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The Nature of Innovation
by Oliver Teckert on 10/23/13 09:02:00 am   Expert Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

This is the first of a two part posting on innovation and how it applies to the game industry. This first post will discuss the nature of innovation. The second post focuses on innovation within the gaming industry.

Nature of Innovation

Not all innovations are particularly meaningful. Just ask the fish.

The core values of game development have always centered on innovation and collaboration. Internally as an industry we strive to bring teams together and encourage new ideas and new ways of thinking. This is evident not only without our internal teams working on titles, but also in the end product where we hope to foster a community of engaged and passionate fans. As an industry, we know that to deviate from these core values is to present a stagnant, passionless vision of the future, one that fails to engage or excite fans who are looking for an expansive, immersive experience that they can share with their friends. We want to innovate, at every level, to push the limits of our imaginations and the technology that supports our visions and dreams of the future.

As a developer, you want to present your fans with an expansive experience, a journey that not just provokes passing interest, but an experience that challenges fans not just in a narrative sense (Engaging emotions) but also in an intellectual sense (Provocative) and kinesthetic sense (Easy to learn, hard to master). As a developer we are all chasing that emotional and intellectual middle ground where we present enough of a challenge emotionally and intellectually to keep fans engaged, but not so much that we convolute our narratives to the point of confusion or crush you with impossible challenges that defy any reasonable learning curve. We want to share and pass on our sense of wonder and excitement that we felt growing up, playing the games that shaped our understanding of the industry and we want to pass on something better for the futures so when our children speak of their gaming experiences, they do so with a sense of wonder, excitement and profound respect. In essence we want to pass on our own experiences with gaming from so many years ago.

Though the hardware, tools and medium of gaming has evolved tremendously since the days I was playing my NES in my parent’s basement, the challenges of this industry remain fundamentally the same as they did so many years ago. We are confronted with development that is much more challenging than it was in the past, yet the opportunity is so much greater, for our generation is to reach not just millions, but potentially billions with the advent and acceptance of new technologies that bring games to every device imaginable. The risks of failure are irrelevance and apathy, which is a terrible fate for any creative and innovate medium, but the conceivable gains are to connect with gamers around the world on an experiential level. But to do this we must push and innovate, at every level, to move this industry forward.

Incremental vs. Exponential innovation

All this leads me to question…what is innovation? How do we explain it? Innovation is an interesting term to throw around, but let’s take a moment to try and understand it. Let’s classify innovation into two types. 

Incremental Innovation

One type of innovation is incremental innovation and the other is true innovation or perhaps exponential innovation. Incremental innovation is often confused with improvement, which is simply doing something better or more efficient. But incremental innovation is more significant and often involves not just improving the underlying product or service, but applying it in a way that was not previously thought of resulting in meaningful change that causes new or renewed interest. It is not revolutionary change, but it is certainly useful and most likely expected to some degree by consumers. Most of the time, when we hear about innovation it is incremental innovation we are hearing about, through sometimes it is dressed up as the second type of innovation, true/exponential innovation. Most commonly, professional experts in their field have innovative ideas and work to apply those ideas and make them a reality. Many experts in their fields have insights into their area that allow them to better understand incremental innovation; the real trick is applying these ideas and striving to bring them to life. 

True/Exponential Innovation

True innovation is exceptionally rare and is a step beyond incremental innovation. Think of it as an exponential step when compared to incremental innovation. It does not represent simply a step forward or improvement but an evolution of a product or service (Possibly many incremental innovations at once). True innovation is often confused with invention, the difference being that invention signifies original creation.  True innovation is the 1% of innovation and is exceptionally rare; often an unexpected result or mistake that was recognized as having tremendous potential when applied to certain circumstances or fields. When individuals with different skillsets and expertise work together towards a unified goal there is a chance true innovation can result from unconventional thinking. Cross-skill collaboration with smaller groups of experts can be a great way to approach an idea or problem if you are looking to really looking for new ideas. When true innovation occurs, it can often be a challenge to wrap our collective heads around the possible applications of these new products or services. Combining multiple incremental innovations into one applied product or service can quality as true innovation, since the sum of these incremental innovations is often much greater than the individual parts which why the term exponential innovation can apply to true innovation.

With a new generation of consoles and devices on the horizon the industry is once again looking toward innovations, both incremental and exponential, to help drive the next generation of games. In my next post I will discuss innovation as it relates specifically towards the gaming industry.


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