Innovation vs. Immitation

While in a discussion last year with one of my professors, Kurt Squire, we got into a minor discussion about how it doesn’t necessarily pay off to be the innovator in any particular way. The example he used was largely Apple. The Apple computers have ALWAYS been far more innovative than the competition. They were from the onset, and they still are ahead of Microsoft’s game in many fashions. Microsoft meanwhile imitates these ideas and somehow manages to make a larger profit on them than Apple was able to in the first place.

There are reasons for why this occurred with Microsoft and Apple, I won’t discuss that here. This concept really relates to Video Games quite strongly though. The industry is largely an industry of Imitation. I’d say a good 95-99% of all games published in the industry is a cheap knock off of something previously done. The unfortunate thing about this is that there is monetary reasons why you SHOULD knock off the original.

This argument holds very true. Doom outsold Wolfenstein, and now the many other FPS clones persist, most of these games hold in them very little innovation in each individual title, yet most tend to outsell the originals. Even Bioshock tends to take the same old formula, yet sells terrifically. Don’t get me wrong, there certainly have been innovations in the genre since the inception. However, especially in the FPS genre. More in-depth story-lines got added, squad-based FPS started coming out, stealth became a hot concept for awhile, and the biggest innovation that FPS people are proud for is their innovations in raccoon-like graphics (ie Oooo shiny, must touch the shiny!).

We see it in the MMO world as well… MuDs begot Meridian 59 begot Ultima Online begot Everquest begot everything else including World of Warcraft which begot Lord of the Rings. And the sad part about this particular story is that WoW is the highest selling game in the genre, yet didn’t have any innovation within the genre and in fact took tremendous steps BACKWARDS in the genre (the game basically is Diablo 2 online which could explain why it took so many steps backwards because it isn’t actually an MMO game at all). Out of the genre some of the more innovative games were Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call, and even Dark Age of Camelot to a certain extent (the base game itself was very generic but for the time the RvR concept was extremely innovative (even though they had done it before lol but Mythic as a company was the only one who had tried it). Of these games long term only Ultima did well. The others, and their MuD forefathers all did fairly poorly (DAoC did ok for awhile, but fell off really fast).

Perhaps the answer is polish. When you innovate, you have the same amount of time to put out a product no one else has done. And because you are doing something new, that product is not very well polished and often more buggy than it need be. It is a shame. I almost wish when these companies decided the timelines for a game’s development they gave a team an extra 12-16 months if they had an innovative game just to allow them to polish it out. But unfortunately money won’t allow this to happen. They have to get the game out the door before they start bleeding money, even if it means they earn less money overall than they would have if they waited.

I give all credit on this respect to EA for their handling of Spore. I mean, they could have pushed it out the door last year like they originally intended to, or even earlier this year. They had done such a thing before a number of times. But instead they decided to give it more and more and more time so that when it released it had the opportunity to get polished. This makes the game even more exciting that it is coming out, because not only is it extremely innovative, but they are actually giving it the time that it needs. Granted, this is a no-brainer for EA after the success Wright had with The Sims, but even so I am more than pleased that they did it and still give them credit where credit is due.