I just listened to the newest episode of Ludology. The topic was about asking publishers what they wanted to hear in a pitch about a prospective game. The idea being that the industry is saturated in games, and new ones are being pitched constantly, so how do you separate the wheat from the chaff, and know what games are worth publishing, and which ones are not.
As an individual who is interested in games, and as someone who wants to make their own games, I found the responses of the publishers interviewed to be frustrating and downright annoying. Let me be clear before I get into it... I respect what these publishers do, and I love the fact that the gaming industry is this popular. But I noticed a theme in all of their responses (aside maybe one or two) that really got me thinking.
Almost all of the publishers said that one of the main things they were looking for in a game is what's new about that game, and what is the unique ground-breaking thing they are bringing to the table. Along the same lines, another constant thread what "why should this game be published" with the caveat that the answer to this question is what is new that this prospective game is going to bring to the industry.
As someone who wants to design a game, this mindset is really defeating, because almost all the things I can think of making immediately disqualify me in the eyes of these publishers, because there really isn't anything unique and groundbreaking left to be brought to any table. Card games have been done, euro games have been done, miniature games have been done, so the idea is that you can't create anything like this, because "Game X" already did it, which means you're just copying them.
In reality, nothing is perfectly unique. Every story told is derivative of another story in some way. Even at their most basic form, a game is a competition to win, and you could argue that THAT has been done before, in every single game. So I just want to dispel the idea that a game needs to be completely unique. If I can do so, that opens up the door to infinite possibilities for games, since you're not constrained when thinking about ideas.
Rather than focus on the idea that if some theme or mechanic has already been done, I propose the industry starts focusing on wether the game is fun to play or not. That really is ultimately what we want from this industry, and that is what will sell games at the end of the day. Designers shouldn't be constrained to only come up with completely unique ideas, but rather try to make the best game humanly possible. Even if that game has dwarves, miniatures, or farming, the designers idea should be seriously considered even if there are many other games out there with similar pieces or themes.
Free-market economics will eventually separate the good games from the bad ones. But publishers sound like they are saying the only way the game is viable is if it's unique. Rather than unique, I would argue that the game will sell if it's good, and if it's fun. Those should really be the only metrics on which a game is judged, and things like cost to produce, uniqueness, etc should all be secondary at least.
Practically speaking, I am designing a dungeon crawling game within a light fantasy world. I'm excited about it, and I want to show other people my game. But there's a fear in this industry that I don't want to show anyone because it will be immediately rejected because "Lord of the Rings has a wizard character, so you can't do wizards." If that's the mentality, then you can't do anything in space, because Star Wars already did space. Or you can't do anything with colors, cause Catan already did colors for each player.
This can be a really suffocating environment in which to develop games. Ultimately I want to make games that are awesome, and have them get a genuine opportunity to stand on their own and be judged by their ability to entertain, and not be judged solely on their similarities to other games.