The Necessity Of Originality

In a recent interview with CVG, CEO of Saber Interactive, who are currently developing Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, said that he didn’t know why “…derivative was always necessarily bad – if we put out a game that’s just as good as Gears [of War], who cares if it’s not original? If people are having fun, that’s what should matter, right?”

I agree with Mathew Karch that games should first and foremost be judged on the actual quality of the experience, but to forego originality in the process is an extremely dangerous path. Originality doesn’t mean you have to invent a completely new genre every time you make a new game, it can also simply mean that you make some minor adjustments, add some features, write another story. Anything that can be considered new has can be considered original. Sure, you can “…make the exact game as Gears…”, but why should anyone bother playing your game and not play Gears? They’ve already had that experience, why pay an extra 60$ to get the same package again?

This seems oddly familiar

Originality is what leads the industry anywhere. As entertaining as Tetris can be, that’s we’re we would have been – or even further back – had someone in the business not thought “let’s make something different for a change,” instead of “why not remake Tetris, that’s a fun game, right?” Naturally, not everyone can be at the forefront, pushing the limits of what the industry can churn out, but at least make an effort. For example, I just wrote a review of A Closed World, a game which fails in every regard as a “game”, but still manages to introduce some features that are worthy of improvement, namely using the forms of appeal instead of standard combat. While not being particularly enjoyable to play, it pushes the limits. Even if just by a few inches.

Now, I enjoy flashy graphics as much as the next guy, but after having read Dylan’s retrospective on Battlefield 1942, I reinstalled it, and found more enjoyment in it than I’ve found in practically all the multiplayer shooters I’ve played since then. Even though the technical aspect has been vastly improved since then, I see no reason to move on since the heart of the game is still so solid. Similarly, Halo: CE Anniversary will probably never be able to surpass the original game when the developers seem intent on making it play exactly the same. Then why bother at all?

Saying that  games don’t need to be original to be good – while true to some extent – sets the bar low for developers. “Gamers” have to demand and support those developers who actually want to do something new and exciting with the medium. Lack of originality is the reason we see a franchise like Call of Duty be rinse-repeated to death, despite the qualities of the first titles (all the way to CoD 4, really). The legacy of those early greats is being marred by the later iterations, and the Call of Duty brand becomes synonymous with good, but homogeneous games. But Unlike what Saber’s CEO says, the Call of Duty games actually do feature some new aspects, such as having a continuous story carry through the main games in the series, and at least  changing the setting around once in a while. What Karch suggests, however, would make future game making completely superfluous. Or, we can just make them “fun”!



  1. GT Walsh

    I think it would be hard to argue that people are pining for less originality but I think there are a few exceptions. One of my favorite games of all time was Link’s Crossbow Training for the WII. I’d pony up another fifteen dollars if they came out with a sequel that had more levels, even if nothing was improved upon.
    It’s a “sequel that should have been made.”

  2. B.M.

    I can’t believe that the CEO of a game company would ever say that originality doesn’t always matter. I feel like the industry should always be pushing itself harder and pressing the limits of imagination. Because you’re exactly right; I don’t want to pay another $60 for nothing more than new wrapping paper. And I think that the market is starting to show that most people agree. While there are still the AAA juggernaut franchises that have numerous iterations selling millions, there are a lot more ‘unique’ games out there getting recognition. Catherine, L.A. Noire, and Minecraft all come to mind. Add to them all the indie titles out there that are bursting with new ideas and I feel we are on the verge of a video game renaissance, one that will leave people like Mathew Karch behind unless they realize that being original does count for a lot more than they give it credit.