Home > MMO Games > Lack of innovation in innovation debates?

Lack of innovation in innovation debates?

August 27, 2007

I recently listened to the Shut up. We’re Talkning. podcast #7, where one of the topics was the lack of revolution or innovation in MMOGs, this time triggered by the guest host PixieStyx blog entry on the topic.

These debates pop up every now and then and to me they are really mainly a place for people to let off a bit of steam because they get a bit bored with the games they are playing at the moment. There is rarely anything new coming up in these:

  • Pretty much everyone agrees with each other
  • Big companies lack innovation, do not want to take chances. Small independent companies are the saviours of gamekind.
  • If anyone points out a new feature in a major game, then it is practically always pointed out that it is not new and that game XYZ had that feature long before.
  • Other types of games are sometimes pointed out as being more innovative areas
  • Sometimes game developers are considered lazy, since innovative design is easy

Coming up with new ideas for game features is easy. Actually creating a good working design that works well and it fun for most players during a long time is a different matter.

The idea for people to get up in the air and fly is a very old idea, thousands of years old. Countless number of people worked on designs to make flying vehicles, including geniuses as Leonardo Da Vinci. Often the Wright brothers are attributed with having created the first successful airplane, although there are claims that other may done that before.

Even after the Wright brothers had their success, flying in an airplane was not an option available to enjoy by most people for many years. Translating our innovation debates to this, we would complain that Boeing and Airbus are not innovative, we see more innovative design and ideas in areas like cars and if they come up with a new feature in their aircraft, then it has already been done by some other – it may not have been in commercially viable aircrafts, but it has been done before anyway, so no points of credit there.

I do not think that there is necessarily that relevant to compare the MMOGs genre with other game genres – the context and general considitions are different. Just because the autopilot functionality has been available for aircrafts for a long time, the general lack of such functionality for cars does not mean that the car industry does not innovate – a solution have different requirements in that area to be workable.

Designing a feature for an MMOG may mean that it should be fun and interesting even after months or even years, since the player might have a more or less constant exposure to that feature. A feature may be fun and interesting for a short while, but how fun is it after long and somewhat constant exposure?

We as human beings need some variation to make things interesting and fun – too much exposure and any bright game feature might fall flat and become old and less interesting. At the same time we do like to have some familiarity and control in what we do. A person complaining about lack of innovation in one sentence may very well like also to raid regularly and may defend that activity against anyone proposing a different view.

I do not believe that big companies are only playing it safe and that small independents are the ones that will innovate the genre. To me, innovation here is not just about getting a great idea, but also making that idea fit and work well in a context and be beneficial/useful/fun for a lot of people. This may happen in both small and big companies. Regardless of size of the company, the MMOG produced will need a bit of that extra in order to compete in a growing market. Why would anyone choose game X if there was nothing particular about it? A few years back the answer might have been “because there are not much else around”, but nowadays there are more and more choices.

Innovative game features and good implementations of those will come from both large and small companies, I believe. The big and old companies have a resource that perhaps is a bit untapped at this point – their older MMOGs.

If you want to experiment and try new ideas, you really do not want to spend a few years of development and $$$$ just to see if a few ideas or concepts seems to work out. If you have an existing game which has been around for a few years, chances are that it has already paid off and it can be kept around even with a relatively low user base – there are a few examples if that. So why not use this existing game platform to try out new ideas?

Perhaps even create experimentation/innovation servers where people can expect new ideas to be tried out and with a different business model to encourage people to play there, different subscription rates, free-to-play, bonuses based on feedback from the players, pay for smaller/optional added packages.

There could of course be technical challenges, in particular if the expereimentation is to try out technical alternatives, but also that some of these games may not have the flexibility in their code to allow such experiementation. And some changes may be too large to be practical. But it is an idea. While I would not make such a server/game my main playtime choice, I think it would be something I would play a bit on a regular basis if I saw fairly frequent updates of experimental content.

Funcom seems to be aiming to try something like this, with their approach to pay for small content updates in Anarchy Online. Maybe if they do start to try out a few different things, that might end up in newer Funcom titles later?

Categories: MMO Games
  1. Token
    August 29, 2007 at 14:18

    It’s true I had similar thoughts when listening to that podcast, it was quite painful actually.

    There really aren’t any many options in the MMO market at the moment. The truth is we are a long way off a better game. Too many people like grinding and raiding and have no imagination.

  2. sente
    September 1, 2007 at 06:41

    MMOGs or perhaps persistent online world games in general are a bit different from other types of games, the set of problems facing designers are a bit different.

    I think there could be many more things and other paths such discussions could take and explore the why’s and how’s a bit more.

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