Thursday, March 31, 2016

Gaming Industry: Lack of Creativity

I'm going to be honest when I say this. I think great chunks of the Gaming Industry today suffer from a lack of creativity in the way that companies go about making new video games. Instead of thinking outside the box (hence the picture I posted) and finding that possible new gem of a game concept that can take gamers to places where they haven't really been to before, some game developers have become content with the idea of remaking and rehashing game concepts of yesteryear, making very few to no changes to original game concepts that were cool years ago but are now of the norm.

This has been a reoccurring problem for years now. It doesn't just involve the changing hardware consoles. No matter what console or gaming platform you put your game on, you have to present something to the people that will get their attention, something that will get them talking, raise an eye brow and applaud. Big name companies like Nintendo can get away with tactics like this because they know that at the end of the day Super Mario is going to sell no matter what concept they throw out to their gaming audiences. Nintendo could even put out a new Mario game on the Nintendo NX called "Super Mario Jumps the Shark" and hardcore Mario fans will still eat it up. (Forgive me for being silly.)

It's easy to get comfortable with concepts and tactics that have led to success in the past. I understand that feeling. I get it. As a game dev you don't want to make too many drastic changes to a game series where you saw initial success with. Blasting Commandos (this is a random title) was an amazing hit with fans and you don't want to alienate them by doing a 180 on the core gameplay mechanics when you make Blasting Commandos 2. Totally understandable.

When it comes to yearly installments of games like Call of Duty, sports games, simulator games, etc. that's when things get a bit muddy. You know why these games continue to come out with little to no changes being made to them. They sell. That's a sure thing, but is that the right thing? The core gameplay mechanics have pretty much stayed the same for games like Madden Football, where you just need to press a button to have your quarterback pass a football to a receiver. You don't need to keep getting updated versions of Madden to know how Madden plays at this point.

Creativity is something special in the Gaming Industry. Either you have creativity or you don't. Either you have that passion to create new stuff or you don't. Either you're going to work on the drawing board and try to develop a new gaming concept or you won't. That's how people like Shigeru Miyamoto, Yuji Naka, the late Satoru Iwata and the like get to where they want to go. They have that willingness to create something the majority of people aren't considering at the moment. Selling is one thing and selling helps. Creativity is something you need to have inside you in the Gaming Industry before you sell anything.

1 comment:

  1. There's a handful of big problems that cause this in my experience. The TLDR version is that the "new" (innovative ideas) is riskier and appreciated less than you might imagine.

    So first, say you're trying to pitch a game (say to a publisher) to get some funding or something else your game will need. If they don't immediately 'get' your pitch, you're not going to get that money or whatever. A more familiar concept is easier to pitch and sell to people.
    Remember that when you're pitching a game like that, you're competing with everyone else who wants that person's money. Simply put, proposing something too new is potentially shooting yourself in the foot from even getting funding in the first place.

    But lets say you get past that hurdle or you're self-funding your game. Next you got to take the concept (the idea on paper) and make a working prototype and take the time to playtest it with players.
    How long does that take you? A month or two?
    How many thousands of dollars do you spend in that time?
    What do you do then if it turns out your idea just doesn't work, and you've produced a failed prototype that sounds good on paper but doesn't work in practice. That's a lot of money to lose for a back-to-the-drawing-board moment. Again, risky.

    (My mentor when I was first getting into game development had an adage that went something like: "If you look around and realize that nobody has done your idea before, it's probably not because nobody thought of it before. People have thought of everything. It's probably because someone tried it and it didn't work." And the scary thing is since you rarely hear about failed ideas, you have no idea if you're person #2 or #2000 to try and fail at that particular idea.)

    But say your game concept actually works and tests really well once implemented. Congratulations, you've made an awesome new innovative game. Now you have to convince millions of people of that. That's marketing.
    Marketing teams won't know how to sell your concept either if it's too new. I've heard that a good rule of thumb for marketing costs is for every dollar you spent on development, you match with your marketing budget... and for a 'new' idea you might have to do MORE than that. That's... a lot of money.
    And again, one that is a gamble that might not even pay off.

    Players will see the game on the store shelves next to sequels to games they already know they liked, and which one are they going to pick? Picking the familiar one is the "safer" investment for them too.

    Go look at sales charts of games throughout the years and you'll see a recurring trend of games that are considered critically acclaimed masterpieces that were also commercial failures.

    At least you made an amazing game, sure.
    But you also need to eat, and need to hopefully make enough money to make your next game too.

    So I wouldn't say the issue is a lack of creativity. Game developers are a creative bunch of people. It's just that it doesn't often make good business sense to actually utilize that creativity, as counter-intuitive as that may first seem.

    I've actually been often impressed that I was allowed to get away with the go-ahead to pursue some really weird new ideas in games I've developed... but I'm also often told from the top down management to explicitly just clone some existing game because that's an easier sell and we need this game to work for our bottom line. Yes, I'm often deliberately commanded by my superiors to just clone existing games.

    Sometimes we even recognize when one of our games is riskier and make the other projects more conservative to compensate and take on some of that risk from the other game. And you don't always get to be on the 'fun' one-- because someone has to work on the other projects that support that other game's risks.