Is There Really a Lack of Originality in Video Games?

In a year laden with sequels, WhatCulture looks for an answer to the eternal question of originality in gaming releases...

I have been thinking about this for a while now and it is finally starting to come to a head when I read an article by Michael Abbott a professor who has some of the most intelligent posts of video games on the internet - just not this time. His latest article (It€™s a B+ World) is off base because he tries to suggest that the video game industry has no originality and all triple A games are the same, and I have to disagree with this assertion. Personally I don€™t believe there is a lack of originality in video games and even if there is, we gamers are the reason. You read and hear it all the time how everything is the same in video games, and that 99% of games are first person shooters. However, I have to ask: are these people who are complaining about a lack of originality just not looking?Because honestly to my eye, there are quite a few original titles. Just this year alone you have LA Noire, Shadow of the Damned, Bulletstorm, Brink, Journey(PSN), El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, Saints Row: The Third (find me another game with an octopus gun and car that shoots people out of it), and Catherine. These are only the games I know a little about, and there are a number of other original IP€™s ones like Knights Contract that I'm not yet familiar with that have already been released this year. In addition to the games mentioned above, to help prove my point we can examine the past couple years in games releases: let€™s start by looking at one of my favorite games from last year - Enslaved: Odyssey to the West - a new IP that was one of the most beautiful looking games I have played. Not just because of graphics but the setting: while post-apocalyptic it was still vibrant and lush; not to mention the story was interesting with a collection of good characters. Additionally, it wasn€™t just another first person shooter and it was fun to play - and yet the game bombed in terms of sales and there will consequently likely be no sequel to what was a great game. My question is this: where were all the people who like to complain about the lack of originality in games then, and why didn€™t they support this game? If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say possibly saving money for Fallout: New Vegas, which was released about a week later. Another great example is Alan Wake, a fantastic and original IP which like Enslaved isn't a FPS which also succumbed to horrible sales figures as well (partly due to being released on the same day as Red Dead Redemption). The examples just keep rolling: how about Shadow of the Damned - a very unique original IP that was genuinely funny and had good story, but like the other games I mentioned bombed hard in favor of the terrible Duke Nukem Forever which unjustly sold a ton of copies. Again I have to ask, where were all the people who want original games, and why are they not supporting these original titles? That is not to say that all original IP€™s have been flops: games like Heavy Rain, LA. Noire, Darksiders, Borderlands, Limbo, Prototype, Bayonetta, and the Left 4 Dead series have all been successful with decent sales numbers. But it still grates that gamers can make spurious claims that there are no original games and yet they ignore those which seemingly fit the bill when they are released to the market. The long and short of it is if you want more original titles and more unique games, you need to support them when they do come out. Detractors may point to the armies of Call of Duty and military shooter fanboys, however they aren€™t the only ones to blame. First off, there are the Nintendo fanboys who only buy games made by Nintendo: the Wii has the biggest install base of any console yet No More Heroes - a great original IP for hardcore gamers - sold unspectacularly and barely well enough to get a sequel, which in turn did even worse. Then there's the PlayStaytion fanboys who pride themselves on all their exclusive games who ensured that one of the most unique and original video game titles to come along in the past 10 years only sold 1.5 million copies. Admittedly those sales are better than expected but they plainly are not high enough to influence other developers to take a chance on creating more original games. And the same goes for the Microsoft fanboys who complain about only getting a couple of exclusive titles every year and a great game like Alan Wake comes out and no one buys it. Again, I'll say it: the original IP€™s are there, we just need to support them as gamers. This is an epidemic in the gaming industry, there is a clamour for new IP€™s and originality and yet the sales numbers of the new IP€™s fail to match this hunger for originality that everybody talks about. Money talks, and the only way to encourage originality in gaming development - as in the world of film - is to spend the dollars, pounds and Euros that can incentivise companies to try something new. Why would EA try to be original, if when they do nobody supports them - as with Mirror's Edge? If everybody wants more originality and new IP€™s here's an idea: in place of buying a known franchise game this year try buying a new IP. Instead of saving your money for Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, or Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword buy a game like Journey (PSN), El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, Catherine, or Shadow of the Damned. I know it€™s difficult, and I also know that I will end up buying a ton of sequels and unoriginal games this year myself; however I will buy at least a few original games this year (already got LA Noire, Shadow of the Damned, and going to get Catherine). If other gamers aren€™t willing to make this sacrifice and go with a new IP like El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron rather than an established franchise then maybe we don€™t deserve original content. Side Note 1: For originality I am mostly talking about original IP€™s, I know some people consider only games like Portal or Heavy Rain original because of new gameplay mechanics but for me that is not practical. You can€™t expect that the majority of games to innovate like Portal or Heavy Rain, that doesn€™t happen in any medium.Side Note 2: These sales figures are generally based off of U.S. sales numbers mostly because it appears that is what most video game developers€™ look at (if a game doesn€™t sell well in America it is judged as a failure). Not that I am in favor of this, I would love for games to sell well over seas and get a sequel because of only worldwide sales, but that simply isn't the trend rightnow.


I have been playing video games all my life but not only that I enjoy discussing them just as much as I love playing them. Therefore after going through college to get a criminal justice degree I became a freelance video game writer.