Gaming Has Lost Its Spark – How The Innovation Slowdown Killed The Magic For Gamers

Gaming just doesn’t feel the same as it used to. You’ve likely heard people say this before – gaming has lost its magic. It’s not as exciting or immersive. It doesn’t give you that childlike wonder and adrenaline rush it once did.

But why?

Many blame it on nostalgia. As we get older, we look back on the games we played as kids through rose-tinted glasses. The older games seem better simply because we have fond memories of playing them when we were young.

Others say it’s because modern games are too competitive and hardcore. With esports and live streaming, there’s too much focus on high-level play. Casual gamers can’t just relax and have fun anymore.

But the real core issue comes down to one word: innovation.

The Golden Age of Innovation

The Golden Age of Innovation
The Golden Age of Innovation

From the 2000s through about 2015, gaming was in a golden age of innovation. Every year brought new games that were leaps and bounds ahead of the previous year.

Take the progression of some of the most popular franchises:

  • Call of Duty went from 2003’s Call of Duty to 2007’s genre-defining Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
  • Assassin’s Creed took us from the Third Crusade in 2007 to the Italian Renaissance in 2009.
  • Uncharted brought us from jungle ruins in 2007 to the snow-capped Himalayas in 2011.

Not just sequels, but completely new IPs pushed boundaries too. Portal’s physics-bending gameplay in 2007 gave way to Minecraft’s endless worlds in 2009.

Each game was bringing novel concepts, settings, and technology that we had never seen before in gaming. This rapid innovation made every new release feel fresh and exciting.

The Innovation Slowdown

The Innovation Slowdown
The Innovation Slowdown

But around 2015, things started to slow down. As games became more complex and expensive to make, the rate of innovation declined.

Making cutting-edge games now takes far more time, money, and effort than it did 10-15 years ago. The bar for stunning graphics, smooth gameplay, and immense scope has been raised considerably.

Developing a game as vast and gorgeous as 2018’s Red Dead Redemption 2 can take the better part of a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars. The level of polished complexity that gamers now expect simply requires more time.

And as budgets and development timelines swell, the risk involved increases greatly. Studios can’t afford to experiment as freely when there is so much money on the line.

This has led to publishers relying more on proven formulas and sequels. It’s the safe bet. Gamers know what they’re getting and the odds of a good return are higher.

But it also means fewer bold new ideas make it off the drawing board. Even with a new setting or features, sequels can’t capture that feeling of venturing into completely uncharted territory like the most innovative games of the past could.

Nostalgia for Innovation

And this is why gaming today lacks the exciting novelty it used to have. What we perceive as nostalgia for our youth is really nostalgia for that time of rapid innovation.

The memorable games we reminisce about from years past each brought something brand new to the table. They gave us gameplay experiences we never could have imagined before.

But in today’s climate of sequels and skyrocketing budgets, that sort of innovation is harder to come by. We’ve crossed into an era where most games feel familiar – merely iterations on what we’ve already played before.

That’s not to say innovation is dead. Titles like 2020’s Half-Life: Alyx and 2022’s Elden Ring have pushed boundaries and revitalized genres. But these flashes of innovation are fewer and farther between.

Our nostalgia and sense that gaming was better and more magical back in the day stems from having lived through that golden age of innovation. We became accustomed to constant novelty – something the current climate struggles to deliver.

Until another period of rapid innovation takes hold, older games will likely continue to call us back thanks to their spark of newness and sense of unexplored possibilities. They transport us back to that special time when gaming surprised us day after day.


Why don’t games feel as fun or exciting as they used to?

The main reason is that gaming experienced a golden age of innovation from the 2000s through around 2015, where huge leaps in technology and design meant each new game felt fresh and novel. Today’s games can’t capture that same feeling due to slower innovation and more reliance on sequels and formulas.

Does nostalgia play a role in why we think older games were better?

It’s not just nostalgia in the traditional sense. We do view older games more fondly, but it’s because we have nostalgia for that era of rapid innovation where games could still deliver new concepts, settings, and technology that surprised and amazed us every year.

Are game developers not trying to innovate anymore?

Developers absolutely want to innovate, but it’s become more challenging. Games now take much more time and money to create at the level of quality gamers expect. This makes publishers more risk-averse and reluctant to invest in bold new ideas that could flop.

Will we ever return to a golden age of innovation in gaming?

It’s possible, though tough to predict. Innovation comes in unpredictable waves and cycles across all industries. If tools and processes emerge that significantly reduce development costs and timelines, it could spark another boom of experimentation. But this is difficult with today’s immensely complex games.

What can developers do to bring back that sense of novelty?

Taking inspiration from past innovation and trying new combinations of mechanics and genres can help. Developers should also look to new technology like VR and AI for unexplored opportunities. And where possible, focusing on fresh ideas over sequels can reignite that spark. It won’t be easy, but game studios can certainly foster innovation if they make it a priority.

The key takeaway is that gaming’s lack of excitement today is not a function of age or overcompetitive players – it’s the slowdown of innovation. Recapturing that sense of wonder may take the industry making innovation a mandate once again and dedicating resources to empower bold new ideas. Until then, our nostalgia will likely continue to draw us back to the novel experiences of gaming’s last golden age.

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