|July 2nd, 2008|
There has been a lot of criticism towards the game industry, accusing them of being unoriginal. Sequels, sequels, everywhere. Diablo 3, Starcraft 2, GTA 4, Halo 3, The Sims 3, Far Cry 2, Fallout 3, not to mention the annual versions of various sports games. Why can’t game companies be more original? Because game companies are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, making the games that players want, and the players don’t want original games.
If I say to you, “do you want chocolate ice cream?” you probably say yes. If I say to you “do you want more chocolate ice cream, this time with sprinkles on top?” you probably still say yes.
If I say “by the way, there’s also this mango sorbetto,” you may or may not try it. But you aren’t going to ask for mango sorbetto without prior knowledge of its existence.
Players know what they want from what they know. And they don’t know what they want from the unknown. For all I know there’s a fantastic dessert eaten only in the Philippines that would rapidly become my favorite dessert ever.
From a game grammar standpoint, genre = game. A fresh game in a genre is really just ringing changes on relatively minor factors; the verbs are the same, you’re just getting different statistical combinations here and there. (New maps, new monsters, new weapons, new jump distances, new storylines). The addition of a new verb (hello Portal!) is a highly engaging experience that can pleasantly surprise us and be seen as a major new advance — even though adding or changing one verb out of a set of twenty is a fairly minor change.
Coming up with new sets of verbs, e.g. new games, is very hard. Meaning, it can be expensive. Many — nay, most — combinations don’t actually work and aren’t fun. On top of that, even the ones that are fun are fun only to a segment of the population. Figuring out what segment and how big it is can be painfully hard and expensive. Because of this, the true homo economicus, the corporation, tends to prefer instead to bet on sure things, often leaving vast quantities of money on the table because they simply don’t know how to pick it up.
When someone does it, however, in creating this new combination of verbs they are creating a whole genre. Suddenly custard exists, and players can start to crave varying flavors of it. Companies are often driven to this just because there’s so damn many people making these crazy elaborate ice creams with all sorts of nuts ‘n’ stuff mixed in them that it’s getting expensive to stand out.
Players will eagerly tackle a fresh new genre, when it’s offered and actually fun to a broad population. So saying that it’s the fault of players that there is no innovation is not really accurate. Of course players want chocolate ice cream. And every once in a while we get the custard genre invented.
The first challenge, to my mind, lies in designers educating themselves enough to know that ice cream is not the only possible sort of dessert. To get them thinking broadly enough that they can think of things like flan. The second thing that needs to happen is for companies to realize that rapid prototyping techniques exist that can prove out the notion of flan relatively cheaply.
And that’s why the whole text mud debate falls oddly on the ears of some of us. When you see a statement like this:
I think all MMOs are similar to the EQ model in the following ways:
- You have skills accessed from clicking a button.
- All the content for your level is contained within a short travel of each other.
- There is no permadeath, just a (varying in size) death penalty.
- NPCs respawn (Except that bloody wounded child in the Wil Lands of Zelata, eh!?).
- As you progress, you become stronger, but you can only progress further by moving on and fighting stronger opponents.
- The game focuses mainly on combat. Crafting, diplomacy, etc are minor aspects of the game. But my problem is – how would an MMO work without following that structure? AS far as I can see – it wouldn’t.
…it is almost exactly like reading someone who thinks that all desserts must be
- made from dairy products
- served in a waffle cone
- have chunks of chocolate in them
- have colored sprinkles on top
My reaction is generally to feel sorry for this person, because they have never had banana cream pie or fresh berries with whipped cream… but my second reaction is “look up from your tiny frame of reference, people!”
But I can’t really blame them. In the end, it isn’t the players’ job to invent new desserts, and you can’t really get upset with them for not knowing what is possible with a blowtorch, sugar, egg whites, and cream.
Despite what Tobold says, homo economicus is increasingly considered a myth in economics. Players do not always do the rational thing, for many reasons. But there’s one thing that I do think people are logical enough to do: if we offer more kinds of desserts people will try them.