When a creative individual experiences something for the first time, sometimes they are inspired to create something. In video game development, this happens all the time; most games are inspired by previous games. As I’ve developed more video games and play more video games, I have seen how cloning a video game experience never really works as well as creating a new video game experience.
The Wendover Experience
The city of Wendover, Nevada is the closest city to the Salt Lake Valley to that has casinos. They have a concert hall and just about any music group that was successful ten plus years ago play there. No offense to the talent of these artists, but why do people want to see these artists perform when they are not producing any new music? One big reason is nostalgia.
If you look at life ten years ago, it was a simpler time for everyone and we all had fewer problems that we have dealt with. Some people want to try to recreate the experience of what it was like when times were simpler, but these concerts only bring a fraction of that for a fleeting moment. Through our experiences, our perceptions of life have changed. If you break down a single experience, there are so many variables that were happening in the moment, from what’s going on internally to everything around you; I’d say it’s probably impossible to recreate the same exact experience.
Forcing an experience
The movie Groundhog's Day illustrates that you can't force the same experience, even if you have the ability to repeat the same day over and over.
Bill Murray's first date with Andie McDowell was a magic experience, it was new and exciting. The next day, Bill’s character assumed that trying the date again would yield the same exact results, but it didn’t. He knew the outcome of the past experience and was trying to force it, it just didn't work. Bill’s character had changed, even though the rest of the world was repeating and the same behaviors.
Even though this is fictional, couldn't you say that an experience is something that only happens once? That forcing an experience to happen again and having the same results is impossible?
An experience only happens once
If you are trying to recreate the exact same experience, you will fail, every single time. We have seen games trying to clone each other, to give that same experience the other one had, and it just doesn't work. I have seen developers force an experience into a game, just because of their experience or their children’s experience from another; they want to capture this magic moment and call it their own, but usually fall short.
The cloned experience can be boring if it’s not new to users, and usually critics will call out that they've already experienced a game that provided a similar experience. What's even worse, is when some developers don't put enough time to polish the experience, they make an inferior experience to the original. The game is usually better off without the forced experience, because that allows more attention to work on the rest of the game.
My experience is that some game developers, though they have the best of intentions, haven't come to terms with the identity of the game and the target audience. These people falsely qualify themselves as part of the target audience, because they want to have an experience that feels good to them, so they take experiences from other games and force it in. People make games for different reasons, but if you are truly trying to create a new experience for people's enjoyment, then you need to come to terms that you are hurting the game by trying to force an experience.
Don’t clone, create a new experience!
Creativity is taking something that exists and improving on it. There is a resemblance of the inspiration, but it is different enough that it becomes a new, memorable experience. If you do not improve on what has been created, then you will give an inferior experience, because you can’t recreate the same exact experience.
Taking an experience outside of video games and trying to recreate in a game is a different story, that’s how video games came about to begin with. We all learn from each other’s experiences, hopefully for the better. But if the experience has been shared already, chances are it won’t be received as well.
Shovel Knight is a great example of creating a new experience, where the game took inspiration from other video games. The pogo stick mechanic from Duck Tales was used, but they added the ability to dig with it and break through surfaces below the avatar. The level flow was similar to Mega Man, but with a lot more secrets to find throughout the level, especially using the shovel mechanic. The player loses economy like in Demon’s Souls, but the economy becomes floating money bags, which works with a 2D platformer and would be too easy to collect if it was on the ground.
Combining all these elements and putting their own spin on it is what made it work. The game brought nostalgia, but created a brand new memorable and enjoyable experience. There are many games like this that have achieved the same thing, and thank goodness for indie companies that are taking risks and trying to find a way to create a new experience.
Next time you are playing a video game, I encourage you to be real with yourself and accept that the experience was unique and you won’t be able to feel that again. Treasure the experience, that’s what good memories are all about. If you are inspired, then think really hard about how you can improve the experience and make it unique, otherwise, you will fall short. Cloning games will never stop, especially if someone is trying to make a quick buck, but if you truly care about the user experience, then don’t attempt to clone experiences, create them!