Clinton Keith is making a very good point in a post about failure on his Agile Game Development blog (also posted on Gamasutra). In the article, he explains that you never know whether a game design idea will fail until you have tried it, and that it is important to generate useful information about this failure.
When exploring a new design, we want to generate information about its value. Is a design element going to add to the product? Is it going to be something the customer wants? Is its cost offset by a greater value? All of these are uncertain until we try it.
Clinton explains that you should try to extract as much information from a failure as possible. I couldn’t agree more.
When trying out an idea for the first time in a prototype, it may fail. This doesn’t always mean the idea was bad; it’s important to learn from the failure and to see in which way the idea could be modified to make it better. In the original article, this process is compared to binary search.
As we know, there’s a faster algorithm than binary search. It’s called interpolation search. This is the kind of search algorithm everyone is intuitively using when searching something in a dictionary: if you’re looking for a word starting with the letter ‘C’, you’ll start by opening the dictionary somewhere in the beginning (rather than opening it in the middle). In other words, you’re making an educated guess.
A similar comparison could be made for game design. If you see that an idea fails, it may help you to improve it or to find a better idea. But more importantly, it will contribute to your ability to assess features before even trying them out. This ability allows you to find the fun in your game idea a lot faster.