount of time. Just the same kind of hard work as writing music scores or implementing gameplay mechanics in an engine. So, dont wanna sound offended, but I think your generalization about the amount of work that a game designer has to cope with is nothing to be looked down upon.

Still I get the point, that professionals dont work for free, but I would consider myself as someone with a valuable skill as well, and dont see, why I wouldnt be able to enter the competition as someone who wants to be hired just as all the programmers
@AP_Studios : Thanks a lot for pointing out that it comes down to that certain kind of trust. Maybe I should try to network in the scene and find some reliable people before I blindly join any random people on the internet.

I would suggest reaching out to studios or companies that people have worked for and speaking with them. Not necessarily about “what problems did you have” but, more professional stuff. I am a little more cautious now, since i lost nearly a years worth of production due to 1 person totally F’ing my company (wasted time and money). Or, if you are a developer looking for a company to work for, see who else has worked for them. See how it turned out. I mean, its nothing less then i would expect someone (or a company) to do “in real life for a real job”, right?

Would be nice if the last update to this thread wasnt 3 years ago.
Ironbelly Studios made a good point tho. I think joining the forums as a “company” or “client” would be nice, and, having a rating system would help out.

Worked for AP_Studios and they paid on time, friendly, and gave good direction (+score)
Worked for AP_Studios and they were always late with an excuse, very demanding with wild expectations, and gave bad, or, very little direction (-score)

Well from a perspective.

A game concept with 200 pages of game design is probably not the best first effort for anyone to attempt based on AAA game design theory as realistically the first attempts at “anything” is the almost 100% certainty of failure of even achieving the kind of “rate of return” that makes the time and effort worth the out going expense.

As an opinion.

Making a game is easy, put a few 4 year old’s in a room and ask them to invent a game they would come back with something “they” would like to play, but what it takes to “sell” a game is a totally different and alien environment beyond what would be considered fun and usually falls outside the scope, abilities, or skill sets of the “art” development team.

That’s to say game designers makes poor promoters so I would suggest that it’s not a good idea to put your first best effort on the chopping block and instead work on 4 or 5 “small” games that can be completed in months to learn what are the demands of the “fair” market system are assuming that you have already learn what it takes to make a game. :wink:

Protecting your ideas?


That’s crazy talk. It’s not the 80’s where players will buy anything off the shelf based on word of mouth that it’s “original” or “unique” as that is not how games of any level of popularity is sold in 2017. Most games are bought based on genre that continues the kind of gaming experience that they, the player, is looking for.

If anything you would want to make some noise about what you are working on as to the possible social network impact that your game could have within a tried and tested genre to get above the background static of also ran games that makes no effort to get out of the starting blocks.


Yes bad things will happen be it trying to sell a video game or hot dogs and there is little that you can do to anticipate what will happen over and above being prepared as to what you will do when a happenstance occurs.

In the mean time if you suspect someone don’t hire them.

Overall video game development is perhaps the last industry where what is true is learned by experience so don’t worry about doing it wrong. :wink:

This is what contracts are for; also I’d argue against working remotely for someone in another country, may be too much of a headache.

That job that you want doesn’t exist, the people who direct a game have a lot of experience beyond just coming up with and figuring out a game, they very often have some amount of experience in many areas of development which helps them direct the team and better develop the game, but beyond that they also have a lot of knowledge about the things needed to actually make a game happen (marketing, working with publishers, hiring, etc.)

This. When you start involving real money, it’s time to get the solicitors involved, incorporate, and set up proper contracts.

In any case, as a professional developer, a 200 page design document will having me running to the hills, it does not instill me with confidence.

A prototype + a few pages is much better than a cold 200 pages design document.

It’s not just that, it’s the idea of a 200 page design document. Your average novel has 50,000 words, which comes to around 170 pages.

Anyway I re-read the forum post and may I add, the only way (for me) to employ someone remotely is:-

  1. To trust the person.

  2. In order to establish the trust, start by giving a very specific job (and the exact deliverable) and how much $$ and how long would it take. The hire would get 0 or full amount. The job should be small enough that developer doesn’t mind start working with zero deposit. Over the time, if deliveries are as expected, gradually increase the job size and complexity.

Not many people can give out specific requirement. When job is given without very specific details, the problem start arises when the hirer keep changing and adding the features, and developer feel he/she being showered with extra job (that is out of scope).

Alright, thanks for your effort guys, but most of you obviously try their hardest to not understand the point I wanted to make.

Most people just bash me for overestimating my idea. This thread is - as obviously stated in the opening post - to NO extend about the quality of my personal design document, but about a document which is high in quality. Thats the premise. If you dont want to discuss based on this premise, your posts are what is to be considered off topic.
@ambershee yes, and as we all know a design document consists only of words written in prose. Lol. Give it some thought, your comparison is totally invalid.
@Syedhs a prototype is probably very useful, but there probably are genres which require an extensive design document, thinking about turn based strategy games, simulations, visual novels…
@FrankieV sure, feel free to stick to your “genres”, yet there are many successful games, which just dont gave a **** about genres and succeeded. It may be more financially rewarding to stick to the mainstream, but your claim, that its the only way possible is obviously wrong and shallow minded. Its like telling every musician to write Pop Music.
@darthviper107 so you claim, that there are no people who get paid for the sole purpose of designing games? And basically, that there is not really some kind of competition between different game concepts? How is that a reasonable claim?

You may wish to take some of this criticism to heart and evaluate how you respond to it; the people you’re being hostile towards are the same people you’d be wanting to attract in order to complete a project, and some of them have considerable experience.

My advice about getting a solicitor involved and incorporating still stands, and I’d strongly reiterate it. I’d also like to echo previous sentiments that your concept has little to no value until it has been demonstrated, so until the point where money becomes involved, you haven’t much to worry about on that front. If you don’t feel like you can trust the people you’re working with to get you to that point, then quite frankly you’re working with the wrong people and it’s only going to get worse from thereon out.

This is the best advice I can give regarding the original post; what comes next are general statements intended to ground your expectations with those from your peers.

I’ve been in these forums through three iterations and nearly fifteen years now - I’ve seen literally hundreds of post from people who turn up out of the blue, looking to recruit people for their newest, latest and greatest concept, overvaluing their ideas and their personal value without being willing (or often able) to demonstrate any of either. This post has all the hallmarks of the same, and until you’re willing to demonstrate your value, people are going to treat you in exactly the same manner as all who came before you. If you want to find people to work with, you’re going to have to start sharing the fruits of your labour with the peers you’re potentially hoping to work with in future. The reality is that practically every developer already has their own ideal projects they want to work on, and more likely than not they’re going to value their own more than yours. If you’re going to get anywhere, you’re going to need more than a monolithic design document, you’re going to need progress (or money).

I don’t want to have to deal with 200 pages of diagrams and formulae either. You’re not going to like what I’m about to say, but a 200 page design document is already a failed project. What you’re describing is what I’d refer to as ‘big thump documentation’, a wad of paper so fat that the whole room notices when you drop it on the table, and you couldn’t pay me to work on such a project. You don’t make successful games by planning everything out in meticulous detail then just implementing it according to specification (that’s how you make expensive disasters), you make games through a long, iterative process during which a concept changes, evolves and improves during the development process. The first step is a concept document, no more than perhaps 10-15 sides of A4 for a particularly complex game, then pre-production prototyping to determine which parts of the concept are potentially valid and which are not. It’s not uncommon for pre-production prototypes to change dramatically between iterations, and many simply just get thrown away because what looked good on paper, didn’t play well as a game at all for any number of reasons.

Only once you have a reasonable prototype do you want to start writing full-fledged design documentation, and even then you don’t write it all at once and just drop it into a team of developers; you start by fleshing out the underlying systems of the prototype, improving the flawed mechanics of the prototype, and building outwards from there; your documentation is rarely more than one step ahead of your implementation and this is how it needs to be, because if you find that one of your underlying mechanics doesn’t gel with the game’s direction (be it other mechanics, art pipelines, technical problems or simply just budget/time constraints), you may need to rework it or even replace it entirely. In your ‘big thump’, if that underlying mechanic is pulled out, you render everything else in that document redundant often before you even looked at implementing it (now wasn’t that a waste of time?).

In a pen and paper environment, the game designer is usually only wasting their time and that of a few others. In a video game environment, mistakes like that can cost millions of dollars, people’s jobs, and in some cases have sank entire companies.

Make a legal binding contract and make them sign it. Make sure you have a lawyer look over it and make sure it abides by the law and that there are no loopholes in it. Also, if the person lives out of country, then check with laws in their country and make sure you have the power to sue; should they try to steal your IP or break your NDA. Some countries don’t care, but others are pretty strict.

EDIT: Also, make sure to make a copy of their license/state-id/etc and get the contract signed before a legal notary. This will prevent them from saying “It wasn’t me who signed it… Someone impersonated me…”

Have your solicitor write it and don’t cheap out on it. It’s an important document that could later define a relationship worth millions of dollars.

Let’s skip over everything else that’s been said about your IDEA. You don’t want to be scammed? Contracts, legal bindings, and lawyers. Make sure everything that is written up follows all laws, and if you decide to hire someone else from a different country other than yours, make sure your contract that they sign can be enforced upon them if they break it. Which means you will have to fork money out of your own pocket to have them tracked down and brought to justice. Other than that, trust is about the only thing you can do.

Now, about the idea. 99.9% of all developers have ideas about the next and best video game that they want to create. Right off top of my head I can already think of 100 ideas of different games that I would love to create, all the way down to the leaf that just fell off the tree that sits beside the lake, exactly 200 yards to the southeast of the old farm house down an old dusty road.

Now you want to recruit people, can you do anything inside of Unreal, ZBrush, Maya, Blender, ect? Recruiting is going to be the hard part if you can’t do any of that. You aren’t going to find someone that can even remotely design characters or models in a timely fashion without paying them from your own pocket starting on day 1. Then if you do they are going to want to design the characters, creatures, ect in their own fashion unless they are getting a decent paycheck for designing the models the way you want them designed. Then they are just going to ask you what you want and start building and editing until you are happy. What they are not going to do is read 200 pages and see how everything sounds and try to build something based on that.

Pretty much it all boils down to money. Everyone does game design because they like games and they can make money doing it. I have a buddy that loves gaming, it’s pretty much his life support, but he has no desire to ever learn how to create a game, but he said if he ever won the lottery he is going to hire a team to build a game based purely on his ideas. Without knowing who you are or what you are capable of doing, this sort of sounds like what you want. It seems you want to write down stuff on a piece of paper, hand it over to a developer and have them create what you wrote down. This would be probably be ok if you want to recruit a bunch of friends who wants to get into game design together and learn together, but if you want to find people who already knows how to do stuff, presenting them with 200 pages of stuff is going to make them turn you down every single time unless you tell them you are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for them and their team to build you a game. Otherwise they are going to tell you they already have their own ideas for games and they need people who can design characters, animate characters, ect.

Thanks for the mention @AP_Studios, its been 3 years but I’m still on board with the idea of ratings :slight_smile:

Well like I said game designers makes poor promoters

Well Jazz is cool and all that but give me Lady Gaga money every time.