Do We Actually Want Innovation?

This is a long one. Don't wanna read? Don’t eat.

Pictured: Apparently worst than a literal housing crisis

So it’s been about a month since the...controversial(?) DmC Devil May Cry’s release and, while the inexplicable fervor has died down for the most part, it has not gone away despite the game’s excellent review scores and almost universal acclaim from reviewers, with some accusing Capcom of somehow having the capital to pay off the entirety of gaming journalism for positive reviews. I qualify that because, to check out the Metacritic USER score, you’d think this game had committed a war crime. Or swindled someone out of their house and life savings with predatory banking practices as EA apparently did last year when it was voted the Worst Company In America for the crime of nickel-and-diming people’s disposable income away from them and also maybe ruining a prominent trilogy’s ending. That last one really depends on your perspective.

This isn’t going to be a post about any one thing, it’s going to be a post about a problem I’m noticing popping up in the enthusiast circles of videogames and that’s the absolute, savage hypocrisy with which “innovation” is simultaneously demanded and reviled. What this essentially boils down to is this: MANY people who claim to want innovation actually only mean they want games that they don’t now play to change so that they’ll want to play them. I might as well go to the two best examples I can think of: Madden and Call of Duty.

Pictured: Something WORTH getting upset at a company for.

I don’t personally play Madden, I like American football, but not enough to know player names, and I play Call of Duty as a rental for the campaign, so obviously I’m not the target audience for either product, but I can admire what they both do and how they do it from a distance: they’ve captured the elusive “casual” gamer and the hardcore alike. “Casuals” love it because essentially they can buy the one game that comes out every year and that’s perfect for the kind of experience they want, but it’s also led to both franchises stagnating and putting out iterative steps every year rather than a fully-realized, entirely new game every few years. Again: there’s nothing particularly wrong with this, it works for them and their consumers seem perfectly happy with it. But something funny happens whenever a trailer or announcement for either of these, and some other, games gets released: the comments, and even forums, are flooded by people taking them to task, with most of the derisiveness stemming from the “sameyness” of the franchises and how incremental each game is, usually while throwing in something bemoaning the lack of creativity in the game’s industry. But what happens when real innovation DOES happen? Well...why don’t you ask Ninja Theory? Or Bioware? Or Nintendo? Or, yes, even Capcom.

Pictured: UNASSAILABLE BADASS

The new Devil May Cry game was assailed, from trailer one, for the crime of not being samey enough. For delivering a Dante, and indeed a world, that was markedly different from the previous four iterations (though, to this day I have no idea who the original Dante was from the perspective of the fanboy. First this new Dante was too bombastic and cavalier, then he was too “emo,” which in this case meant “I don’t like how he looks and am not clever enough to describe it,” then, finally and hilariously, he wasn’t bombastic and cavalier ENOUGH). Likewise Mass Effect 2 had blood vomited upon it for DARING to excise the Mako portions (that were the worst part of the previous game), streamlining the combat (or “dumbing down” as the fanboy might say, despite the fact that 2 is much, much more challenging than 1) and in hindsight, it is beloved as the best in the series, which, of course, displays a hilarious lack of self-awareness. Ask Link, who had to endure the japes and jibes of being cel-shaded as not “ADULT” enough...for a game about an elf who wanders the land trying to save a princess from an evil wizard. Yes, surely that is a game that deserves to be taken very, very seriously in terms of art style.

Pictured: Goddamn Emo Punk

The sad thing is that this isn’t an especially new thing, the idea of “I just want everything I like to stay the same and everything I don’t like to become something I do like” is as old as human thought, but it’s a shame when people deprive themselves of something truly great because it somehow offends their sensibilities. Oh and before I wrap up, and this is purely a pet peeve: if you spend three years berating a company with knee-jerk reactions over a game you haven't even played, letalone seen very much of, you don't get to be stoked with indignation that the company takes a quick, and clever, dig at your expense. Sorry. I’m not saying you have to LOVE DmC, Mass Effect, or anything else, I’m saying you should at least be CONSISTENT with what you want out of the industry. You can’t bitch and whine that the industry has stagnated and then scream when they change something. It makes you look silly and childish.

22 Comments
22 Comments
Posted by Video_Game_King

I've given much thought to this, too, and I must say that innovation should not ultimately be desired, either. It is a misnomer, one wrongfully equated with quality when it exists on a separate axis altogether. Also, xenophobia something.

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Edited by Pr1mus

I'm of the opinion that developers and publishers should simply make the game they want without letting outside influence and demands from fans dictates what they do.

Of course when making a direct sequel to something a certain level of consistency with the previous games is necessary as to not cheat people in believing a game is something it really isn't but when creating something new, original IP or reboot/spin-off, they should do whatever they please. People in most cases don't know what they want until they have it in their hands.

It's always a good thing to engage with the community and take feedback into account once the game is done, see what people like and dislike and take this knowledge to create a better sequel but when creating the game that will become the starting point of a new franchise developers should be able to be fully in control of a game's design.

And they must stay clear of focus groups at all cost!!! Those are the worst. Are you really gonna let 20 people who haven't got a clue about the processes involved in creating a game tell you what to do? I know i wouldn't and i've been part of focus groups myself before. I worked in QA for 4 years and you'd think that experienced testers would be somewhat more knowledgeable about games and better able to express clearly their ideas...forget that.. Now imagine 20 random nobodies who may or may not play too many games...

Edited by Undeadpool

@video_game_king: Agreed. Neither innovation nor iteration are inherently noble (or ...ignoble, I think is the word?), it all depends on the quality of the product.

Posted by RPGee

Here's a thought that I had when reading this: the idea of hating innovation and wanting something specific, and then complaining when exacting standards are attempted and not completely met, is a fairly childish thought process. In that sense, it could be argued that a major part of the audience for video games is problematic for video games, which seems quite a concern.

That's just a half-thought theory, though, since ideally these days a lot of adults enjoy video games and should hopefully be above this sort of squabbling. The next question is how many of this adult population are online, whether they are in fact speaking out and whether it is just a vocal minority that is causing so much grief. I know I personally love DmC, even if it is my 4th favourite DMC game (following DMC3, Bayonetta and DMC4.)

Posted by Enigma777

The simple truth is that gamers (or rather people) don't know what they want. They THINK they do, but it's not actually what they want.

With that said, FUCK DmC!

Posted by SuliPatchouli

Just a quick question. How is changing Dante into an emo punk innovative?

If innovation is just changing the personality of a character or taking out a previously included feature I think the word is maybe being used a bit too loosely.

Maybe what you should have asked is, "Do we actually want change?"

Posted by McGhee

Why would one get upset at Capcom for Evil Ryu? At was more interesting than playing against regular-ass Ryu over and over again.

Edited by Rowr

I know for a fact i want innovation. After 25 years of playing games, i'm sick of seeing the same mechanics in the same ways.

How long can you continue to play tony hawks pro skater. How many classic JRPGs can you happily invest time into. How many FPS can you play before you are just going through the motions for the sake of it over and over again.

The easiest way to shake it up is a story so compelling it's pretty much the whole focus and everything is secondary - but it better be a damn good story. Max Payne 3 had me intrigued but i still didn't play past the third level.

Innovation and poorly executed innovation are two different things, and when i talk about innovation - I mean true innovation; not just tweaking old mechanics, old art, old story.

There's always a spot for revisiting a classic genre with upgraded graphics and tweaks (aside from sports games, but also including)but there needs to be some time in between and it better have been a good idea to start with.

It's worth recognising that most of the casual market are either pretty new to video games, or they play so few titles for so few hours that they aren't seeing/feeling the mechanics being over used.

Posted by Undeadpool
@pr1mus said:

I'm of the opinion that developers and publishers should simply make the game they want without letting outside influence and demands from fans dictates what they do.

Of course when making a direct sequel to something a certain level of consistency with the previous games is necessary as to not cheat people in believing a game is something it really isn't but when creating something new, original IP or reboot/spin-off, they should do whatever they please. People in most cases don't know what they want until they have it in their hands.

It's always a good thing to engage with the community and take feedback into account once the game is done, see what people like and dislike and take this knowledge to create a better sequel but when creating the game that will become the starting point of a new franchise developers should be able to be fully in control of a game's design.

And they must stay clear of focus groups at all cost!!! Those are the worst. Are you really gonna let 20 people who haven't got a clue about the processes involved in creating a game tell you what to do? I know i wouldn't and i've been part of focus groups myself before. I worked in QA for 4 years and you'd think that experienced testers would be somewhat more knowledgeable about games and better able to express clearly their ideas...forget that.. Now imagine 20 random nobodies who may or may not play too many games...

I have a friend who makes a tidy living going to focus groups...and I DEFINITELY would not trust him to advise a good, playable, or decent game...not for a lack of intelligence, but rather because his tastes run so odd.

@rpgee: This is a LOT of what I'm thinking. People WANT innovation, just not in something they already enjoy.

@enigma777: I disagree!! You...Bad Person! (see? I can be on the Internet too!!)

@sulipatchouli: My contention is that Dante was ALWAYS an emo punk, his hair color seemed to be the biggest gripe of the new game. And the innovation is giving him a different personality around a different story.

@mcghee: Because Capcom offered us "Four new characters" and what they actually delivered was "Two more shotos plus Yun and Yang." I mean seriously, EVIL RYU????

@rowr: I actually felt DmC accomplished this very, very well. The systems were similar, but different ENOUGH from previous iterations and his look/personality/the entire story were different enough to get me onboard like I haven't been since the first game.

Edited by project343

A lot of your examples of 'innovation' simply, well, aren't. They're just some liberal use of creativity.

That said, notable innovations (The Walking Dead, Wii, Minecraft) are a whole other matter. See, the thing with innovation is that you're sailing into heavily uncharted territory. We've mapped out plenty of the charted stuff: we know how it works, we know how to use it, and it is refined as fuck. Shady territory though? Completely different matter that is so much more prone to falling on its face. Just look at how poorly the Wiimote experience (MotionPlus, to a lesser extent, included) translates more traditional game experiences: you no longer have a guarantee that your planned interaction with the world will 'register correctly' with the game, and instead have to walk into every input expecting the experience to outright fail. It's awful, and should honestly suffer at the bottom of the ocean when compared to safer alternatives.

People, ultimately, want innovation. But those growing pains are fucking unbearable, and a lot of innovations are simply made for innovation's sake: not necessarily ending up with a more meaningful experience.

Posted by vidiot

I don't think the argument is not 100% associated to innovation, nor being too "samey".

In our endeavor to change things, we lose sight of what fundamentally drew people to the franchise in the first place. Adaptation and re-interpretation of mechanics and design are things that have been done time and time before, it is not a new endeavor by this industry.

At the same-time things do get stagnant, and change with something dramatic like a reboot is something that should be considered.

What unifies these concepts of gameplay mechanic adaptation and full-blown reboots is the following:
Is what we are removing and replacing of, is as equal quality to what was there before? We can't appease everyone, but will a good majority of those that have been with us, follow us, with these changes. And finally do these changes make fundamental sense within the ecosystem of the franchise.

If you can't follow through with these basic principles: Make a new IP. It's that simple.

Posted by Video_Game_King
@rowr said:

How long can you continue to play tony hawks pro skater. How many classic JRPGs can you happily invest time into. How many FPS can you play before you are just going through the motions for the sake of it over and over again.

How long can you buy the same games and blame the developers for it?

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Edited by Pr1mus

I guess i didn't really answer the question. Well yeah i kinda did when i said developers should do whatever they want but for me personally i'll take traditional and well made over innovative but janky. If a developer can give be both like say, Portal, then great! If not i always prefer something a bit more classic but better executed. Just give plenty of atmosphere, a good story and a kick-ass soundtrack and i'm a happy camper.

So few developers can actually pull off great innovation and execution at the same time and when they fail it can really sour your experience and possibly cast a doubt over their abilities to do better. I know i'm guilty of this. I have written off plenty of games without even trying them because of a lackluster previous installment.

Edited by MistaSparkle

I think that with reboots innovation should be expected. It was time for DMC to change. It had been on hold for a long while, and it's come back with something new. If there were to be a sequel to this new DMC it would probably remain pretty much the same aesthetically and in the context of gameplay. It's a bit harder to have innovation in competitive games though because the audience expects the game to play a certain way and not delineate from that too much with each forthcoming release.

Posted by Undeadpool

@project343: To your point, I did leave "true" innovation out of it (IE: new IPs, though I question whether a videogame based on a comic book is a "new" IP), I was more referring to innovation within an established franchise, which is to be expected and which can go extremely well AND bring something new to the table. And the growing pains SHOULD be part of it, but because of how instant-gratification-y everything is, if something doesn't launch with a "killer app," it's to be completely disregarded.

@vidiot: I feel that DmC answered all those questions with a resounding "YES" and the fanboys still cried foul because someone was innovating on something they cared about.

@rowr

said:

How long can you continue to play tony hawks pro skater. How many classic JRPGs can you happily invest time into. How many FPS can you play before you are just going through the motions for the sake of it over and over again.

How long can you buy the same games and blame the developers for it?

Well put.

@pr1mus said:

I guess i didn't really answer the question. Well yeah i kinda did when i said developers should do whatever they want but for me personally i'll take traditional and well made over innovative but janky. If a developer can give be both like say, Portal, then great! If not i always prefer something a bit more classic but better executed. Just give plenty of atmosphere, a good story and a kick-ass soundtrack and i'm a happy camper.

So few developers can actually pull off great innovation and execution at the same time and when they fail it can really sour your experience and possibly cast a doubt over their abilities to do better. I know i'm guilty of this. I have written off plenty of games without even trying them because of a lackluster previous installment.

See, I'm the opposite: I agree with Patrick (and the rest of the crew, somewhat) in that I'd rather someone attempt something daring and fall a little short so at least it can be iterated upon (just look at Alpha Protocol's speech time limits) rather than have developers take the safe way out and churn out something that's good, but takes no risks.

@mistasparkle: That's why I'm saying there's nothing wrong with iteration, but rather with people who claim to be sick of iteration yet shun innovation.

Posted by MistaSparkle

@undeadpool: I don't know why people can't just be happy with new stuff. I recently played through some of Alpha Protocol and I think that their crit system is super cool. Sure it's weird that it doesn't work like every other third person shooter out there, but that's not a bad thing at all. At least they were trying something new.

Posted by Miketakon
@pr1mus said:

I'm of the opinion that developers and publishers should simply make the game they want without letting outside influence and demands from fans dictates what they do.

Of course when making a direct sequel to something a certain level of consistency with the previous games is necessary as to not cheat people in believing a game is something it really isn't but when creating something new, original IP or reboot/spin-off, they should do whatever they please. People in most cases don't know what they want until they have it in their hands.

It's always a good thing to engage with the community and take feedback into account once the game is done, see what people like and dislike and take this knowledge to create a better sequel but when creating the game that will become the starting point of a new franchise developers should be able to be fully in control of a game's design.

And they must stay clear of focus groups at all cost!!! Those are the worst. Are you really gonna let 20 people who haven't got a clue about the processes involved in creating a game tell you what to do? I know i wouldn't and i've been part of focus groups myself before. I worked in QA for 4 years and you'd think that experienced testers would be somewhat more knowledgeable about games and better able to express clearly their ideas...forget that.. Now imagine 20 random nobodies who may or may not play too many games...

Totally agree with this.

Edited by JasonR86

I'm a simple man.I just want good games whether they innovate, iterate, or copy.I prefer games that allow for exploration of an environment and set a mood and atmosphere.But that doesn't need to do anything amazingly different either.And with that said I love many games that amount to traveling through glorified tunnels.So I don't know what the fuck I want.Whatever it is I just want it to be good.Is that to much to ask?

Posted by QuistisTrepe

People may talk a big game about innovation, but those who speak the most of it don't really understand what it is, IMO (hint: not the Nintendo Wii).

Does each new game release really need to reinvent the wheel? I'm all for consumers demanding more for their money, but that sort of mindset isn't reasonable at all. There is something to be said for continuity and the lack of it can almost be a game breaker (see: DMC 2 while we're on the subject of DMC).

I don't believe innovation is really to be found in any long running game franchises nor is it supposed to be. That would defeat the purpose of a long running series that caters strongly to its fans in most cases aside from those that were in dire need of a reboot. (ex. Resident Evil, Tomb Raider come to mind)

Innovation in the gaming industry, such as it is, can be found in the most overlooked titles. Even a game with such a simple concept like Catherine could make an argument for being innovative. An infidelity themed puzzle game? I don't think I had seen that before.

Posted by WEB_War4

I don't really play games much. I'm one of THOSE people who buy more than they play or have paralysis of choice. A constantly growing collection.

I've never played a Devil May Cry game, maybe I never will. But watching gameplay of the new one and the amazing soundtrack made me buy it. I support games with style.

Posted by Undeadpool

@mistasparkle: I have and will defend that game til the end of time! It's one of my absolute favorite unsung hero-games.

@quististrepe: You have, essentially, captured my point. And your screenname reminds me of my second favorite Final Fantasy woman behind Tifa...

Posted by nintendork666

excellent read