This is my very first post here. Please be kind! This piece was inspired by my own experience with other people’s reactions to certain things, and what I felt was perhaps an unreasonable level of hostility in those situations. The internet will be the internet I suppose, but I hope somebody at least takes something from this.
The games industry is currently rife with clamouring for innovation. Everybody wants games that tread new ground and step away from established convention, and so many games that don’t are written off as being derivative before they’ve even been given a chance. It’s unlikely to be news to anyone that there is a clear rift between independent developers and AAA developers. The AAA’s like to play it safe by producing the same games year after year, completely unwilling to tread new ground for fear of losing money. This is ultimately inconsequential however, as most people still enjoy these big budget romps, and have all but given up expecting new directions from the majority of large developers. It is, in part, the desire for innovation (as well as the increase in mainstream coverage and digital distribution) that has given rise to the recent boom in indie games which has resulted in so many incredible looking projects, both released and in progress. When it comes to wanting new and interesting experiences from games, the sights appear to have been set on the work of ambitious Indies; games that take us on completely unique adventures that are made by the gamers, for the gamers.
I feel that in these circumstances, it is the perfect time to open up a dialogue about the nature of innovation in creative media and perhaps try to understand what it means. Does it mean different things to different people? I somewhat suspect that it is entirely subjective. Obviously it has a dictionary definition, but in the case of most of the people demanding innovation it may simply refer to something that is of interest to them. This subjectivity appears to have reduced the term to nothing more than a vague buzzword, used by many as a means of dressing up vitriol as constructive criticism. This is complicated by the recent rise of platforms such as Kickstarter, allowing independent developers to pitch their ideas at any stage of development from early concept to near completion as a way of gathering development funds. This has provided many independent developers with a way to gain publicity and funds to complete their projects to a more professional degree, but has also opened the floor to criticism being made by prospective customers at a conceptual level, rather than upon completion.
This may make me sound like a pointless sympathiser, but allow me to clarify. I’m not against criticism as a concept, constructive criticism is a very important tool for creativity. It is this level of community involvement that many developers are seeking. Where I think the issue lies is when concepts are completely written off due to their perceived level of originality at the first hurdle. When developers are treated as lazy copycats because their game happens to fall into a loosely defined genre that some may feel is already saturated.
What I think many forget is that a genre being saturated with existing titles doesn’t mean that there is a plethora of enjoyable games to play. It may well be the case that most of the games that fall into that genre are not particularly good, and that the game that is being so hastily written off is attempting to do it right, or it could even be that they want to create a different experience that just happens to fall into the same genre definition. One could even argue that some of the games are in fact lazy derivative copycats that deserve immediate dismissal. All I ask is that we all, as gamers, make the effort to find out. We all have different tastes and we all want to enjoy our gaming experiences. If a game doesn’t interest you, move on. If something piques your interest, check it out. Just don’t take to the comments sections with reckless abandon to start ranting about how the games industry is saturated with repetition. It isn’t constructive, and you may find that the game you wrote off at first glance because it looked unoriginal actually has some new and interesting ideas.
For every indie developer working on something that is completely new, there is another indie developer who feels unsatisfied with the current options in their chosen genre and feels like they want to do it right. These are the games that are treated unfairly, and we should all try to treat their ideas with a little more respect. It is also worth noting of course that there are lots of games coming out that actually are pretty much direct copies of existing games, but take place in a new setting so as to appear different to a prospective buyer and receive none of the criticism. Therein lies something of a bias.
This is what I mean when I talk about redefining innovation in the games industry. Innovation is defined as the application of new solutions that meet new requirements, and one of the most dangerous things we can do is take that too literally. There are only a finite number of entirely new concepts, and sometimes innovation is just about taking a set of existing ideas and applying them in a combination that creates something wholly unique. That game you thought looked no different than the others may well be something that you end up loving. So maybe it’s not about redefining innovation. Maybe it’s just about reconsidering our perspective on what can be considered innovative.
Constructive criticism should be exactly that. Constructive. Negativity about games that don’t appeal to you rarely achieves anything, all it does is take something that exists solely for the purposes of entertainment and poisons it. So next time you see a game and feel the urge to comment, do some research. Learn about the team’s goals and ambitions, think about what they’re trying to achieve and above all else, be constructive.
Like I said, I want to start a dialogue. I don’t want to preach. If you have any opinions on the subject, or want to tell me you hate me, please post a comment! I look forward to hearing from you.