Indie game dev, Videogame writer, Game enthusiast, Guitarist,


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The videogames industry: The decline of innovation and the rise of replication.

"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.

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grayfoxx8811655d ago

Nice blog. I do feel that several publishers are playing it safe with some game franchises, and because of that those series having become stale. While I do enjoy playing many AAA titles, I have bought a good amount of indie games lately and have gone back to playing my NES and SNES.

There are still many development teams out there that have my respect and therefore will have my money. That number, however, has shrunk considerably over the last five years and probably will continue to do so which is a shame.

zerocrossing1655d ago

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the read.

I also find myself craving to play old PS2 games and a few retro classics these days, many of the current titles just don't seem to do it for me lately.

At least we a few devs giving us a bit of variety, I dread to think what my gaming habits would be like without them.

maniacmayhem1655d ago

AAA games are now like the movie industry more so than ever. Game cost development are in the high millions and for most of these companies that is way too much to risk on a new IP or venture off into something new in terms of design.

This gen the spending from a lot of companies got way out of control and most games never saw a return on their investment. I think this next gen we'll see companies consolidating their production. We'll see them planning out smarter schedules, tightening up production groups and also seeing a lot more outsourcing for most IP's.

"...but more so now that the many advertisements present on the Xbox dashboard should create more than enough revenue to cover server fees..."

These "advertisements" are content found on Xbox Live, there not Coke, Mountain Dew or McDonalds. The content shown is basically "billboards" that take you directly to the product in the marketplace. I find it strange that some people still get upset about this.

zerocrossing1655d ago (Edited 1655d ago )

Pretty much exactly that, but what will happen next gen is anyone's guess.

Well my real issue with having to pay for Xbox Live is that I already pay my Internet provider and full price for a game, I don't expect and will not accept having features like online being held to ransom especially when I already meet the requirements to use it if I was playing on a PS3 or Wii/ Wii U.

If other people are OK with it then fair enough, I don't speak for everyone.

Software_Lover1655d ago

I never understood the advertisement argument either. I learn alot from the advertisements. I have downloaded some great games because of them also.

I do wish there were a way to turn some of them off. I would turn off the music ads because I know what i want to buy and listen to.

s45gr321654d ago

Very enjoyable blog a lot better than your previous blog. I whole heartily agree with everything on this blog. I do strongly believe Tres FX (fluid hair for video game characters) will add new gameplay mechanics like the hair catching on fire, getting tangle, or be able to grab a characters hair and slam him/hair onto the ground in a fighting game. Physyx makes the game come alive it will be nice to have dust in games to blind the enemy and make a escape route. ..........

zerocrossing1653d ago

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the blog.

I had'nt heard of Tres FX before, sounds intaresting, hopefully they can put it to good use like in yiur examples.

s45gr321652d ago

You are welcome and yeah Tres FX is fairly new it was used in Tomb Raider reboot.

DestinyHeroDoomlord1653d ago

It's times like these when I question myself about innovation, do I really want innovation? what if sequels didn't exist? or have I just grown tired of gaming as I crawl back to my old favorite games and disregard newer games for not being as much fun as old games...

zerocrossing1653d ago

There are only so many games aping the same concepts or replicating similar gameplay mechanics that I can tolerate before growing bored of them all... Maybe it's "franchise fatigue" or maybe many games really are less entertaining then they once were.

DestinyHeroDoomlord1653d ago

I agree, nothing worse than forcing yourself to finish a game which you can swear you've played elsewhere

Picnic1653d ago (Edited 1653d ago )

I didn't feel that GTAIII broke the mould by the way, even though it's a commonplace view to have. It just essentially put in 3D what it had already done in 2D.
Max Payne was a more ground breaking game to me from that time - I had never played a game that mixed such great graphics, atmosphere and story.

And Mario 64 put in 3D what arguably nothing had ever before quite been put in 2D.

The Dreamcast also innovated (128 bit, worldwide online, VMU and cel shaded games, although Fear Effect on the PS1 had a similar style too). The Gamecube innovated (proprietary discs, compatibility with Gameboy and, in Nintendo terms, more hardcore games).

zerocrossing1653d ago

Taking the 2D open world of GTA and creating a 3D version of it that actually functioned was in itself a huge innovation, never before had such interaction and freedom of exploration been possible in a 3D setting.

Mario 64 set the bar, I'm still impressed today with how incredibly fun and functional one of the very first 3D adventure games actually turned out. But yeah I agree with pretty much everything else you've said.

Picnic1650d ago

Freedom of exploration only means anything if you care for the gameplay and the window dressing on offer.

The likes of Shenmue and Jet Set Radio convince me as being more innovative in that respect even if the freedom of movement around all areas is more restricted.