Innovation, Originality, and Fun - AshaMan3000 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Innovation, Originality, and Fun

With a new generation of consoles rapidly approaching there has been a lot of talk about innovation and originality on this website and others catering to the core crowd of gamers.  Many are asking questions about why the industry seems to be content with recycled ideas and a reliance on older, proven formulas in regards to announced titles and hardware features.  We, as a group (I'm aware that I'll be generalizing quite a bit for the purposes of this blog), have got our panties in a bind wondering why we're not seeing fresh new ideas from the IP's we've been shown thus far.  While there were exceptions to the rule in this current generation in games such as Journey, The Binding of Isaac, Valkyria Chronicles, and others that I may have not gotten a chance to play, the common theme for the big two (I'll get to Nintendo, I promise) was 'more of the same'.

The question isn't whether or not we need it but rather do we really want it?

The idea that, as gamers we want something new and fresh from the titles we purchase isn't a new one.  As companies have settled into the annualization of titles we've gotten more and more of the same experiences, especially from AAA titles.  While the core audience that resides here and at other sites around the web argue endlessly about wanting something new the general public, and to an extent us, continue to provide huge lumps of cash to the studios that we're griping about.  Smaller companies that take chances are regularly closing while at the same time, corporate behemoths are raking in record profits year-over-year.  It seems that we've missed something in regards to our demands for originality and innovation.  Most people just don't seem to want it.

In what will surely become a hotly contested article on GIO, David Cage quoted Henry Ford in response to the question of why game developers have such a difficult time innovating.  "If I asked my customers what they wanted they would say a faster horse."  This (possibly paraphrased) quote fits perfectly into the landscape of gaming.  The unfamiliar just doesn't sell.  Whether you like his titles or not, it's hard to argue that David and Quantic Dream aren't bringing something new to the table with their games.  The same holds true for Nintendo and it's use of motion, stylus, and tablet controls.  I don't personally care for the new systems Nintendo has brought to the market but it's impossible to argue the significance of what their ideas have added to the industry.  As MS and Sony emulate their ideas with Move and Kinect, the question of brand loyalty has slowly moved to the idea that, except for exclusive titles, all three companies are largely the same.  You could argue that MS and Sony have added these ideas as a way to cash in on Nintendo's success or that they're just giving gamers what they want.  Unfortunately based on sales and adoption it appears that we don't want them.  I've yet to see more than a handful of positive remarks about either feature and the tablet controls Nintendo brought to the WiiU have failed to capture the interest of those outside the core market as evidenced by it's poor sales after launch.

Can I please just sit on my couch with a controller to play games guys?

Gamers are a particularly finicky bunch of people.  For example the last Zelda game I played to completion was Ocarina of Time.  I messed around with Twilight Princess prior to my Gamecube getting a beer spilled on it at a party, but it never captured my imagination like the others.  I only owned a Wii for about a month before I 'loaned' it to my nephew never to ask for it back.  The sad truth is that innovation doesn't sell.  Or it does but then is quickly relegated to the back of the minds of many in the case of the Wii.  How many people do you know who bought one during the craze several years back who rarely if ever play it?  More than a few I'd hazard to guess.  The same holds true for Kinect and Move adopters.  I've got multiple friends who don't use their Kinect for anything more than menu-navigation and that seems a huge waste of the technology behind the device.

Games with new ideas generally suffer the same fate.  For every best-seller like Journey there are dozens if not more failures who's only fault was that they tried to bring new ideas to the industry and failed.  Quantic Dream comes to mind again for this example.  While Heavy Rain was lauded as an amazing experience by most critics and many gamers, the change-up to the control settings and mature if not always well-done themes turned off many core gamers.  It sold well, especially considering the PS3's slow start, but you could hardly call it a blockbuster. 

I'm as guilty as anyone else when it comes to wanting new things from my industry while at the same time going with the tried and true when making new purchases.

A rare exception to the rule.

It took me nearly a year to finally get around to buying Journey and that was only after reading multiple blogs here at GIO that convinced me of it's awesomeness.  I'm glad that I did as it was a serene (if short) experience that re-kindled some of the joy that gaming used to bring me as a child.  At the same time I was working my way through Far Cry 3 (yet another open-world shooter) and anticipating games such as The Last of Us (a mash-up of Uncharted and Resident Evil) and God of War Ascension (which seems unlikely to bring anything new to the table).  What can I say?  I, like many others, enjoy the familiar and putting a new skin on an old formula is often enough to convince me to open my wallet.  Innovative and fun don't always mean the same thing.  Or rather, don't have to.

So who's to blame for the stagnation of ideas in the gaming industry?  It can't be the developers as it's been proven time and time again that the 'same ole same ole' sells.  It can't be casual gamers because they just buy what looks fun and don't delve into the details beyond whether or not they can kill some time while on break at work or during a subway commute.  It can't be us because we're the ones constantly demanding change.  Or can it?  Demanding one thing and then proving over and over with our wallets the opposite does in fact make us liable.

Every time we purchase a Kinect only to not use it we reinforce what we're trying to argue.  Every time we buy a Call of Duty to occasionally play online with friends while complaining on forums that we hate the series we add to Activision's coffers so that another sequel can be rushed out of the gate.  Every time we pick up the newest Nintendo system only to let it gather dust waiting for one of the three IP's a majority of us are interested in playing it adds to the companies thought process that what they are doing is right (and I'm not saying it isn't, just that it isn't to my taste).  And every time we buy a masterpiece like Journey only to 'not get it' or think it was too short to be a 'real' game we set the industry back just a little bit.  I'm including myself when I say this but looking in the mirror is the only way to see who's responsible for what many see as the decline of the video game industry.  Innovation, originality, and fun are not mutually exclusive.  Innovative doesn't always mean original and neither definitely means fun.  You don't have to have one or more to get the other and the sooner we realize that games, like all forms of media, are just a matter of taste (with no real right or wrong) the sooner we'll see meaningful change to the industry.

To all those who disagree I salute your opinions!

We're a motley crew but should be able to agree that gaming is awesome in all it's forms.

What more important to you?  Innovation, originality, or fun?

For me fun is, and always will be the answer.

Thanks for reading everyone and good day!

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