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Speaking at a Game Developers Conference Sid Meier, the creator of Civilization (the game), spoke about to how to use player’s imagination and save million on you budget. The best ideas are obvious when you hear them out loud and this is one of them.

Sid said to actually “use player’s imagination”. In Civilization a foreign leaders seeks your favor and you were to be rewarded with a gift of 7 dancing bears. Did Sid pay his modeler a few days salary to create seven 3D bears, and then pay his animator to make them do the tango? Or did Sid use the player’s imagination and wrote a sentence into the game, to save a lot of money to be used elsewhere? In Civilization they just typed “Foreign rulers seek your favor; the Sultan of Zanzibar sends you a caravan of exotic gifts, including 7 dancing bears!” You never see the Sultan, you never see a caravan, you never see 7 dancing bears on screen. But the player sees it in their mind. They used player’s imagination. Sid said this is “how to save millions of dollars in game design.”

Making AAA Games On A Shoestring

Sid explain player imagination and budget in more detail:

“One of the techniques I think is very important in making Triple-A games on a shoestring is to really use the player’s imagination as a very key tool.”

“No matter how good your graphics are, no matter how cool your technology is, […] the player can always visualize something more compelling and more dynamic.”

“Often we don’t have to literally show everything in the game […], if the player can imagine what is going, if the player can imagine what Napoleon is doing when he is not actually on the screen, imagine what’s going on behind the scenes, then we save a lot of money by not having to create all those assets, and not having to do all those things.”

Take advantage of collective knowledge

Focus your budget on what is new and unique to your game. By tapping into an immense pool of cultural knowledge you can save more money. During Sid’s talk he speaks about using what the player already knows for other elements of the game, elements that don’t need to be unique. By doing this you will avoid wasting time and money.

Make your important characters and elements unique, but you can save time and money by using tropes and stereotypes for other elements. If you design an unimportant character wearing black clothes and an eye-patch you don’t have to waste your budget explaining the character’s background. The player automatically understands this is a bad guy. If you decide to go against every trope and stereotype then it is going to eat up all your budget, as you would need to explain it all for the end-user to understand. Explain why it is snowing in Egypt. Explain why the pink round-edge castle is evil. If you limit your creativity to important elements you can maximize your budget and use collective knowledge for free.

Do you know other ways to save money in game development, or other ways to utilize player imagination?