From a MSNBC article today on WiiWare:
It's whimsical. It's smart. It's different. But in the games biz, "different" isn't always a good thing.
From running GameTunnel for 5 and a half years now, I have a little experience on the topic of what people think of 'different.' Though I wish they were wrong, I think MSNBC nailed it on the head.
Innovation in games is like 2nd Life. Everyone is always talking about it, but it doesn't make enough money to be anything more than an interesting discussion piece.
That's also the definition of lip service.
Lip service and innovation have become too good of buddies over the last few years. XBLA was supposed to be the Sundance of Indie games. I work for the company that made Wik, one of the first games on the service. I've been told by many people that Wik is still the most innovative title on XBLA. That doesn't surprise me. After Geometry Wars struck it big Microsoft wanted more of the same. Big explosions, mind-number particle effects. I heard that from Microsoft myself as we were pitching our 2nd XBLA title to Microsoft, just 5 months after the 360 had been released. I don't blame MS, they did what every other other company in their place has done. They used the words like 'innovation' and 'indie' to get newspaper noteriety, and then gave the public what was selling well...more of the same games we've been playing for the last decade.
I'm not saying that there isn't any innovation in Halo 3 or COD4 or Guitar Hero 3 or Assault Heros or Undertow or Uno. There is.
But it is a different type of innovation than you get in Lost Winds or in Wik. One is trying to take the familiar and improve it, the other is taking the familiar and making it unfamiliar. Tower of Goo is a great example of this as it takes bridge-building physics and recreates it in a way that feels totally different than any construction game you've ever played with a style that just as unique.
Not lost in all of this is a third type of innovation, which core gamers find the most frightening of all. That is where you take the totally unfamiliar and present it to gamers. It's fodder for another post, but Nintendo has become masterminds at doing this. Which is more innovative WiiFit or GTA4? It's apples to oranges, but if you are looking for something that is totally unlike what you've been playing, WiiFit is what you are looking for. GTA4 is innovative in the sense of taking what you know and making it better. WiiFit gives you an experience unlike any other game yet released.
As much as we love to talk about innovation, my experience tells me core gamers are scared to death of it because it doesn't look like what they are used to. Innovation looks like WiiFit, and core gamers just don't know how to react to it other than to attack it the same way they would an alien in Halo.
Increasingly I find myself not only frustrated at companies like Microsoft who are using 'Innovation' and 'Indie' to meet their own goals without providing what I think of as innovation, but I'm also frustrated at the gamers who pass over interesting games like Wik and who instead of loving the new gameplay offered by the Wii have long lists of reasons why they hate it.
I'm hoping, as I have for many years in running GameTunnel, that gamers will give innovative WiiWare games a chance and that games like Lost Winds and Tower of Goo will sell by the bucketload. I've been doing GT long enough to make me to recognize the truth in what MSNBC said, but I hold out hope for gamers embracing the unfamiliar and innovative works of those who are setting out to truly give us a different experience. The fact that the Wii is selling better than any console in history gives me hope that maybe this time, innovation will be embraced and that everyone will be able to enjoy these uniquely fun experiences.