Woe is Gaming! Innovation & Ignorance

When Satoru Iwata cautions investors that it’s becoming harder to impress players due to the plateauing effect of innovation, a part of my brain collapses.  When he tells the world that games have been “improving steadily each year, but these improvements are becoming less noticeable”, gravity flips and I hit my head on the ceiling.  Do you see the dark, ominous clouds on the horizon?  It is the storm of doom that will hit gaming this “console cycle”.

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Collapsing Under Their Own Weight

Blaming the mobile market, blaming online piracy, blaming the economy — these are all lazy scapegoating techniques we’re familiar with, but blaming the limits of innovation?  Now you’ve just exposed the real, much more painful, truth.  You don’t know how to innovate.  You don’t know what people want, or how to deliver it.  You don’t know which way is forward, and which way is back.  You bravely paddled out to the the blue ocean, but now you’re confused, trying to find your way back to shore.

Games have been steadily improving each year?  When the fuck was somebody going to inform me of this?  I could have sworn they were becoming more predictable, more shallow, more stupid and more aimless.  But perhaps the key word is “noticeable”.  The game industry has been happy to embrace every new jump in graphic technology because it means they don’t have to figure out what people actually enjoy about their game — which is a much more difficult task.  It’s easy to make something that showcases new graphical power while recycling the same old ideas, but now it’s hitting a point of diminishing returns, where the budgets required “Wow” players is outweighing our interest.  And with the mobile market teaching people gaming’s simpler role of killing time, the assumption that games must climb toward some Occulus Rift motion controlled bullshit dream is falling apart.  Technological innovation can’t hide your incompetence forever, games industry.  Sooner or later you’re going to have to come up with good game ideas, execute them well, and innovate in the realm of creativity, not gimmicky new business models and bigger hardware specs.

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Impetus vs. Impotence

This guy thinks game designers will be compelled to innovate their game design practices thanks to the new super HD graphics of the upcoming consoles.  People simply won’t accept unrealistic design concepts like a bloody-spattered screen representing damage inflicted to your character; a concept which mostly replaced the outdated “health bars” of yore.

…if you want people to buy into your next-gen high-fi action adventure? Unless you have a darned good, plausible explanation for them, drop weapon wheels, regenerating health, and the audio logs.  Because no, people don’t record their most intimate moments on thirty identical voice recorders and drop them in random places.  That game metaphor of discovery and knowledge is too abstract.

Old game metaphors are dying, and we’re in a desperate need of a new dictionary.

What a sweet, innocent man.

No more regenerating health unless they come up with darned good, plausible explanation?  Do you have any idea what you’re saying?  If anything, the explanations are going to get worse.  Players won’t even be able to lose health anymore, because Americans are doughy oversensitive shits who can’t handle criticism and will simply blame the game for not flattering them properly.  So now we”ll just receive less Achievement Points than we would’ve otherwise, and game designers will figure out a way to explain why the hero is invincible.  Instead of picking up audio logs, there will be Peace Walker-style briefing sections, entirely optional and without explanation.  It only gets worse from here.

It’s true that there is a huge impetus to update the “metaphors” of our game design dictionary, just as there is a huge impetus to “wow” players with something new and different.  The time for innovation is clearly now more than ever, and it’s precisely because we now have all the tools.  The hardware is beyond anything we could possibly need to make an awesome game.  There is no place left to hide for game developers.  You clearly don’t need a $40 million budget or a new graphics processor to make an impressive new game.  You don’t need better controllers, faster Internet, or more flexible business models.  You don’t need more efficient communication methods, wider acceptance, or a more enthusiastic consumer base.  All you need is innovation.

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