Fantastic Contraption developer Colin Northway talked about the importance of identifying failure in its early stages. He spent several months trying to find the gameplay breakthrough in projects such as the bird-inspired Flocking, but they just didn't materialize.
Flocking was a project "that I thought was fantastic and a good idea, but one ... that I couldn't get to function as a video game," said Northway. He stressed to developers that just because you're really in love with an idea, "you won't always be able to make a game about that."
"I was looking under smaller and smaller rocks for game ideas," he said. That search is often futile. "That's the downfall of a lot of game designers," he said.
"When you're doing game design you should be picking among the ripest fruit... your job is to find the sweetest fruit. ... your job is not to eke something out of the cracks that will be playable."
Now, Northway feels that he has found his way out of the game design wilderness. He's currently working on a beautiful game called Incredipede, which appeared at Tokyo Game Show's Sense of Wonder Night. "I hope none of you get lost, and I hope all of you make your way out," he said.
I salute the GDC for holding this session, and especially to the game designers for sharing their stories. There is loads of research referred to on this site to show that destigmatizing and sharing mistakes is immensely helpful for learning and for ongoing improvement. Finding one's way out of the wilderness is a very valuable experience, and telling others about it is a great act of generosity.