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Pursuit of innovation February 1, 2011

Posted by Cesar in thinking me, working me.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

As usual Mathew Sakey had an interesting column last month . He writes about innovation in games and analyzes the concept of innovation itself, making a split between the conservative innovation we tend to see in most AAA games and the wild innovation we so rarely have a chance to appreciate.

The idea made me look at the industry as a whole and try to place the development team in that system. Although passion-driven, the games industry is still an industry, and as such it has a very strong financial component we cannot ignore.

It is true that developers now have way more efficient means to reach the market without a publisher, a development studio or even a team. Indie developers can publish games on Steam, Apple Store, XBox Live Arcade and others, all very valid options to share game experiences with the world.

But in the end, the vast majority of the content players will enjoy comes from professional developers plugged into the games industry production chain, which includes development studios, first party publishers, third-party publishers… you know the drill.

So when we look at innovation in indie games, it is fair to expect anything. There are no strong strings tying indie developers to market fluctuation, advertising, sales, development time. On the other hand, when a development studio works on a project for a publisher, all these factors come into play and true innovation becomes a greater challenge for the team.

And this is what I want to talk about. The fact that the standard game production chain involves so many factors other than gameplay and immersion does not mean innovation is not an option. Instead, it means the development team needs to evolve and adapt in order to be truly creative. While we can’t deny the industry wants profit, it is also true that profit can come from innovation. It is up to everyone involved to come up with a new idea and sell it convincingly.

If it wasn’t for this creative effort, we wouldn’t see some amazing games like ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, Indigo Prophecy, the Katamari series, Heavy Rain and many others. I know, I know, these represent an extremely small fraction of all games produced since, say, ICO was released. And the industry could use a bit more. But these games and studios prove my point: it is possible.

It is certainly a factor that the industry itself many times presses developers against innovation, but we cannot ignore the fact that there’s still some wiggle room for those willing to adventure in less known territory. If you have a good idea, try it. Sell it right. If it doesn’t sell, maybe you need to explore innovation in another direction that suits the company better. No developer should simply drop an idea and blame the world. Look at the picture above: we can’t control what happens inside the pipeline. But someone has to drop the ideas at one end to see what will come out on the other side.

See you space cowboys…

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