In an interview with Official Xbox Magazine UK, Ubisoft Toronto managing director, Jade Raymond, stated that gamers have pushed developers into a corner that lacks innovation, forcing them to create what has already been proven to sell. She believes that gamers will only purchase products of the highest quality, thus hindering any opportunity for breaking new ground.
“One of the things I see that’s different [about the industry today] is that our audience expects perfection,” she explained. “Before, there were only, say, 2 million people playing games – they were real fans and they were playing every game. They were willing to forgive bugs, and try things that weren’t as much fun because they were different… Now, there are 30 million people buying and they only buy the top five,” she continued. “They expect perfection.”
These, Raymond claims, are the reasons why there is a lack of innovation in the industry at the moment.
“It’s not very forgiving, [and] it does limit innovation, because if something isn’t working as you get towards shipping, you have to cut it or revert back to what you know works.”
Not only is Raymond suggesting that gamers are somehow acting inappropriately in expecting perfection, she seems to believe that gamers prefer to take an old idea provided it looks nice, as opposed to a new idea with a few hiccups. Both of these claims are entirely untrue.
A quick look at any Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 user reviews on Metacritic proves that gamers yearn for innovation, and lash out at those that maintain the same old song and dance as previous iterations. Perfection in the sense of coding and graphical elements were both delivered, and the game sold millions of copies, but the majority of those who shared their opinions were not happy with the game. And those that were dissatisfied were certainly not small in number.
But that’s not to say that innovative actions are always well received, and quite often, new ideas are shunned or generate incredibly poor sales. Granted, there are plenty of games that are brilliant and ignored, but in many cases it comes down to how the game is being both developed and marketed, followed by a failure to live up to its own overhyped expectations. Take legendary developer Peter Molyneux for example. While his games are usually groundbreaking, he’s equally well known for talking up the huge number of unique elements they posses, only to release a game that includes perhaps half of these.
The gamer response to such a situation is naturally negative, but not because of the innovative content that was included. Rather, the focus is on the lack of promised content, and more often than not, the developer’s decision to revert back to what it knows will sell. When gamers respond negatively in these instances, it’s quite clear that they are craving new elements, yet the response is being misinterpreted.
Gamers only expect superior quality when it’s promised to them. On most occasions, we are willing to forgive bugs provided the gameplay is enjoyable and intriguing. Look at Fallout 3, which sold millions of copies despite being bug city. Why? Because it took open world gaming to a whole new level; a level that was warmly received by the gaming community. There were expectations, all of which were fulfilled and built upon by Bethesda. Phil Fish’s Fez is still riddled with bugs to this day, but the idea is so intriguing and so perfectly executed that despite its flaws, it’s unanimously received worldwide praise. In these instances however, the new ideas proved to be excellent, whereas other so called innovative changes are either so dull or so poorly executed, that they can hardly be considered progress in any form. In short, new does not necessarily equal good.
It seems that the real reason, as subtly hinted at by Raymond whether intended or not, is that sales projections and similar financial elements limit innovation. When a major developer pours tonnes of money into a game and expects a financial return on the product, it makes sense that they will rely on elements that they know will sell, as any other area is a major financial risk. It’s not the increase in the type of gamers, but rather the increase in the number of gamers that’s limiting innovation, as millions of potential sales has resulted in an increased focus on the business side of gaming.
This is why indie developers are able to consistently put out innovative titles. They don’t have any shareholders to please (although some may be paying off backers), no sales projections and most importantly, limited funds. When you have nowhere to fall back to, you have to make sure that your idea works and will stand out from the crowd, and this is where true innovation arises from. Being forced to create something with next to nothing. It’s ironic that this is the case, as you would think that a major developer would be happy to take such a risk, knowing that a gamble would rarely result in the loss of a company, as would be the case in the indie scene.
As long as massive sales projections and expectations exists, major developers will not be permitted to be innovative. The freedom is there, it’s just a matter of embracing it without succumbing to the temptation of pumping out a familiar product that will likely sell. With so much money in their pockets, the major development studios should put money aside to encourage innovative experimentation, rather than relying on what they know will sell. Without venturing into unknown territory, new ideas will never emerge. Meanwhile, us gamers are waiting with open arms.