"Innovation", innovation is a word you hear thrown around quite a lot in the videogames industry, either coming from publishers and developers who claim to be striving for it, or from gamers who complain about the growing lack of it. But what exactly do we mean when we talk about innovation in regards to videogames? The fact of the matter is, the term itself is capable of covering a broad spectrum of possibilities so it's meaning can vary drastically from one persons usage of it to another.
It's a difficult term to contextualise, but what I think most gamers expect when we hear the term "innovation" is either new methods of play, be that either how we interact within the virtual world as the player character or how we control the player character by way of the UI (user interface) which may even offer us new ways to play besides the classic controller/keyboard & mouse approach. Or even a new genre, maybe one that either expands upon the foundation of a pre-existing genre, or focuses more heavily on a specific element of another and builds a game around that, these examples are only few amongst many others of course. Where as from a publisher or developer standpoint, innovation could be anything from a new and/or improved game engine to integrating social media aps. Needless to say, not all innovations in gaming come about in order to actually improve gaming as a whole, as we've already seen with many services such as DLC, DRM and online subscriptions, these "innovations" can exist sometimes as more of a barrier to additional content, imposed more in order to help line publisher pockets instead of offering consumers a service which actually improves their gaming experience without holding content to ransom, or attaching other needless strings. This of course may not have been the case when such services were first implemented but I wouldn't blame any of you for assuming that was the case.
Most of us don't expect to get any additional content for free, we understand that people need to to get paid for the work they do after all, but what upsets many gamers is the feeling as if we are being charged for content that should have been made available on the disc at retail. These optional features can often feel as if they are simply ways for companies to piece meal their content instead of making it available on disc at launch, obviously no one would argue about additional content being made available later down the line, but the practice of holding back content to sell as DLC later must stop.
The problem is that the current system in place for the purchase of content via online is one that seems tailor made for such "services" to become more lucrative than the games we've purchased. For example, the fact that many games we buy today offer microtransactions in the form of day one DLC. Now I'm not personally against the option to purchase additional content but too often it feels as if certain parts of a game were held back to then be fed to us piece meal style after the games official release. Monthly subscriptions are of course are an option but sadly more often than not much of the DLC you receive is hardly ever worth the cost of subscribing.
Xbox live, still a paid service... Something that baffles me to this day, but more so now that the many advertisements present on the Xbox dashboard should create more than enough revenue to cover server fees, an issue made worse by the fact that many game servers have a hard time maintaining the heavy load placed on them, one would think that given the sheer amount of profits made by these companies that they would invest in additional servers to help meet the inevitable demand made by many popular games, especially with such a heavy focus being made to online gaming.
The trouble with innovation in any industry is that it's not guaranteed to improve a product or service, in fact it can often lead to the detriment of a product if implemented solely for the benefit of a company and without the intended consumer demographic being taken into consideration. For example look at the sorry state of the current Resident Evil franchise, all the innovations (changes if you will) were made so as to increase the overall appeal of the IP, not in order to make the franchise "better" but purely so that Capcom could increase their profits. In this games industry, why is it that lately the term "innovation" seems so synonymous with words like generic, cookie-cutter and accessible? Is it because from a company standpoint, innovation is considered to be whatever helps to increases a companies profits? Although to be fair, if you look at a lot of innovations to come about in the games industry as of late, they are often game mechanics and elements taken from other, more popular games and/or franchises, and re-worked into a pre-existing game/franchise such as Resident Evil or Final Fantasy in hopes that these companies will see similar profits being made.
The issue we as gamers are faced with today is, what innovations are required in order to actually further advance gaming as a whole? And what innovations are purely being put in place as an additional avenue for companies to further profit off of us the consumers? The alteration of pre-existing game genres or gameplay mechanics, making the experience more streamlined and/or offering the player a deeper level of interactivity and/or control are innovations I feel are worth striving for. But too often now we see companies trying to replicate the success of another by trying to force certain gameplay mechanics in where they do not belong. Some would call the current Final Fantasy series the evolution of the JRPG, but to me it seems more like a glorified mishmash of gameplay mechanics that simply do not gel, once again it is this apparent need for "mass appeal" brought about due to bloated development budgets that has invited such a needless change to a franchise that was once the epitome of the JRPG genre. Even the new focus on social media aps and sharing feels more like a way for companies to control how their games are viewed instead of a way for consumers to freely share and enjoy each others content.
How, I ask you, in such an industry that seems totally focused on pleasing everyone, is it possible to see such genre defining IPs come about like we did in the past? Games like GTA-III, Resident Evil 4, Shenmue and Assassins Creed, these games all broke the mold and earned critical acclaim because of it. But because of the current business model employed by most big name publishers today the next big industry defining change will most likely come about from either the mobile or indie scene, were innovation and originality are still vital in order to succeed. If that is to be the case where does this leave console gaming? It may well still be at the forefront of the games industry but due to the the current industries structure it seems as if there is simply no room for such innovations to equal those seen in the past. Many of the innovations in the console gaming scene being made today are mostly companies just playing catch up with one another, trying to replicate the success of the competition or altering their games to increase accessibility and appeal, It may even be the case that the industry is at the point where technology needs to advance further before the next "industry defining" innovations can come about.
Personally, I feel that if the current business model for AAA game development were to remain in place, then even the advent of new game changing technology would mean very little, in an industry seemingly content to constantly try to replicate the success of the competition or rehash whatever IPs have brought them success in the past.
Thanks for reading my blog, if you'd like to add anything or disagree with any of my points, please feel free to leave a comment.