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Opinion: Do gamers REALLY want innovation and creativity?

There's a perpetual irony within the gaming community. We're constantly decrying the sequel-heavy dearth of originality in today's safe-bet-driven industry, yet time and time again the imaginative, artistic and flair-filled games that we claim we want absolutely tank while we all play more Call of Duty. So I think it's time to ask what we really want. Do we want to take chances on new experiences, or are we secretly much happier just taking more of what we know we like?

Allegedly, hardcore gamers are the ones with the most money to spend on games. As the central enthusiasts of the pastime, we pick up far more games and buy with much greater regularity than more casual players. So it should probably follow suit that when a less mainstream, more innovative title comes along, we'll not only be the ones who know about it, but we'll have the passion and the numbers to make it a relevent market player, even if not a major hit.

All too often though, this just doesn't happen. Okami. Godhand. Beyond Good & Evil. Jet Set Radio. Grim Fandango. No More Heroes. Psychonauts. Alan Wake. Critter Crunch. Muramasa. MadWorld. That's just a handful of games off the top of my head that brought us exactly the kind of fresh, experimental ideas or off-kilter presentation we keep asking for. And not a single one of them sold like our constant battlecry of originality implies that it should have.

The reason? They were just too different from the norm for their market or platform, and there were big, safe-bet franchise games to buy instead of that weird-looking new stuff. Yes, the much bigger market for games these days means a bigger proportion of people who only play CoD or Halo, but even with mainstream mega-franchises having such big followings surely we, the more informed and prolific buyers, should be helping them make a dent. When Naughty Bear is seen ranking highly in high street game stores' charts while genuinely good games go nowhere, something is clearly going wrong.

It seems increasingly like gamers really want iteration rather than revolution. It's rare - except in unique cases of huge cult developer fanbases like Valve - than a genuinely revolutionary or experimental title makes the sales impact it should. We like our games to get better and bring us new ideas, but in cold hard, monetary practice we seem to like those ideas in small increments, and based on things we already know.


Above: For all of his brutal murdering, Jack's greatest crime was appearing on the Wii

And there's a particularly strange case with the Wii. Everyone and his dog owns one, and the hardcore who have them spend all their time bemoaning its status as a casual shovel-ware platform. But when it does do something interesting? We ignore it because it's on the Wii. Because we're too distracted by the big shiny HD blockbusters of the month. I know I've done this myself, and I know there are a stack of decent Wii games I haven't touched as a result. But hey, it doesn;t matter, because it's culturally easy for me to blanket-judge everything on the Wii as crap.

So I ask you, what really informs your game buying? Do you actively seek out more interesting and different titles, and take chances on the wealth of indie offerings out there? Or are you happier taking the (financially understandable) safe bet on the bigger stuff every time? And what motivates your decision?

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87 comments

  • KainStrider - August 18, 2010 10:48 p.m.

    I personally like innovation. No More Heroes and Jet Set Radio had been 2 of my favorites listed. I like to try new things. One of my favorite new things is Mirror's Edge. For months it was all I wanted to play. In an age where companies are doing the drawn out Call of Duty ad Halo knockoffs, I need a break from the norm.
  • LordPwnge18 - August 17, 2010 4:47 a.m.

    Personally, i prefer games with more innovation and that are somewhat obscure. There are actually a lot of games for the Wii that i need to pick up that i know are good. But the problem is, i like bing on my xbox so i can talk to my friends whilst playing it, along with some other pluses the xbox has. That's why I got superb games for it like Brutal Legend and BlazBlue. Before I got my xbox, however, i was playing all the games people should buy like mario galaxy, no more heroes, madworld, etc. And like i was saying i have yet to get the sequels for galaxy and no more heroes. To sum it up, they should just port (and maybe touch up, if it calls for it) all the awesome games to the xbox. That would be fantastic haha
  • newgames128 - August 16, 2010 7:37 p.m.

    It does seem like most gamers like to bitch about how clone-like games are, yet bitch and complain whenever a developer tries anything new.
  • vegasgambler45 - August 16, 2010 7:21 p.m.

    I completely agree with the article. I own Okami and psychonauts and I think they're absolutely amazing! I beat Okami at least five times, never getting tired of the story. It's so original and fresh I wish there was a sequel coming out. Today's games are losing their originality in place of mainstream run-and-gun action. They're good at the beginning, but they lose their edge after the first two.
  • presc1ence - August 16, 2010 5:31 p.m.

    I like to buy as many new or obscure games as possible, HOWEVER with prices that have got jacked back up to the £40-45 mark, i cant afford to buy anything that i might not think is fantastic. Drive the prices back to £30 and suddenly more obscure/odd titles get purchased!
  • pin316 - August 16, 2010 noon

    I don't think it's anywhere as near as Black/White as people infer sometimes...both sequels and original IPs have their place. Sequels are a good thing because if a game if good and truly captures the minds of it's audience then it is only natural to want to see more - plus it's a good way for a publisher/developer to bankroll new games through guaranteed(ish) sales. What should happen though is that there should always be a decent number of new games at any time to keep pressure on the sequels - there should always be that threat to a dev which says 'Go ahead, make Game X in this franchise, but if you do a poor/bad/half-ar*sed job, or rush it out when it's half-finished just to make a yearly target, then we will not buy it, and instead will try this new game instead...' At present there are just far too many sequels about with not enough new IPs that are great - this means publishers can go on making sequel after sequel with no real threat of loss in sales. Hand in hand with that is the willingness of the public to eat up a yearly product which follows a big trend, rather than refuse to buy it out of principal. I think on a side note that the now ever-present online capability of modern consoles has hurt individuality to some extent...whilst multiplayer is awesome when done properly, it does encourage peer pressure to all have the same game, and you probably see a high number of consequential sales as a result.
  • Crabhand - August 16, 2010 10:47 a.m.

    I'm fully willing to admit I'm into sequels. I don't bother to bemoan our current sequel driven market, because at the moment almost every game I love and desire sequels for are just damn good games. I'm always willing to give new franchises a chance if the funding is there, but I don't think I specifically cry out for innovation then ignore it. When all of our sequels turn to shit, however, innovation is going to be the key to keeping the industry moving forward. I just don't think we've reached that level yet, and until then quality, innovative games are going to find a smaller market share than they deserve.
  • TheKennedyCurse - August 16, 2010 7:27 a.m.

    A lot of times games that are "innovative" ("different" would be a better word for the list of games you provided) just aren't fun. Look at No More Heroes, for example. It's loved by critics simply BECAUSE it's different. It's not innovative, it doesn't change gaming forever, and it has no elements that haven't been seen before. I bought it when I owned a Wii because of the hype, and what I played was nowhere near as fun as the reviews made it seem. In fact, it was actually really BORING. Repetitive gameplay, ugly graphics, a "wacky" story that was just really stupid, a laughable open world, annoying side-quests, lame humour, etc. But it was DIFFERENT, and a beacon of hope to Wii owners, so people, like you, blinded by your want to enjoy it, adored it. People that step back from the hype and objectively look at that game will say that it's simply not very good, and certainly not as good as some would have you believe. And that's one of the worst parts about "different" games, they create this cult following that is so holier-than-thou, that scoff at anyone who plays a popular game (ie: Halo, or CoD), because they're obviously a non-discerning consumer who is ruining gaming by not support people who make games that they don't enjoy. HOW DARE THEY! Do I, personally, want innovation? Yes and no. I want to play something new and innovative that is FUN, not something that is simply different. I also want tried-and-true genre's to be refined, and improved upon to provide a more enjoyable experience. As for now, I've sold my Wii and its "innovative" motion controls, and am a proud owner of a X-Box 360 and a PS3, that come with good ol' controllers. I will not be buying Kinect or Move this holiday season, because they simply do not look like fun at all, to me. And yes, I am eagerly anticipating the release of Halo: Reach in a months time, and will probably be at whatever Midnight Madness event my local EB Games holds. I've seen some recently released videos of multiplayer gameplay, and it looks like a BLAST. If that's ruining gaming for you, I'm not sorry at all.
  • elpurplemonkey - August 16, 2010 5:29 a.m.

    I think there's a middle ground here, that being XBLA and PSN. Games like Flower, Braid and Limbo are both innovative and creative- and actually sold very well. I played Mad World, and it was moderately enjoyable but became repetitive very quickly. If that game would have been made for XBLA and PSN (and would been more finely concentrated so that it could be sold for $20) it probably would have been a hit. Another issue is that we gamers are now used to a certain kind of visual fidelity on the 360 and PS3; when we go back to the Wii it looks last-gen. This alone is enough to turn off many gamers from thinking of buying anything for their Wii. It doesn't help that a lot of those titles listed in the article are niche- they probably weren't going to sell that much anyway. That brings me back to the issue of pricing. Most gamers have very finite resources and go for longevity- Call of Duty or Halo are guaranteed to have great multiplayer that can entertain for months, while God Hand or Madworld simply don't. I know I'm guilty of this (though I did rent both of those.) I'd love to be able to make statements about games and developers and 'vote with my wallet,' but I simply can't afford it. Financially I'm better off buying the guaranteed hit and renting the niche title. I suspect that is the case for many of us.
  • Engage183 - August 16, 2010 3:44 a.m.

    its a shame that these games don't sell well when they overflow with origionality and innovation. i bought madworld the first day it came out, and now you can buy it for under 10 dollars and it sucks that Brutal Legend didn't sell well either, thats probably 90% of the reason there will not be a sequel. i mean, if it sold as well as MW2 did, it'd probably be safe to say that Double Fine would definitely be working on a sequel instantly. and i've always made it a mission to buy okami....
  • Zeb364 - August 15, 2010 11:22 p.m.

    I don't worry about whether it's indie or a blockbuster but whether or not the individual game looks good. I approach it with the same attitude I approach with which I approach indie films. I love to support them and will gladly hand over my money, as long as their good. Supporting shitty indie products just because their indie just tells producers/developers that they can get a good return on a shitty product that required very little money/effort to produce.
  • Slaanash - August 15, 2010 9:23 p.m.

    Actually, Jack's greatest crime was having a really shitty game. Nice try though.
  • andrewwoody - August 15, 2010 9:08 p.m.

    Creativity > Innovation. But how can you Innovate if you aren't doing so in a creative way? So we must conclude Creativity = Innovation.
  • ZiegZeon - August 15, 2010 8 p.m.

    I think a part of the problem is actually the reviews, (I'm sure we all know about the infamous IGN review of Godhand) and the other is that these games are a developer doing something different, and one game doesn't always pull out the best results. Mad World is a great example. I love the game, but it does get repetitive, and the motion controls don't always work. Reviews pointed this out, and i do think it's part of the reason it didn't sell. Another thing is that I think actual TRUE 'hardcore' gamers are a far smaller demographic then we see. Sure, a bunch of people that play Halo or Call of Duty all the time call themselves hardcore, but if all they ever play is Halo or CoD then the old lady who plays Cooking Mama and Wii Sports is just as hardcore.
  • stevengibson - August 15, 2010 5:35 p.m.

    i do agree with this article. still dont get why madworld n no more heroes appeared on the wii of all systems thats just suicide. but if i owned a wii i would have both those games. btw: r they really gonna release a beyond good n evil sequel or just do a duke nukem
  • Anonymous93 - August 15, 2010 11:18 a.m.

    I would love to play games like okami and mad world but ive only got a 360 and a wii at the moment and I really dont like using motion controls which is why my wii is never used. I also like playing sequels to other games too although the amount of cod games is ridiculous. Shooters are definitely not my favourite genre. I would rather play super mario galaxy but again its got those annoying controls.
  • adamasunder - August 15, 2010 11:07 a.m.

    Hmm, Alan Wake wasn't particularly new or innovative. The reason it probably didn't sell in numbers was probably due to a luke warm critque from the 'professionals' and the fact that it just wasn't all that great in my opinion. Too much effort went into story and setting that undermined other elements of the game. It was severely lacking in variety and was just plain boring from an interactive standpoint. I'm getting a bit pissed with developers trying so hard to make more story based games at the expensive of the actual game. In my opinion story should always be in service of the gameplay, not the other way around.
  • Cernunnos - August 15, 2010 11 a.m.

    well hang on a bit, you don't have a monopoly on what is a great game. Naughty bear is a good deal more entertaining than Madworld, which frankly, is a bit shit. and after constantly being bombarded by your glowing recommendation of Okami i was rather dissapointed. different strokes for different people, and just because a game steps a bit out of the formula does by no means make it interesting or better than the tried and true. i'll take another CoD over something like Psychonauts anyday, because in the end, nothing beats pulling of headshots in the good company of your friends. a pretentious wolf with a magic paintbrush isn't even close.
  • chewbroccli - August 15, 2010 5:14 a.m.

    okami was one of the best games i had ever played, that along with Shadow of the colossus really opens my eyes into trying unique games. people just need to give them a chance. why do we ask reviewers to review games if all we do is throw away their opinions and follow everyone else
  • Arix - August 15, 2010 2:51 a.m.

    Of all the titles mentioned here, I either bought them, didn't have the right system, or genuinely wasn't interested in them. I work casual hours at a game shop, I don't make a whole lot. So when I do spend my money on games, I want to make sure I'll enjoy what I get. If the new, innovative game draws me in, sure, I'll have a punt. But when I'm not interested in the screenshots, the basic genre, the style, or what people have said about it, and all I've got to go on are other people telling me it's good, then you'll have to forgive me for holding on until the next big Zelda or Mario title.

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