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
Lewis Pulsipher


aramis erak

I agree that pure innovation is not a good thing commercially.

Progress happens by incremental improvements, as revolutions tend to be too alien to be adopted. This is true in RPGs, consumer electronics, and many other areas...

In RPGs, true and pure innovation also is mired in "How the * do I express this intelligibly for everyone else?"

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