The thing about conventions is that they come into existence democratically – that is, some feature becomes a convention not because it was forced on everyone but because it was valuable enough that a lot of users independently desired it.
There may be a very good reason why some convention exists, possibly making it perilous to wish that convention into the cornfield. Conventions in themselves aren’t a bad thing. The real problem is when developers implement some convention in their game solely because it’s a convention, rather than because they consciously determined that the feature is a good fit for their game’s design goals.
So I’m a little hesitant to suggest doing away with any convention. But I might be willing to temporarily misplace some convention that’s gotten so hidebound that virtually no one now questions why they implement it.
OK, all that caveating done:
INNOVATIONS I’D LIKE TO SEE:
Generic RPG In A Box – something in between a general-purpose game engine (e.g., Unity) and a fully-built-out game, so that it’s got all the libraries and tools licensed and packaged for creating and populating a dynamic 3D world; all creators have to do (“all” they have to do, riiiiight) is actually create the content for a particular game.
Less Fear of Surprise – I’d like to see more developers willing to tolerate (within non-crashing limits) emergent effects from combinatorial systemic interactions. Too many games today – I assume because publishers spending millions of dollar-equivalents are naturally risk-averse – seem to be made under the theory that they must control every nanosecond of the player experience or too many players will declare “this is boring!” and give their game a bad Metacritic score. The result is too many games with “If you don’t play it as we intended you’re Doing It Wrong” Syndrome. (Not implementing save-anywhere is frequently an indicating symptom of this disease.) Instead, let systems bang into each other! In addition to the setpieces, let there be surprises so that players have something to talk about with each other.
Better Game Recommender – I’m still waiting for someone to build a game recommender that uses the model described by Richard Bartle: people rank their favorite games, then the recommender looks for the person whose favorites are most similar to yours and recommends to you the games that the other person (who may remain anonymous or not) likes the most that you don’t already have. Rather than some complex, too-smart-for-its-own-good algorithm, this approach is simple, easily implemented, and IMO would clearly deliver exactly the kind of recommendation that gamers actually want. (In fact, you could do this with any product; we’re just talking games here.)
CONVENTIONS I’D LIKE TO TEMPORARILY DO WITHOUT:
Mechanics Uber Alles – Too many game creators (IMO) start designing a new game by focusing on an idea for a mechanic. Maybe it’s riding some vehicle, or it’s some form of direct damage-dealing, but it’s almost always about some action the player takes in the game world that’s repeated (in variations) as the core of the short-term play loop. This can work when the mechanic is a really new one (like hiding from enemies while needing to risk exposure to achieve goals), but I’m not sure there any many such truly new mechanics left to invent. Instead, I’d like to see more developers try wrapping a game around a new Aesthetic (BioShock came close to this), or some curious form of world Dynamic (an example of which is the Creatures genetic breeding game), or even new Kinesthetic ideas (VR, AR, new input devices).
Bought It, Beat It, Sold It – Why are games made to be throwaway experiences? I’d like to see some games made that try to become a lifelong companion; not just replayed, but that offer something new and worth exploring every time you go back to that game.
I’ll need to think about this some more.