Having worked at several companies, I've often heard 'We want your ideas for cool new games.' If an employee suggests an idea, here's the deal they normally get:
"Give us your cool idea. If we like it, we keep all the money and you get a T-shirt. If we don't like it, you still lose all rights to it."
Sound like a good deal?
Let's say that an employee comes up with an idea you like, and it makes your company three million dollars in profit.
- Would you be willing to give that person a small percentage of the profit? (Let's say 5% - 150K).
- Let's say that someone else suggested an idea which you didn't want to use. Would you be OK saying the following? "We're not planning on using your idea now, so you can keep it".
- If the answer to these questions is yes, then you should formalize the rules and let your staff know how it works.
Inevitably, a lot of questions will come up - do my royalties continue if I leave the company? What happens if the company initially says they do not want my idea, but use it later on? What happens if sequels are made? What if my idea is smaller, like a mini game or new funky shader? etc.
Here I have a few suggestions:
- Answer all these questions on an intranet page which people can look at without having to ask the questions themselves. If people have to ask, you put them in the awkward situation of implying "I've got a cool idea, but I don't want to give it to you."
- Let your guiding principle be that you want to be nice to the employees, so they're happy to share. They wont share if they don't trust your intentions.
- Your intranet page explaining how the deal works is basically a sales letter, or offer. If you don't make the offer tempting enough, they'll just hang on to their ideas.
- You can cover your back with whatever legalese you want. Just make your intentions clear and honest, and 'do the right thing' if issues arise.
It would take some courage to formalize something like this, but it's my feeling that a company capable of doing so is going to be making a lot more money.