Editorial: Have Developers Run Out of Ideas?

The thought of creators running out of ideas is nothing new, especially when it comes to the movie industry.  Recently this has come to my attention as being a major factor in the game industry.  The recent release of games like Bayonetta and the upcoming release of Dante’s Inferno really got me wondering if this is a good or bad thing.  While Bayonetta is an amazing game (expect a review of it next week!) I just cannot help thinking that it is just Devil May Cry with a female lead.  Granted the game is made by the creator of the DMC series, but I do not feel that means all he has to make are games like DMC. The same thing goes for Inferno, which plays exactly like God of War, only with a scythe instead of some crazy knives tied to your lead character’s arms.  Now, I am not saying that there are no original ideas whatsoever.  Pikmin was an incredibly innovative and fun game, as well as the more recent Portal. The issue is that these games are few and far between, so for every original game idea we get there are countless other “copycats” released.

Now here is the conundrum I am facing: I do not really find this as something all that bad.  I enjoy the DMC and the GoW games, so the fact that Bayonetta and Inferno are “copycats” does not really bother me.  What I really want to know is what my dear readers think of this.  Are developers running out of ideas?  Do we get enough innovative games, or are there too many imitators?  Does any of this really matter if the imitating game is good?  Readers, tell me your thoughts and hopes and dreams (and if you’re a lady, your fantasies)!


  1. It’s not really a case of the game industry having no new ideas, and more a case of the new fiscal reality in which game developers find themselves:

    1) Games cost so much to make now that the bean counters in charge want to stick with a proven formula, rather than experimenting with a potentially loss incurring new idea.

    2) Game development is now so costly that much of game design is stripped down and parred back so that there is no superfluous intricacy on which the game’s development can hit a snag. Thus where the FF series once attempted to create entire worlds full of secrets and mini-games, FFXIII now consists of one long corridor.

    Game design has not stagnated, it is in fact devolving! And the cheif offenders in this regard are usually subject to the loudest applause. If an unoriginal title is able polish and refine it’s poached mechanics into an enjoyable game, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that game in an individual sense. If on the other hand we look at this practice on the macro (rather than micro) level, then it quickly becomes problematic if every developer is recycling ideas, and nothing new is being made for the next wave of derrivative games to syphon their ideas from.

    I guess we just have to trust that if the industry stagnates for too long, then game sales will begin to soften, necessitating further innovation.

  2. I think in many ways, developers aren’t running out of ideas as much as they are cautious and controlling on what they want to put out in the market. Like Silicon said, a new idea could prove potentially dangerous if not accepted by the mainstream audience of gamers, and so developers find themselves revertting to the tride and true forumula that so many genres have in regards to what is accepted and what isn’t.

    However there are still companies, like Nintendo for instance, regardless if there game is great or not, try there best to improve on the forumula by adding new elements and gameplay factors that will improve the overall experiance. Such is the case of New Super Mario Bros. Wii which stayed to the core elements of what made it successful but added the motion controls and the multiplayer which added a new layer of depth and gameplay value. Many may look at this as Nintendo trying to milk the Mario cow to it’s fullest, also trying to play it safe, but they took a leap, even if it wasn’t that big, and made the forumula better. Mind you, lately, they have been playing it safe in some aspects but they are reaching out in regards to creativity and newness.

    Another developer that is chalk full of ideas and creativity is the guys at Gaijin who created the Bit Trip Series. Every new installment is completly new in some shape or form and streches the boundries of it’s predeccors but increasing the level of fun and intuitive gameplay experiance.

  3. Today games have become “brands”.

    The goal for every publisher and thus for every developer is to establish a successful brand and then
    to pump out as many sequels as possible to milk the money cow.
    That and overpriced DLC is harsh reality today.

    Do developers have a choice ? No, they dont.

    I recently talked to some developers,
    and they told me that they would love to try
    new concepts and ideas,
    but their publisher who pays them for their work
    The calculated risk of not making the same amount of money as a sequel would was too high.

    And exactly this is the problem with todays game industry, as it is of many other parts of our society:
    Greed is hampering progress.

    After all, who still bothers to make an immersive 80 hours RPG when they can make the same amount of money or more with a cheaply produced Wii title ?

    Ok…apart from Bioware…

  4. The games industry is doing better than the movie industry for originality.

    I think downloadable games, and indie games in particular are a powerhouse for original concepts.

  5. I agree with Ethos: There are some really interesting yet decent WiiWare games also, surprisingly enough. As for the topic, who was it that said it’s not the story you have, it’s the way you tell it? Becasue, when it comes to RPGs, I think that’s what’s important to think about. With something like FFVII, sure, you had to play it twice to understand the plot completely, but it was fun to play, and unique, and you probably found more interesting side stuff on the second playthrough, whereas now, it is really hard to find a game with that much depth, because they’e getting a little complacent – probably thinking the console will do all the work for them, and there’s no need for any replay value if someone bought it already. Rhapsody, anyone? That game was painful – it had an interesting gimmick behind it, but it was horrible. The gameplay sucked, the battles were average, the graphics were on occasion downright frightening… But the musical aspect was a good idea. So I think games may have interesting ideas behind them, but because of the way they are pulled off, they all just end up with the same basic gameplay mechanics that makes it feel recycled.

  6. I agree with Ethos, the “indie”/downloadable arena is ripe with creativity.

    I also believe that, while EmperorZorn hits a nail on a head for the branding comment, developers need to play it safe with some copycat titles, or at least more mainstream affairs, to help offset the cost of their few “original” ideas (since development is so costly). While I have no doubt that the development costs for such copycats named here (Bayonetta and Inferno) are costly endeavors, the gameplay is enough to warrant fans of other like-titles to look at, pick-up, or play these games and thus the money should (in theory) be made back.

    Or they could just produce cheap shit that sells to offset the costs (Ubisoft Petz brand much).

  7. This is one of the reasons I’m glad some companies like Atlus are still developing titles for the PS2. Presumably, the lower development cost leads to less financial risk and more innovative ideas.

    I agree with Ethos/Eric J in the “indie” aspect, though. I really with XNA would gain a bit more traction (and get pushed a bit harder on XBL) to give games like that more exposure, you know?