Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Is it better to innovate, or imitate in games?

I’m asking myself this one because it has come up recently in my work.

When you look at the successful companies in the game world, what you end up seeing are a lot of imitators who just happen to do it the best or at least better than the rest. Blizzard wasn’t the first to make an RTS, but they did it very well, and then they continued to improve on their previous models. No doubt Starcraft II will be a serious improvement over Starcraft I, but will it be an innovative game?

I think people get stuck on the idea of innovating. Of making something from absolutely nothing. The truth of the matter is, we as humans have been building our knowledge based on old knowledge since we started. To have a truly new thought that has no basis on anything before it is actually quite impossible. Everything we do is based on something that we have already learned or been taught. Even if you could actually come up with something like that, no one would understand it, and no one would pay you to make a game out of it.

So what it comes down to (for games at least) is how much should you push for innovation over imitation. The truly successful companies don’t innovate much. How different (really now) is Gears of War compared to Doom? If you look at all the things that came between Doom and Gears of War, you’ll see that GoW really is only about 3% innovation. The rest is built upon hundreds of established (and obscure) games.

When something truly new comes out, almost no one plays it. Where is the game built upon the foundations of the arguably very innovative Facade? I want to do that, but damned if I can find a company willing to let me (or anyone willing to fund me). Most companies shun innovation on a large scale. In fact, most innovations are afterthoughts that come from sudden technological inspirations (Endwar’s voice commands for instance came in during the last few months of production).

Blizzard in particular has made an empire out of copying the best things from all its competitors and cutting the things that aren’t fun. Practically no innovation comes out of Blizzard, yet they are the number one PC game maker in the world (I think).

Is it the consumer that doesn’t value innovation? They cry out for something new, but when it comes time to make a purchase will they buy a game based on Facade that they may not understand, or will they buy Starcraft II? My money is on Starcraft II. =P

Of course, it’s funny how many game companies I’ve been at that don’t understand the very simple Blizzard model. Most companies can’t comprehend how amazing games can come from simply stealing all the good things your competitors have done. Maybe they think that innovation really is the way to get more marketshare, but I know that’s a fallacy. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Innovate too much and the consumer will run away screaming. But take everything they like from other games and package it together, they’ll buy millions of copies. That’s why I’m working on the ultimate version of Solitaire combined with Minesweeper.

So is it better to innovate or imitate in game design? Well that depends on how much money you want to make… ;D

posted by CommanderHate at 8:44 am  

1 Comment »

  1. First let me say I think crap of war licks sweaty horse balls. The palette was bland nearly black an white. If I remember correctly they blasted you with ‘tips’, then you had to shoot each guy like 70,000 times to kill them. I got the distinct impression they just wanted alot of senseless shooting. What are these guys going down there with BB guns? IF you know your going up against a bunch of tough aliens, make guns that blow the crap out of them!! Furthermore the ‘areas’ were sooooo contrived. You come in at one end, they come in from the other, and there is a bunch of stuff to hide behind, everyone takes cover, and you shoot 60 million bullets to kill 8 baddies. Not my idea of fun.

    As far as blizzard goes. The best ting they have always had going for them is a good sense of humor. It really cuts the frustration if the game can make you laugh, wether the frustration is at game design, or just difficulty.

    The devs stick to the ‘tried and true’ because there is big investment $$$ involved, but you know that.

    I think you should build on innovation if you have something TRULY innovative. Often this is not the case, and you end up with crap for a game. Portal was quite a bit different than most stuff I’ve seen. I could liken it to other things, but no other game as a whole. A little like MYST in a puzzle sense.

    Then there was messiah, it was just another shooter except you could/had to posses NPC’s to complete objectives. It was fun, but a more recent game, second sight was similar, but sucked ass because (bad port) the controls were crappy. The idea of ‘karma’ was innovative. Fable comes to mind, but I doubt they were the first.

    If though, more often that not, you have something only a little innovative, you should build a standard game, add the innovative part, and let that make you game stand apart from the rest. This will prevent you from screwing your game up.

    Doom is quite a bit different that gow. Doom has the element of Evil (we are talking about the original right? god im old) the creepyness that made the hairs stand on the back of your neck when the lights went out, and the secret doors opened up to let out the demons, and just when you run to the door, its locked!! And you hear the screams, and the fireballs…

    You can always stick with a safe bet. Companies churn out crap everyday with the ‘theres a sucker born everyday’ mentality and make millions selling crappy games. But when you think of a ‘good game’ do you ever think of those games? or when you think of games that are totally forgettable do you think of those games.

    Truth is, most games/movies etc are built on a ‘formula’ that is designed for one thing: To take the consumers money. They could care less if you had fun.

    Comment by Colt1911 — October 25, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

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