Pure Innovation Is Highly Overrated

Why is pure innovation regarded as important in games and adventures, even as it turns out that it hardly ever happens? People like to be surprised when they play games, and some of the most famous game designers such as Shigeru Miyamoto (Mario, Zelda, etc.) look for ways to surprise players. A true innovation is going to be surprising because no one has ever seen it before. On the other hand, even though most "innovations" have been done before, if the players don't know about that then they can be surprised.

Innovation is personal. It depends on what you already know when you play the game. People become jaded when they have experienced so much that it seems like nothing is new to them.

What's innovative to a novice may not be innovative to an expert. It's the cognoscenti, the grognards, who think that innovation is important - perhaps they fear becoming jaded. In the end, most people play games to enjoy them, and innovation isn't important.

Videogame developers realize this. Think of all the videogame sequels that sell so well. A few years ago 12 of the 13 "most anticipated games" listed in PC Gamer magazine were sequels. The occasional reviewer may complain about lack of originality in sequels, but players clearly don't mind.

One man's innovation is another man's old hat. Example: Stratego has been around a long time. Most people of my generation have played it, although as time passes its popularity has decreased. In fact, Stratego is an almost exact copy of a much older game, L'Attaque, originally patented and published in 1909. The patent expired by the end of World War II and a Dutchman added a column of squares and four pieces to each side, called it Stratego, and licensed it to a Dutch company who then licensed it to a series of American companies. So people playing Stratego for the first time might think it is innovative, but in fact it's an almost exact copy of a much older game that was still in print in England in the late 70s.

Ideas are not the main point of a game or an adventure, and hardly any idea is original. Your "great idea" probably isn't that great and has probably been thought of by dozens of people. It's the combination of things, and their execution, that counts. Good combinations won't be purely innovative but the result may be surprising or "fresh", something people have not seen before. People make up brand-new monsters to surprise players; but you can use combinations, or use monsters in new contexts, to achieve freshness.

RPGs are usually models of some fictional reality, and in models it's more important to make good models than to be original. My recommendation to RPG designers and GMs is to make good combinations to provide freshness, make good models, make good games, and don't worry about pure innovation.

"Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way." Tom Freston.

This article contributed by Lewis Pulispher

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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

A product is innovative based on if it is an unexpected improvement and if it results are successful. Something that is new but a market flop is unsuccessful, and its expression is not innovative, even though the intent or idea was seemingly innovative. A product can be innovative without being market changing.

People have a very hard time determining the value of good ideas. Good ideas are often viewed in the entertainment industry as having no value in themselves. A good idea that results in a best selling product clearly does have value, because its absence would mean the product would never have been realized. That's why really good 'idea guys' get paid big bucks but the vast majority don't.


Well, that was fun
Staff member
Is there supposed to be a point or call to action in there somewhere, or was it meant to just be a hot take with no substance?

It's an opinion piece intended to start a discussion. If you're not interested, there are thousands of other threads here you can read instead.
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Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
I tend to prefer people doing something better than it's ever been done before, to be much more important than people doing something different than what's ever been done before.


Well, that was fun
Staff member
I tend to prefer people doing something better than it's ever been done before, to be much more important than people doing something different than what's ever been done before.

I'm with you. A new car doesn't have to fly, it just has to has to be good. A new movie doesn't have to have new thought provoking ideas (although some movies certainly do!) -- it can just be good at what it does. Lots of people don't want a steak cooked in an innovative new way; they just want their steak cooked competently.

Of course, innovation is important too. But other things are just as important. Support, nostalgia, presentation, community, to name a few which don't even have anything to do with the words on the page.


Most innovation is pretty bad at first, and will probably require an iteration or two in order to potentially become good.

For example, the last innovative thing I can recall seeing in RPGs was Warhammer 3rd ed, with a whole bunch of different types of dice you could get from different sources (stat, skill, "stance", difficulty, circumstances), and those dice all had a mess of different symbols on them. That was sort of nifty, but rather hard to keep track of it all, and the game also had a whole bunch of board-gamey stuff surrounding things (e.g. all special abilities were on cards rather than written down on character sheets).

It wasn't until the dice became streamlined for Edge of the Empire, which also did away with all the paraphernalia that the system actually became good. So first innovation as a proof-of-concept thing, and then iteration into something good.

That said, I thought the group sheet for Warhammer 3 was a wonderful idea, and something that would be cool to see implemented in some other game.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I'm not really getting your point, can you restate? You keep using the term but your examples are not innovative so it's one of those Princess Bride "I do not think that means what you think it means".

Unlike what you are saying, innovation is not personal. You have a nifty but wrong or at least incomplete quote about it, but the actual definition from the OED: a new method, idea, product, etc.

From the examples you have about your private definition of innovative, it seems you are trying to say that using something that some people may not expect but not necessarily innovative since it can be old hat or a rehash to veterans is strongly sought after but is overhyped.

But then you suggest good combinations to provide freshness, which is what you just seem to be calling overhyped.

So I'm confused. Even if the reader accepts your redefinition of innovation, you are both calling it overhyped and suggesting it in successive paragraphs. What are you trying to get across?

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