AAA Games Have Stopped Innovating

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The Souls series and Bloodbourne stand out to me as the most representative of innovation. I's been a while since mainstream gaming has seen a series that handles telling its story like those, or even the level of difficulty or accessibility. The online content and multiplayer are way off from what they could have been, and frankly what was expected. It also in a way was designed to be beaten as a group; with secrets, storylines, and basically the entire DLC campaign either outright hidden or impossibly obtuse to be discovered by a single player. I think the continued success of the series really does go to show that gamers do enjoy something outside of the usual.

Something I've been wondering for a while: why are game developers constantly reinventing the wheel? If indie devs had access to proper tools we wouldn't have this problem. Would it be possible for a AAA studio to release a game as a set of API's once they're done milking it? Kinda like modding except it wouldn't feel any more derivative than using RPG Maker or any other software.

Dear Esther and DayZ started out as mods and you could say that both of them invented a genre.

Haven't played a AAA game in a while so I can't personally say that I'd want innovation, though from what I've seen and heard from news outlets and the gaming community at large is that the AAA industry really needs to stop putting out buggy and/or broken products. This isn't even a problem unique to the AAA side of gaming, the indie side suffers from this a fair amount as well but I feel the pressure should be higher for the AAA big boys club because as Yahtzee stated, they're the face of gaming at the moment and if the poster boys of the industry are slipping, the ignorant mainstream public are gonna assume that the entire industry is slipping up.

Jorpho:
Nope, not seeing any need to replace my Gamecube and PS2, both with stacks of fantastic games that I'll never get around to playing.

whose rails led directly into the vagina of a diseased apatosaurus.

Pretty sure reptilian anatomy doesn't work that way. Or does that just make the analogy even more profound?

Tempted as I was to mention that Apatosaurs would have had a cloaca and not a vagina, ultimately we don't actually know how dinosaur genitals would have worked. Sure its likely that they had similar means of reproduction to lizards and birds, their closest relatives, but since something as huge and cumbersome as an Apatosaur would have had trouble with the "cloacal kiss" that their still-extant cousins use then we can't say for sure how the dinos did the dirty.

This is probably the most thinking about dino-sex many have you have ever done. Well, except for that guy posting underneath me. They know what they did.

I don't know... I'm having fun? Is that enough?

Yes, even in this vile, putrid, incestuous, unholy console generation we are in now, I'm still having fun and AAA games are still entertaining me about as much as they were the previous three. The only thing that's changed really is me and my lack of youthful enthusiasm making things seem less rosey then they once were.

Maybe this 'innovation' is also one of the many things that are subjective, because I can't think of too many instances in gaming that truly made me stand up and take notice at how much gaming has improved gameplay wise. Certainly not enough to count one every three years for the past 15 years or so. Games moving from 2D to 3D, dual analog stick control, and Shadow of the Colossus, Resident Evil 4, and ironically Assassin's Creed are the only ones I can really think of.

I've had plenty of games these past three years amaze me, not because they were the next step in gaming technology, but simply because they were amazing games. That's still the measuring stick I'm using for my opinion on the games industry.

1981:
Something I've been wondering for a while: why are game developers constantly reinventing the wheel? If indie devs had access to proper tools we wouldn't have this problem. Would it be possible for a AAA studio to release a game as a set of API's once they're done milking it? Kinda like modding except it wouldn't feel any more derivative than using RPG Maker or any other software.

Dear Esther and DayZ started out as mods and you could say that both of them invented a genre.

They have. Unity, Unreal Engine, Source and HPL Engine are examples of tools created by a developer studio, and then sold as separate development tools. By the way, "done milking it"? Ha ha ha! That's a good one!

CaitSeith:

Thanatos2k:
NES -> SNES just meant better graphics and longer games.

May I stick my hand into my monitor, make it travel through the Internet until it comes out of yours, grab you by your head and smash your face against your keyboard? No? Damn lack of innovation!

Now seriously, Street Fighter II couldn't have been done in the NES. The cartridges were too small and the system too limited to contain and process all combos and fast paced action in efficient manner (not to mention it doesn't have enough buttons). Entire genres were created or improved in gameplay (like action-JRPGs) in the SNES era. Battery powered save systems became mainstream too. That was a huge improvement from the password based.

Just adding more system resources is exactly what the new consoles did too. Thing is, that's not really the limitation in games anymore.

Also, a game that "couldn't be done on the NES being possible on the SNES" isn't innovation, it's just realizing a vision you couldn't before.

I find the claim that videogames *need* to innovate a dubious at best. I think we've reached the point where the focus needs to be on crafting strong stories like TellTales "The Walking Dead", Naughty Dog's "Last of Us", Irrational's "Bioshock Infinite" - these are examples of games that didn't need to innovate, only bring a unique and powerful experience to the table. I think in fact that AAA games should stop driving blindly to the next big thing (3D movies anyone?) and just refocus those energies into bringing gaming as a medium into a mature and important place in our society.

Thanatos2k:

CaitSeith:

Thanatos2k:
NES -> SNES just meant better graphics and longer games.

May I stick my hand into my monitor, make it travel through the Internet until it comes out of yours, grab you by your head and smash your face against your keyboard? No? Damn lack of innovation!

Now seriously, Street Fighter II couldn't have been done in the NES. The cartridges were too small and the system too limited to contain and process all combos and fast paced action in efficient manner (not to mention it doesn't have enough buttons). Entire genres were created or improved in gameplay (like action-JRPGs) in the SNES era. Battery powered save systems became mainstream too. That was a huge improvement from the password based.

Just adding more system resources is exactly what the new consoles did too. Thing is, that's not really the limitation in games anymore.

Also, a game that "couldn't be done on the NES being possible on the SNES" isn't innovation, it's just realizing a vision you couldn't before.

Exactly. The leap is pretty much the same. And with the benefit of hindsight we're allowed to forget the mountains of repetitive, boring or broken titles that lay at the feet of the worthwhile games that stood the test of time.

The frequently referenced Shadow of Mordor gave us a new way of interacting with the enemy exclusive to the current-gen. Rockstar added a (pretty fantastic) first-person mode to GTA V that they were physically unable to fit in the original release. And yes, increases in graphical capability have lead to a welcome burst of detail, vibrancy and responsiveness. From the comparatively blistering speed of an era in which 60fps has become the expected standard and not an unexpected surprise, to the roll of the rain off Batman's cape to the way faces in Until Dawn will sometimes catch the light just right and look like they're about to jump Uncanny Valley on their skateboard. They aren't the most important part of a title by a longshot but yes, they do matter. And it's okay to say they matter.

Speaking of which, we happen to be seeing a new genre forming right there. Now we have the likes of Until Dawn and Life is Strange picking up the lead of the first experiments in a new direction by the likes of Telltale or Quantic Dream and running with it. They emphasized conversation, environmental interaction and above all else decision making over straight logic/inventory puzzles of more classical adventure games, but with a motion, exploration and in some cases even action that set them apart from visual novels. They aren't just a style anymore. Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead are no longer unique curiosities. And while their rise may not have anything to do specifically with a new set of consoles, they still represent the real emergence of something different in the medium, something new. I like to call them Choice-Em-Ups.

The problem with all this is that it's harder to notice because we're in the middle of it. We don't notice just how much of a leap visuals are actually making because we remember the last generation looking that good when we first saw them. We don't remember all the crap we had to slog through in every generation because it wasn't worth remembering as much as the releases that were actually good. And the only things we can analyze from this generation are from it's comparatively early days, when no one has any idea what they're doing. Remember how Resistance: Fall of Man and The Last of Us were on the same system? Or Perfect Dark Zero and GTA V? Heck, just look at the difference between GTA III and San Andreas. Who knows what the end of the lifespan on the PS4 and XB1 will bring.

I'm not saying the current gen doesn't have problems, but we need to keep some perspective here. Every generation has problems, and they turned out okay. You really think in fifteen years we won't have people nostalgically reminiscing about how much better gaming was back in the Eighth Generation? You know, when we had real games, before VR headsets and haptic gauntlets and kart racers became the dominant genre everyone rips off?

EDIT:

Oathfish:
I find the claim that videogames *need* to innovate a dubious at best. I think we've reached the point where the focus needs to be on crafting strong stories like TellTales "The Walking Dead", Naughty Dog's "Last of Us", Irrational's "Bioshock Infinite" - these are examples of games that didn't need to innovate, only bring a unique and powerful experience to the table. I think in fact that AAA games should stop driving blindly to the next big thing (3D movies anyone?) and just refocus those energies into bringing gaming as a medium into a mature and important place in our society.

Also this, completely. Nothing kills quality faster then floundering about trying to be new rather then trying to be good.

This may be the reason why I started to lose interest in AAA games. Even though innovation is important, I believe the real deal breaker is identity. Too many AAA games felt the same and very hard to distinguish. Which is why I really do not care or buy many games this year.

RandV80:

DocImpossible452:
Snip

I feel that comparing AAA games to blockbuster movies in this regard is a bit of a cop out. Yes the comparisons drawn are valid, but these are two different entertainment mediums so we're comparing apples & oranges. Video games have way more room to innovate and try new things due to their interactive nature, in ways that a blockbuster movie couldn't hope to replicate.

Also the film industry isn't just blockbusters and indies, they never lost those middle ground productions. While it's the Star Wars & Avengers that everyone gets excited about theaters still need to fill their time slots 365 days a year so there's still plenty of middle ground professional movies made. Unlike the video game industry the second tier movie productions never died off.

My bad, I oversimplified it and in retrospect completely agree with you.

There is no real debate here. You were right, we agreed and the AAA game business is a huge time/money/resource sink that has failed to produce anything of significance recently, possibly ever. There are absolutely zero signs that the situation will get better. Better as in making some progress.

I still stick the bane of AAA gaming on suits. Not just the suckiest suit in the business, Bobby The K over at Activision, but the hordes of financially focused/obsessed people that live and die on the stocks. Games making huge amounts of money has attracted the worst from the business world, and to no small part the worst from those in Hollywood. Miserable products, failed releases, a decade or more of abusive DRM leads us to where? Well, rebooting garbage games by doing nothing more than improving the graphics. The results are middling games that are mostly generic; 1 from column A, 2 from column B and mixed with too large an art department. All to produce 50GBs of mostly wasted storage. And these are their best games. Well, they are the best they can do within such a broken environment.

I think due to the relatively increasing budgets of game development, the risk is simply not placed on the AAA market anymore. It's up to the indie crowd to come up with an idea, upon which the AAA market can then latch onto and try and improve.

I may be out of place, but I think since we've reached a stale position due to the new gen shift, games and mechanics have been somewhat stagnant, but story telling has been on the upshot. The Last of Us, some of Telltale's releases, The Witcher 3 - I mean there's some really deep interactions going on there, involving the player or not. For the games in which story is not important, it has been a non-issue. But where it does weigh, they've been great IMO.

Something like Watchdogs was pretty innovative, they just didn't flesh it out enough and the hype generated didn't match up to the product. I enjoyed it, and could even understand why they still fell back on certain conventions such as gunfights and "radio towers" just to keep some sort of consistency to ensure things didn't go completely down the drain.

Also, in the middle of the last generation, it seems we hit those milestones that were so successful that it became a case of money-printing, because of the "don't fix what ain't broke" mindset. We had CoD 4, and Assassin's Creed. For the last 3-4 years, all we've had are newer iterations of them, each copying from the last (with varying levels of success).

Even Arkham Asylum, which brought something new to the table in open world story-telling and combat. Was doing rather great (with one exception I guess) up until the point they started introducing city-destroying Batmobiles and poor porting.

That's enough points for now I think I'll get back to "work", but it's less than 2 pages and only 1.5 spaced alright?!

Edit: revised for wordiness and added a point on Watchdogs

Honestly I stopped being a fan of Halo ever since the third game came out. The first game was one of the first videogames I had ever played and it just blew me away with the combat and the story. It seemed at the time so incredibly innovative. I ended up getting all the Halo books I could find because I loved the ideas that were introduced in the game. Then Halo 2 came out and I was again blown away by how much they had improved (at least for Me) on the first Halo. I loved the direction they took with the branching narratives and everything that felt new and not just a retread of the original.
So I was incredibly disappointed when Halo 3 came out and just seemed to not introduce anything especially the new (The Ark was lame) and kept making references to how good the previous games were. I also didn't like how they seemed not to know how to deal with Master Chief instead just freezing him until they could come up with something later. Halo 4 seemed promising to me because they actually introduced something different. And they finally reached what I felt was a satisfactory conclusion to the Chief and Cortana relationship. It is a shame to know that Halo 5 is just another step back for the series.

To be frank, one of the biggest inhibitors of innovation come in the form of reviewers like Yahtzee.

When a truly innovative game comes along, often it's not as shiny and perfect as might be. But the critic mob descends (led by the reviewers whose "shtick" is negative reviewing), the game gets torn to pieces, and then neither indies nor AAA developers want to try that again.

Timeless Lavender:
This may be the reason why I started to lose interest in AAA games. Even though innovation is important, I believe the real deal breaker is identity. Too many AAA games felt the same and very hard to distinguish. Which is why I really do not care or buy many games this year.

Good point, I feel the same as well. I just cannot get excited anymore with so many of the AAA offerings. Thankfully indie games have helped quite a bit in keeping gaming interesting.

And Man:
The PS4 has a share button! Innovation at its finest!

I'd say that the Share Play functionality of the PS4 is pretty high up there on the innovation list.

The last three years has actually seen a dramatic increase in female and homosexual protagonists--two sorely underrepresented avatars in videogames. The problem though, I contend, is that publishers, whether indie or AAA, seem to prefer that the two be mutually inclusive.That is, most female protagonists are implied to be homosexual (or assumed to be by the gaming community), and all intentionally homosexual protagonists are female. This is troublesome b.c. it propogates the mindset that femininity is a crutch that can't be heroic or identifiable with audiences, particularly in the action-adventure genre.

I'm gonna take a blind guess and mention: Saints Row's customization.

It has a lot of it. It makes for a good dress up game believe it or not. More games should have deep customization, especially open world ones.

While it's true AAA games have stopped innovating as much as they COULD, technically they have stopped completely.

As unfortunate as it sounds, when you look at in the terms of business, it's NOT their job to innovate a ton, that's left to the smaller business. Games by small/medium teams and indie games.

But I have to say that i'm can't get up in arms about the state of AAA games. Yes they should innovate a bit to keep games interesting, but I feel that the big point of a AAA game is not to be "Best game ever, can't be beat" but instead be an expected minimum quality.
New Call of Duty? I can expect the game to be 6.5/10 at WORST. Fallout 4? Ton of effort put into it, expecting a 7-10 range. Yeah not a ton is new, and it doesn't appeal to everyone, but its still made with an expectation of quality that can't be put on a random Indie Dev. Still, hats off to a AAA game that takes a ton of risks, because it shows dedication to their work despite sinking a large amount of money into something that might not even sell.

TLDR: With smaller games, you never know if it will turn out the next big gem or a total buggy and broken mess, it's a gamble. AAA games aren't always gems, but they're a reliable experience and time-sink more often than not.

AAA is about Evolution, not Revolution.
That is, it's more about making tiny, incremental annual improvements to existing ideas over introducing new ideas.
It won't change until the current model that sustains AAA fails.

And it inevitably will fail; all media markets peter out if they don't crash. It's just a matter of time.

It's true that not all games have to do something completely new. In fact, the shouldn't. But the problem is that AAA games have stopped making any improvements to gameplay and narrative.

In The Witcher 3, you can gallop by holding down one key. If you're following a path it won't consume stamina. That's a small detail that felt like a big leap forward.

One of the reasons I ragequit on Far Cry 4 was that NPC's were still useless. They had hundreds of heavily armed people but it was up to one guy to win the war. In The Witcher 3,

We were going to have an innovative AAA game released in the new console generation. It was called "Silent Hills" and was cancelled by assholes. Oh what might have been...

Atmos Duality:
AAA is about Evolution, not Revolution.
That is, it's more about making tiny, incremental annual improvements to existing ideas over introducing new ideas.
It won't change until the current model that sustains AAA fails.

And it inevitably will fail; all media markets peter out if they don't crash. It's just a matter of time.

Alright then. Which was the first AAA game and how has been its evolution since then?

CaitSeith:

Atmos Duality:
AAA is about Evolution, not Revolution.
That is, it's more about making tiny, incremental annual improvements to existing ideas over introducing new ideas.
It won't change until the current model that sustains AAA fails.

And it inevitably will fail; all media markets peter out if they don't crash. It's just a matter of time.

Alright then. Which was the first AAA game and how has been its evolution since then?

I'd tentatively place the start at Super Mario Bros (NES), for post-crash era gaming.
Prior to that, there were popular classics but mainly arcade hits; nothing was really planned as a franchise.

All AAA started somewhere, I realize, but the longer a company remains a major player, the less they tend to innovate.
(and that's when they aren't just outright dying)

I wonder whether a large part of the problem is that, with large AAA budgets forcing developers to be risk-averse, there's no longer room for innovating upon the 'glorious failures'. By which I mean games that ultimately failed because they weren't all that great overall, but which could have been the first drafts for games that are truly special.

Example: Obsidian's Alpha Protocol. The game is weighed down by poor stealth feedback (ruining what is a fairly impressive system 'under the hood', with its focus on AI reacting to noise, and that the right gear is critical to moving with any degree of silence/stealth whatsoever), inconsistent combat quality, the use of 3rd person camera for a genre where FP would be far more preferable, and the silly separation of 'safe-house' hubs and the mission sites which hampers the non-combat interactivity.

BUT it still has, to date, the greatest choice+consequence interactivity of any game to date. And I don't mean the bits where you're told outright 'choose A or B'. In fact, those choices are part of the problem, as it encourages players to think that they're the only bits where your choices matter, when often the most important choices are subtle and well integrated into the gameplay, without any intrusive 'here's a big choice' signals.

If you could put up with the failings, it's the kind of game where you could play it a dozen times, read every FAQ around, and STILL miss major deviations in how the character arcs and main plot plays out. There are many ways of getting just about every major character on-side or off-side, many fights that you can only get if you combine special info with pissing someone off enough, or getting them to lower their guard enough, that they'll expose themselves instead of fleeing. One character, for example, can be convinced to help in the end-game by either discovering his connection to another dead character (needs discovery of certain info in the mission, plus particular choices with the other character while that character is still alive) OR by discovering enough intel on the geo-political situation that you can convince him that his calculations are off and he's about to create a hot war instead of a cold one, OR by combinations of discovery and intel to show him that a certain other character is untrustworthy. All of these options are easy to miss on most playthroughs.

You can befriend or backstab literally every character - you can join the lead bad guy, backstab him to take over his plot once he's outlived his usefulness, or (VERY difficult) get enough respect from his second in command that you can join with that guy and run a less heartless version of the bad guy's scheme.

You can get backup troops in the end-game either by befriending a certain ally, or by making him hate you so badly that he'll send troops after you (which aids you by making it a 3-way fight instead of you vs an army).

None of it is in the form of linear 'have X points in X stat' stuff either - it's all from your choices in-game.

And here's the big thing - it's ultimately based on systems, not just good writing. Obsidian explained it as this: instead of having a branching plot (starting with 1 thread and splitting into branches), they used a hexagonal plot system. Think of a square made up of 8 lines of 8 dots each. So each of the 8 start points will ultimately get to one of the 8 end points....but with an amazing array of potential paths that can be taken to get there (you could go straight to the other end, or zig-zag your way to the other side, or spiral to the centre and out again, etc)

...and so it's a mechanic that could have been replicated by other games that do a better job of the rest of the mechanics.

Dead State is another example. A game where the plot (and the survival/actions of other survivors and camps) moves forward with the passage of time (day passes whenever you rest at the shelter) instead of the player's actions. Again, wonderfully innovative mechanic that in a previous era would have had breathing space to be refined over multiple iterations, until we could a game that makes better use of the mechanic, and avoids the game's weaknesses.

Nowadays a game is seen as not worth drawing from if it isn't a hit in itself. Glorious failures are forgotten, depriving us of the opportunity for glorious successes.

The industry has certainly innovated in 2 fields - criminalizing its customers with ass-backwards and toxic press releases (anti-piracy and anti-used sales and whatever, also don't forget GamerGate), and pulling every cheap fucking trick they can to maximize profits by releasing completely broken shovelware, day 1 DLCs, season passes and micropayments, all in the name of double-dipping and "whaling" (ugh).

IMHO the lack of innovation is due primarily to cost of development. AAA has entered the same territory of Hollywood Blockbusters.

They all play it safe while appealing to the lowest common denominator to maximize potential audience size in effort to reduce risk. At 10s of millions of dollars + 3-4 years per game, there just isn't much room to manoeuvre.

As for the sweet spot in technology ... I would argue it was the PS1 rather than the PS2. During the PS2 era, it was already getting quite expensive to develop games, so much that developers like Naughty Dog "sold out" to Sony - their founders didn't want the stress of running such a high risk business and partly because they were looking to retire.

The PS1 was really a golden era for developers IMHO. Development cost were reasonable where a small team could knock out a decent game. Media (i.e. CDs) cost was practically free with a low lead time - in contrast to cartridges.

Ultimately it really isn't about the AAA games industry in itself, rather they are just another facet of a large global economic problem. Namely, a sinking US economy. Now I know Yahtzee lives Australia, but the people who make these games are almost entirely US based, with even their European offices answering to US masters. Simply put, a poor economy stifles innovation at all levels.

Now for the long version: At the first level of economic decay, the first thing that happens is that companies get taken over by their accounting departments. This is bad because accountants, as well all know, have the creativity centers of their brains surgically removed. They suffer from a deathly fear of creativity because it represents unknown territory. Accountants are only comfortable when sitting in familiar territory with guaranteed financial results. Even if those results are lower than the potential boom of a working new idea, they will take it anyway because it is secure.

If you look back at the points in US history that the economy was strongest you'll also find the most innovation. This is because an economically prosperous nation can afford to take risks. If the investment in the new idea doesn't work they will just shrug and move on. Once the economy starts to sink, however, a failed innovation becomes a loss of profits that they can't afford (or so the accounting masters tell their servants on the executive board).

Look no further than Nintendo for the avatar of this idea in action: Here we have a company that has been languishing in a miasma for decades, long since overshadowed by bigger, bolder companies that have sucked away most of the money to made. Does Nintendo respond by trying something daring, brave and inventive to steal customers back? Of course not! They just keep crapping out more & more sequels of the same franchise rights titles ad nauseam. What innovation they do offer comes from the fact that they put out so many of them on a regular basis, and have such a dedicated (aging) fan-base that if their "kooky" new gimmick in this month's title doesn't work, well, there is always next week's Mario product to make up for it.

But this all rhetorical by now - common knowledge. What troubles me is that indie games are falling into the exact same pattern. Every day it's another side-scrolling, 8 bit platformer, a Minecraft clone or a pointless zombie shooter. There is apparently some hidden (to me, at least) formula of what is a sure sell versus risky sell in the world of indie gaming that is guiding them down these linear, established rote of game development. Either that or these guys aren't really anywhere nearly as creative as they like to think they are. Considering the ever growing frequency of Green Light/Kickstarter "here is my idea, send me money, later suckers, bye!" that has been growing almost exponentially in the "indie" game side of the industry they are crazy if they think they're going to any sympathy from me, however. If there is one good thing to be said about the AAA games industry is that when you hand them your money they hand you a finished game (unless it's EA Games, in which case they hand you a finished game with 80% of the content locked behind a wall of microtransactions).

NephilimNexus:
Ultimately it really isn't about the AAA games industry in itself, rather they are just another facet of a large global economic problem. Namely, a sinking US economy. Now I know Yahtzee lives Australia, but the people who make these games are almost entirely US based, with even their European offices answering to US masters. Simply put, a poor economy stifles innovation at all levels.

Now for the long version: At the first level of economic decay, the first thing that happens is that companies get taken over by their accounting departments. This is bad because accountants, as well all know, have the creativity centers of their brains surgically removed. They suffer from a deathly fear of creativity because it represents unknown territory. Accountants are only comfortable when sitting in familiar territory with guaranteed financial results. Even if those results are lower than the potential boom of a working new idea, they will take it anyway because it is secure.

If you look back at the points in US history that the economy was strongest you'll also find the most innovation. This is because an economically prosperous nation can afford to take risks. If the investment in the new idea doesn't work they will just shrug and move on. Once the economy starts to sink, however, a failed innovation becomes a loss of profits that they can't afford (or so the accounting masters tell their servants on the executive board).

Look no further than Nintendo for the avatar of this idea in action: Here we have a company that has been languishing in a miasma for decades, long since overshadowed by bigger, bolder companies that have sucked away most of the money to made. Does Nintendo respond by trying something daring, brave and inventive to steal customers back? Of course not! They just keep crapping out more & more sequels of the same franchise rights titles ad nauseam. What innovation they do offer comes from the fact that they put out so many of them on a regular basis, and have such a dedicated (aging) fan-base that if their "kooky" new gimmick in this month's title doesn't work, well, there is always next week's Mario product to make up for it.

But this all rhetorical by now - common knowledge. What troubles me is that indie games are falling into the exact same pattern. Every day it's another side-scrolling, 8 bit platformer, a Minecraft clone or a pointless zombie shooter. There is apparently some hidden (to me, at least) formula of what is a sure sell versus risky sell in the world of indie gaming that is guiding them down these linear, established rote of game development. Either that or these guys aren't really anywhere nearly as creative as they like to think they are. Considering the ever growing frequency of Green Light/Kickstarter "here is my idea, send me money, later suckers, bye!" that has been growing almost exponentially in the "indie" game side of the industry they are crazy if they think they're going to any sympathy from me, however. If there is one good thing to be said about the AAA games industry is that when you hand them your money they hand you a finished game (unless it's EA Games, in which case they hand you a finished game with 80% of the content locked behind a wall of microtransactions).

I was with you up until the Nintendo part. I'm not a Nintendo fanboy (I'm mainly a PC gamer) but lets give credit where credit is due.

Nintendo is one of the only AAA companies that actually has both the balls and financial means to go ahead with risky or innovative stuff--in fact their biggest problem is more that they've been innovating stuff when they didn't really have to, to their detriment. Remember the Wii? For better or worst, their idea to go with the motion controls made them the most profitable of the big 3 for that generation (despite financial analysts like Michael Pachter predicting otherwise). They weren't able to properly capitalize on that with the Wii U but as it stands, the Wii U is the only one of the current gen consoles even attempting to do something different.
Furthermore you're making the bog standard fallacy of assuming that Nintendo sequels = other companies sequels. There's a load of difference between say Mario 3d World and Mario Galaxy and Mario Sunshine, and even more between those games and New Super Mario Bros and Mario Kart. Saying they're the same is like saying Halo 5 and Halo Wars are the same. A new Mario game every year isn't the same as a new Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed every year.

As to the indie game part, this isn't a new trend. It's essentially survivorship bias combined with sturgeon's law. Indie games have always been 99% crap--people just only ever hear about the 1% (more like 0.001%) that become successful which makes it seem like they're all great and successful. Whenever a new indie darling shows up, everyone talks about how great it is and how innovative it is, and so on. It's only now that we're starting to notice the millions of others that were crap. The truth is they always were mostly clones of something that was popular and the dev wanted to make their own version. The main difference between now and before is that the indies have now been given a podium thanks to Kickstarter, Greenlight, Early Access, etc.

For a while on the Unity forums, "MMO Mondays" became a recurring joke because of how regularly they'd have 15 year old newbies wanting to make MMORPGFPS With RTS Elements Greatest Game EVER . Which was usually just an uninspired amalgamation of whatever popular game they were playing at the moment. Usually World of Warcraft and/or Call of Duty. When Minecraft became popular, guess what they all started wanting to make?
Retro pixel platformers are particularly popular for indies because they're relatively easy to make, they're well understood...and the people who grew up with pixel platformers are now old enough to make them.

Cid Silverwing:
The industry has certainly innovated in 2 fields - criminalizing its customers with ass-backwards and toxic press releases (anti-piracy and anti-used sales and whatever, also don't forget GamerGate), and pulling every cheap fucking trick they can to maximize profits by releasing completely broken shovelware, day 1 DLCs, season passes and micropayments, all in the name of double-dipping and "whaling" (ugh).

Ugh. I remember Square-Enix latest attempt of such "innovation": Augment Your Pre-Order. I'm glad they cancelled that fraud attempt.

I'd suggest your thesis needs more work, because I'd suggest the antithesis:
How often have triple-A developers been the innovators?

The early consoles were promising "the arcade experience at home!", first with Pong and then later with Space Invaders, Asteroids, etc. Porting an already-popular cabinet-game to your home is not exactly "innovative." Atari even attempted to stifle innovation when they sued Activision to prevent the production of third-party cartridges for their system.

The NES dominated the US market later, and some of the hit titles of that era (such as Metal Gear and Castlevania) were ports from other game systems. Super Mario World was originally an arcade game -- and itself, a sequel to something else -- which eventually started a franchise that Yahtzee often criticizes as being anti-innovation.

The Sega Genesis started the 16-bit wars with the bane of early 1990s gaming: the platformer. Platformers were everywhere, especially on the SNES. Sega took its tech-demo of a platformer -- Sonic -- and ran its goodwill into the ground. And does the FMV of early CD games such as the Sega CD count as innovation? And later on ... Isn't the Dreamcast library largely filled with the last of the arcade ports?

Sony's early Playstation entries were a lot of fighting games ... and a genre that Yahtzee has often criticized for being anti-innovative, the JRPG. Final Fantasy 7 set epic sales for the console, but does it count as innovation, as it used such hoary chestnuts as menu-based combat and random-encounters-from-stepping. Do the FMVs and full-image backgrounds count as innovation?

When Microsoft first broke onto the console scene, they notoriously bought whole studios outright. Bungie had already made a networked FPS (Marathon), though Halo offers true console-specific innovations. But what about Oddworld Inhabitants or Rare, whose failures on the new platform were total misfires? And heck, at least Rare tried something different with Ghoulies, before falling into sequelitis.

And on the PC... well, who counts as a AAA developer on PC games? In the 1990s, id Software started as a small company, and their coders bragged about the "$50,000 xcopy" when a larger studio bought the rights to one of their engines so they could make a boring FPS out of it. Yahtzee's own ego reviews have talked about the failures of point-and-click games to hold attention ... so does Sierra count as an "innovator" for Phantasmagoria's 7 CD set, or is that just a AAA developer exhausting itself on gaudy graphics? Was Myst innovative?

True innovations are few and far between. It's too easy for rose-colored glasses to pick out the few sparkles of the past while forgetting about the huge piles of boring, imitative stuff.

He says Triple A's gone no where... but I'd like to point out that dollar for dollar & by sheer adoption rate.... things like Steam, UnrealEngine, even Unity ... ARE 'AAA' now. ...I heard that Rob Pardo, the guy who's almost single handedly responsible for Blizzard being where it is today (not it's Executives... not stupid Vivendi or Activision ... ONE MAN who embodies game programming itself) went to represent Unity because even the olde guarde like him just wants to get those levels of big budget polish into the hands of everyone. Not just leave it in the hands of hollywood studios. Then there's also Valve working with API / GPU engineers to make a new OpenGL. Autodesk, the TipA industry standard for effects & modeling, started leasing out its programs for $30 a month.

No most of these Organizations don't have the same amounts of money behind them that Triple A have NOW (b/c venture capitalists in a banker-bloat market thanks to 1% Federal Reserve rate), but they've got AS MUCH resources behind them as the triple A's had back in the early 2000's along with potential for far better graphics and a vastly superior Aesthetic.

I think this is a reason that I'm content to be behind the bleeding edge. I don't need to the best and most up-to-date graphics to enjoy a game, and titles that I'm interested come out faster than I can play them. As a result, I was happily working my way through the PS2/Gamecube backlog through to January 2009. I've been happily playing PS3/360 games through this 8th-gen so far and I don't yet have a compelling reason to get a PS4/XBONE.

I will be getting an 8th-gen console soon: the WiiU, because it the most 8th-gen games that are actually worth playing and my kids will love it.

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