Your idea is Worthless to me
That’s a pretty harsh way of putting it, but of all the questions that I see bought up again and again on forums, message boards, facebook groups and the like it’s the one that this is the single quickest and best answer for. Specifically, people asking if they should show their game for playtesting out of fear that it will be stolen and used by others. The answer is that no, it won’t, because it is totally and utterly worthless to me, and to anyone really other than you, or at least to someone willing to put in enough work to developing it that it won’t be yours anyway, it will be theirs.
Lockdown due to the Corona virus pandemic recently eased and I went out for a socially distanced open-air drink with some friends, some fellow game designers and some not. One of our friends who we regularly game with pitched a game to a couple of us that are designers. I’ll be honest, I’m probably not the best person to casually pitch game ideas too and I wasn’t super supportive, but that’s because I know that your idea is worth nothing to me on its own. Your idea for me is just the chance to work insanely hard for relatively little reward on something that I don’t particularly believe in, and I have pages and shelves of ideas of my own to put that work into. In the end, the second most regular post I see on forums and such after people asking if they should tell anyone about their game in case it gets stolen is people telling everyone about a game that is never going to reach the prototype stage, much less get completed.
Will neat ideas in one game get folded into another? Yes, if your game does something particularly elegantly then next time I come up against a similar problem in one of my games I’m not going to re-invent the wheel or do something inelegant rather than use your solution. In exactly the same way you didn’t design your game in a vacuum, nor does anyone else. That is not stealing your game or your design, is just the nature of design, people are not going to keep re-designing the same idea over and over. If every discard pile or draw step in every game had to be different than all previous ones then we’d not be able to make games anymore.
The thing about ideas is that they’re like keys to locks. The key to the lock on your house is incredibly precious to you, but a key to a lock that you’ve thrown out, or to a home that you’ve moved away from is totally worthless. If you just find a key on the street it could be a fascinating puzzle, and you might even, if you were so inclined, design a lock to fit around it, but the idea that you would do so in order to save yourself time and effort, or that you wouldn’t deserve to use the lock that you then built is sort of bizarre. To further extend the metaphor, you might well worry that someone who did get the key to your house, and know which house it was might well rob you blind, like someone stealing your game wholesale. The thing is that unlike “stealing” a key or an idea, nabbing a whole game is pretty huge and even in the degree when it’s been accused of happening hasn’t happened to assets and art. Stealing a game still requires investment into artwork, marketing and development, but even then, its not stealing an idea. No-one steals ideas, they’re just not worth taking.