Do Gamers Really Want Originality?
All I ever see are people complaining about how a game isn't original or unique or innovative or progressive.
It's a common topic of argument and discussion, and I've seen critics suffer from this, "if it isn't original in some way, it just can't get a high score" philosophy. But in truth, do we really want originality? Do we really want something we've never seen or tried before?
While it's certainly true that without innovation of some kind, without developers taking chances, we get nothing but stagnation. But it's only human nature to be drawn to the familiar and be initially skeptical of the unfamiliar. Furthermore, when it comes to video games, and the rising trend of "I don't want to pay for anything," consumers really have to be convinced to make a purchase, right? And how convinced can they really be if they've got nothing but questions?
I think the bottom line is that while we all say we want originality, what we're actually saying is that we want something new, but not too new. We want to see a new mechanic here and there, we want to see a different approach to conquering an admittedly familiar obstacle, and we want perhaps a new level of immersion via better storytelling and cinematography. I believe that's true. That being said, it's amazing how fast we dismiss brave attempts that fall short.
Unfortunately, if a designer takes a chance and falls well shy of his insightful goal, that designer is in big trouble because we're just not going to buy the product. It could be the most innovative thing ever but if it's part broken, we don't care. And obviously, we shouldn't reward inferior products...but at the same time, aren't we sort of contradicting ourselves? Aren't we only saying, "I want something new but that becomes completely irrelevant if the game is mediocre?" Further, if it's too big of a departure from the past three decades of gaming, would we even recognize it as a "video game?"
There's a lot of caveats to "I want more originality!" I think we need to admit that. The most unique games almost never top the sales charts, regardless of critical acclaim. They can do well, no doubt, but there's no chance of competing with the heavy hitters...which are, last I checked, all quite familiar.
8/10/2012 Ben Dutka