Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Innovation and Diminishing Returns

It has been pointed out a lot (as recently as yesterday by fellow blogger Straw Fellow in a comment here) that modern games tend to have a lot of polish but very little innovation. Barring a few indie titles, this is certainly true. One could argue, however, that this is absolutely normal for a maturing industry.

You see, it is incredibly easy to innovate in a field that’s new and unexplored. Just have a look at some early bicycles and then some modern ones. The differences between modern bikes are rather minute when compared to the differences back then. Other fields of innovation show the exact same features. It is really easy to improve upon something that has just been invented, simply because it takes time to get things right. The more people spend time working on a topic, the more will be found out about it and there will be less and less left to be found out.

I’m not saying that the games industry is at a stage where further innovation is impossible and we do still see some of it. Yet it becomes harder and harder to innovate and those innovations that do happen tend to be of a smaller nature. Barring major technological evolutions (and motion control likely isn’t it), most possible game concepts have likely been found already. If you can’t find a new concept, all you can do is to innovate within the already existing field of ideas. Over time, innovations will get smaller and smaller until it feels as if there is no innovation at all anymore.

Now, this is clearly not the only reason for a lack of innovation in the field of games. It is absolutely true that investors are afraid of investing in new and untried ideas (hence my call for games research) and customers don’t really want to buy raw new ideas when they can buy polished old ones instead. Still, we can’t simply look back at the innovations we saw in the youth of video games and blame the lack of innovation today on cowardly investors and Modern Warfare buying sheeple.

 

  • “most possible game concepts have likely been found already”
    Somehow, we always think this, about everything.

    “customers don’t really want to buy raw new ideas when they can buy polished old ones instead”
    What we need is to harness the power of the technophiles. But for games. People who will pour too much money into frequently awful products, in a desperate and futile attempt to stay on the edge of progress. I think there is some hope for this, as gamers are getting older, and richer, and therefore more able to throw away money.