What usually passes for innovation in the mainstream of game development and publishing is painfully conventional - usually limited to interesting use of physics, or a new lighting effect, or two pre-scripted paths instead of one!
Gaming's "Indie" (non-)Scene
Until now, there's only been one way to do business, if you wanted to make a living (or make a statement) making games. That has to change.
First, we have to find alternate sources of funding. I don't care if it's wealthy patrons, as some developers have proposed. I don't care if it's VCs (well, I do, but, hey, whatever works for you). I don't care if it's folks from the film financing community. We just have to divorce funding from distribution, find people who want profit, not ownership.
In addition, we need to find alternate forms of distribution - not replacements for traditional publishers and brick and mortar stores, but ways to augment and complement them. I already talked about Steam, the BioWare online store and others. Those are great starts.
We need to support games in what is currently a no-man's land of $2-10 million, where games have to - but usually can't - compete with bigger-budgeted titles.
Sundance changed Hollywood. Something similar has to happen for us. I'd be lying if I said I knew what that something might be, or when it'll get here, but someone out there reading this is smarter than I am, has a vision of a new way of doing business, a new way of reaching players and new way of funding games. I hope...
Beginning of the End (of this article)
When I think about the choices we've been making recently - the choices that will determine whether we continue to live in the best of times or find ourselves slogging through the worst - it will surprise none of you to learn that I see us making a lot of wrong choices.
The state of the game business may be as good as all the positive thinkers out there say - at least for a handful of the biggest publishers and for some of the online guys, mostly. Hit games do sell big numbers and, by some measures, we are, as they say, "bigger than the movies." Heck, if I had Madden and the NBA and the NHL and MLB and Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter in my portfolio, I'd probably feel pretty good about life, the universe and everything. But what's good for the biggest players in the industry may not be good for the rest of us - and may not even be good for them in the long run. And no amount of revenue generated, no stock value, no sales report can address the deep-seated concerns I have about where we seem to be heading.
What are you playing?
Perhaps the most revealing way to look at the state of the medium is to ask the question, "What are you playing these days?" That used to be a question that started a fun, usually lengthy, often spirited discussion. Nowadays, the answer seems all too often to be either "World of Warcraft" or "There's really nothing grabbing my interest."
Maybe this is just a personal problem - a result of my friends and me getting older. Priorities change. Interests change. Time for games seems tougher to come by. Or maybe my values - notably a fascination with innovation, novelty and forward progress on the story and design side of things - aren't shared by the folks who make up an increasingly international audience. Maybe it isn't games or the game business that have changed - maybe it's me.