When starting development on a new game, creating a concept video or a playable prototype can be extremely useful. The bigger the project and the larger the team, the more useful the video or prototype becomes. Traditionally, written design documents have been used to describe developer ideas. While a written document can be useful, the concept video excels in a few areas:
Quickly get viewer feedback as to whether the game looks fun. Not sure whether to spend millions of dollars on a risky game concept? Create a concept video and post it online. Measure the view count and read the comments. Viewers will be brutally honest and you will quickly find out if they love it, hate it, or are indifferent. The Limbo developers posted their concept video online several years before they shipped the finished product. Better yet, numerous indie developers have bypassed the video altogether, created a playable prototype, and released it online. The prototype gains enough attention and praise that they decide to turn it into a full fledged game.
Provide the development team with a concrete vision. The downside of a written document is that it leaves too much room for imagination. Each team member will read the same document but end up with a different vision in their mind. A concept video leaves less room for imagination and points the team in a common direction.
Provide more detail, quicker. Getting each team member to sit down and read a 10, 20, or 100 page document and remember all of it is tough. Watching a 1-2 minute video is much quicker and has greater information density. (A picture is worth a thousand words?)
Illustrate a concept or feature that might be too hard to describe on paper or might not sound fun. An art style may be unique enough that it is difficult to describe. A gameplay feature might be difficult to imagine because it has never been done before. Sometimes showing them is the only way to turn them into believers.
Realistically, you won’t be forced to choose between a design document and a concept video. They can serve different purposes and be made to complement each other. However, showing someone a concept video or letting them play a prototype is one of the best ways to gain support for your game idea.
Here are some of my favorites.