Is gaming beginning to run out of ideas?

This was a question posted in a recent discussion on LinkedIn. I enjoy these discussions. They often throw out a plethora of views and opinions, many worth taking note of. And of course I am fortunate enough to be endowed with a smattering of industry knowledge that can lend grist to the mill. So, my take on gaming running out of ideas?

Well, the simple fact is, the games business is now far more about the “business” than it is the “games”.

Way back in the 80s when the whole gaming shebang kicked off, backroom boys were writing games that they wanted to write, then selling them to the highest publishing bidder. Elite, one of the most famous, was originally a labour of love of Braben and Bell, before being bought and released by Acornsoft and Firebird et al.

But since then, AAA projects have simply grown too big and too expensive to be developed by two college kids in a garage. Because of this, funding is typically required to take teams through from beginning to end, and such funding will, in all likelihood, need to be repaid, usually with interest. So, the less risk with the project, the more likely it is that the funders will get a return on their investment.

And such risk is the milk on the cornflakes of marketers, managers, lawyers, financiers, people to whom the latest blockbuster game, with cutting edge ray tracing, full physics, and orchestras blaring out in Dolby surround sound, is simply a sku, an RRP, a target demographic and a sales forecast. In all my years I found very few that actually played games, or had that much interest in what their company was actually producing. And to be fair, this is no different to any other industry, after all, what financial controller really cares about the internals of the EMU that sits in the submarine engine they’ve just funded? (thank you Discovery)

So the bigger the business has got, the further away the “creatives” have got from the people steering, funding and controlling the ship. And they have people they need to answer to, and so do they, and so on. So, is it any wonder, when the ships are so big, the funding so large, the risks so great, and so many people need to be kept happy, that companies such as EA and Disney stick to tried and trusted formulae? Not at all. But does that mean the games industry is running out of ideas? Of course not. The flash, mobile and social spaces are all throwing out fresh, new ideas ten-to-the-dozen, and even in big business many interesting new ideas get through the net; back when I was working for Gremlin and Infogrames, my team were fortunate enough to be able to develop and release Hogs Of War at a time when all the other teams in the studio were producing sports games.

There’s always something new and interesting out there, and we as interested parties have two choices; we can keep our eyes and wallets peeled, supporting the less mainstream releases as much as we can (here’s looking at you Ico), or we can take a step out of the corporate machine and head out on our own with only our wit, creativity and development tools to guide us towards creating the Next Big Thing.

Either way is perfectly fine by me.

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