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Video (screencast): The Futility of Striving for a "Great Idea" or "Great Innovation"

by Lewis Pulsipher on 05/04/15 01:51:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Text of the slides.  Obviously, I say more in the video.

The Futility of Striving for a “Great Idea” or “Great Innovation”

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

“Great Ideas” are so rare that it would be counter-productive to try to come up with one
It just happens (provided you’re trying to get ideas)
Anyway, it’s not an idea that comes to you all at once, it’s a game that gradually builds up over time, including playtesting
Games often (usually?) don’t turn out as they were originally conceived
Let’s list some “great ideas” (began a category) in tabletop games

Dungeons & Dragons
Avatar-based games
Never-ending adventure campaigns
No win condition

Magic: the Gathering
Collectible games

I don’t think it has had quite the impact of the above two, but hundreds of “deck building” games have resulted

And we could list games that began sub-genres, such as my own Britannia, Card-driven wargames, many others
Either way, we’re talking about less than a game a year, less than one game in many hundreds; and if we stick to “great” game ideas, we’re at one game per decade

Now, “great ideas” in video games
Much of video gaming actually derives from Dungeons & Dragons
Or from simple puzzles
Most video game genres had a beginning, but often the famous early game is NOT the first game of the genre
E.g. Little Computer People as predecessor of The Sims
Investigate a genre, and you’re likely to find that the originating game is not the most well-known early proponent

In any case, how many video game genres are there?  For 40-some years of video games, one genre a year?  That’s a lot of genres
Moreover, many of the biggest money-makers of recent times haven’t been innovative
Even Minecraft was preceded (Dwarf Fortress etc.)
Angry Birds?  Clash of Clans? Candy Crush Saga?  All had predecessors, often many, often just as good
The point here?  The innovative video games often aren’t the really successful games

Do you think the designers were trying to make the “Great Innovation”?
I think it “just happened” as they tried to make the best games they could make
In any case, the numbers, the probabilities, strongly suggest it’s futile to try to make “the next great innovation” in games

Personal Example
My game Britannia is fairly well-known among wargamers
Originally published 1986, printed over the years in several languages and several editions
It’s a game about 1,000 years of British history, leading to the “sweep of history” category of wargames in general, and “Britannia-like” games in particular
What was I doing?
Was I trying to establish a new category?
No, I was just trying to make a game that represented the long history well and (more importantly) was a good game
And a key feature of the game, control of several nations by each player, actually comes from Ancient Conquest I, though in every other way Britannia is quite different
Bet you never heard of Ancient Conquest I

Focus on making good games, the best games you can, not on trying to find a “great idea” that becomes a great game.  The latter is a fool’s errand.

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