Gaming culture has thrived on both its derivative designs and pioneering of original ideas since the term “video game” became a household phrase. Video games were a creative canvas for people with new and unique ideas. The very crux of what made gaming popular from its conception was the ability to experience something new and foreign. It provided a new avenue to experience ideas and stories only limited by one’s imagination. Through the various eras of gaming, original ideas slowly became replaced with sequels, spin-offs and copies. The market became saturated with games from the same genre or franchise.
What Happened To The Creativity?
When it comes down to its core, video games are a business, and consumers didn’t want to invest money in properties they weren’t familiar with. So, publishers wanted to produce games that they knew would make their money back. The dreaded sequel soon became the death-nail for franchises once beloved by many, and genre spin-offs became commonplace among the fray. Gamers longed for original ideas, once again — the way so many before them had. Words like “sequel” and “spin-off” soon became ill speak for nearly every gamer and fan in tandem. Original ideas surface once in a blue moon these days, but we must ask ourselves, “Is this necessarily a bad thing?”
Can Derivation Equal Progress?
Like most crafts, games can increase in quality with refinement. In some cases this refinement is crucial. For instance, we have the MOBA genre: a genre created from a mod that was originally for Warcraft III. Games like Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends expanded upon the MOBA genre by breaking it free from the shackles of Warcraft III’s game engine, breathing new life into an old formula, and paving the way for what became the MOBA genre as we know it today. It has even moved past the tried and true isometric viewpoint with mouse-based control. Games such as Paragon and Smite have brought the MOBA genre into a more 3rd person action-oriented play style.
All these games are examples of how derivative design helped advance the genre. While these games weren’t necessarily creating new experiences, they were advancing their respective genres at an alarmingly fast rate. Other such examples are games like Overwatch. The team/heroes based first person shooter isn’t new territory, either. Games like Overwatch take many nods from older games in the genre such as Team Fortress 2 and the original Team Fortress Classic released in 1999, which even then derived from a mod created for Quake in 1996. Even Overwatch itself has had advancements made to its formula less than a year after release with Hi-Rez Studios’ Paladins – a smart yet similar experience to Overwatch that blends fun but accessible parts of the MOBA genre into the mix.
This can also apply to even more obscure genres like farming simulators. A successful example of which is Stardew Valley, a creative take on Harvest Moon’s tried and true gameplay mechanics.
Advancements are being made to nearly every genre of video games. People who grew up playing these games are reaching an age and skill level where they wish to create their own spins on genres they grew up with, which can only end in a true win-win situation for everyone involved.
So Where Are The Original Experiences?
The answer is simple: they’re still there, arriving at almost the same frequency as they once did. Derivative games simply hit the ground running more frequently than original pieces. When the backbone of other games from years past still exist to support your foundation, releasing a game is simply an easier task. Making improvements to an experience you love and have nostalgia for is now easier than ever. The tool-set and resources are available for nearly anybody to consume these days, and that’s great for fans and the industry alike. The original ideas remain present, but like all works of art, they take time.
These original ideas illustrate themselves for us, and they exist to show us things we never thought possible — or things we never even knew we wanted. Original ideas and properties are never safe bets either, especially for publishers and investors. This is an unfortunate side effect of the medium we hold so dearly. A majority thrive, while others may never grow their wings. But they are here and they are incoming. These games deserve our patience and understanding, and the rapid-fire market deserves our appreciation for what they do to advance the medium as well. Both sides have a place with gamers, and for very different reasons. But both can pave the way for amazing experiences — to satisfy even the most die-hard franchise fanatics, and those looking for a fresh start.