What's one of the most common phrases you hear nowadays about gaming? Whether it be from critics, fans, or casual gamers, "Innovation", "Revolution", "Inventive", maybe even just "Change" seem to be the major words used when describing a new game or product to the community. Shooters get hit hard by this word, how in-depth can you really make a Shooting game? What's going to seperate it from every other shooter out there? What are you going to change from the last one? What's the plan for the next one? But at one point are you not innovating anymore, but completely changing the type of game you're making?
The Problem With Innovation
I love Call of Duty. It is one of my favorite video game series of all time. I love being able to sit down for half an hour or an hour, play some Multiplayer with friends, and then go out and do other stuff. I love the campaigns that give me a fun story I can get into, while also being short and to the point, as well as fun. Call of Duty is just one of those games that I don't get tired of because, whenever I pick up a CoD disc, I know exactly what kind of game I'm going to play, exactly what I want to do, and exactly how I want to have fun.
Most fans of either series will remember the rivalry between Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3. The rivalry persists to this day, with fans of Battlefield constantly claiming how much better Call of Duty would be with Vehicles, Larger Maps, different gamemodes, different styles of play, etc. But here's the problem. You don't take CoD and try to turn it into Battlefield to try and appease the battlefield fans. You take CoD and you make more CoD, because that's what it is. Call of Duty is one series, Battlefield is another. If you want a battlefield type game, play Battlefield. Don't tell CoD to change.
But what's the most common complaint you hear about CoD? I'm willing to bet what you hear the most is that CoD is the same every year. Well why shouldn't it be. I buy CoD because I know what I'm getting. Of course I love new features, new weapons, new gamemodes, new story, etc. But I don't want any big changes to the CoD formula. I've heard people say CoD should become more open world and sandbox like, less linear and scripted. But that's not what CoD is. I don't go to the store and buy CoD expecting to play Far Cry 3, I buy CoD expecting to play CoD.
Take Halo for example. I am a Die Hard Halo fan. I own every game, I own the books, I know the story like the back of my hand. So when they announced Halo: Reach back in 2009, I was thrilled. But when they started revealing more and more of the gameplay, I started to realize something. This wasn't the Halo I knew.
Oh sure, the Halo DNA was still there. It was still set in the same universe, with the same kinds of characters, same enemies, familiar weapons, etc. But this wasn't a Halo Game I was used too. This game played differently. It had armor abilities, it had a different health system, enemies were many times tougher, simple game mechanics such as aiming now had weapon spread. All these things seem minor, but they had a big impact on me. It was still Halo, but at the same time it wasn't. The series managed to recover with Halo 4. I had adjusted to Reach's changes, and Halo 4 played closer to 2 and 3, so I felt more comfortable with the series at this point.
Innovation can also sometimes go completely wrong. Resident Evil 6 came out a couple months ago. It changed up the campaign structure, the enemies, the gameplay, etc. And most people will tell you, it just felt like RE had lost it's track. RE6 felt like a bunch of unpolished ideas just thrown into one pile, and it shows.
Why Innovation Can Be Good
I'm not here, however, to say that all innovation is bad and terrible. There are many instances where I feel games HAD to change, and they did so perfectly.
Fallout 3 is a great example. Coming out so many years after Fallout 2, expectations were high. It simply couldn't be the same game Fallout 1 and 2 were. It had to be different in order to get that same appeal, maybe even more. Fallout 1 and 2 were popular for their time, but another game like them wouldn't have held up to today's standards. So Bethesda turned the game into a First-Person Shooter RPG. Fallout 3 ended up being a huge success, incredibly fun, and re-invigorated the Fallout franchise leading to New Vegas and the upcoming Fallout 4.
Going back to Call of Duty, I think Call of Duty 4 is another great example. Call of Duty 1, 2, and 3 were all good games in their own right. They were fun, they had their fans, but they never really broke the mold. They weren't household names. They were just another series of World War II games. But CoD 4 changed that. It changed up the whole series. New Time Period, New Weapons, New Characters, Original Story, New Gameplay, New Multiplayer. CoD 4 was almost an entirely different game, except for a few underlying details, and it ended up being amazing. It set industry standards for Multiplayer, it launched the now behemoth Modern Warfare franchise, and influenced the Black Ops one. The effect of Modern Warfare can be seen in almost every game nowadays. Strains of CoD4's DNA can be found in Battlefield, Halo, Mass Effect, Crysis, Bioshock, etc.
One of the best examples of games innovating while staying true to their fans is probably Grand Theft Auto. GTA III essentially defined a generation of free roaming video games, with Vice City and San Andreas just adding to the idea of "Just what can I do in a 3D free roam game". GTA IV was no different, equally amazing. Though the change from GTA III to GTA IV wasn't as drastic as II to III had been, GTA IV was still a revolutionary step forward, and GTA V seems to be doing the same.
All in all, I feel Innovation is something every game needs to keep it's fans coming back. I don't, however, think games need to innovate to the point that they are essentially an entirely different series or genre.