Is this a good or bad thing?
The MMORPG genre has remained quite stagnant for the last decade as seen by World of Warcraft's dominance of the market. This level of stagnation has harmed the development of the genre and gaming as a whole because companies for sometime avoided innovation. In some regard, you can't blame them for this since the current generation of gamers isn't kind to new ideas and reject change quite a bit. It is a bit ironic since most gamers desire more from their gaming experience, but when something new arises they bombard it with ridicule, but this is another issue entirely that I will address in another post.
Additional to the ridicule received from players, game developers also face the issue of deciding what aspect of the genre to innovate. Making a bad choice in this area could be disastrous since the game's entire development is based around this decision. A fine example of this is seen by Star Wars: The Old Republic who decided to try and innovate the leveling experience by having fully voice acted stories that the players follow as they level. The issue with this was that they focused too much on this aspect, and when players hit max levels, they had nothing innovative and original to keep their interest. The pvp and raiding was very much identical to games like World of Warcraft.
Now I don't want to be too critical of Star Wars: The Old Republic, Bioware was success in the aspect of gameplay they decided to master. In fact, it was the most enjoyable levelling experience I've ever had in an MMORPG, but after I finished levelling, I was quite disappointed to not see this innovation flow into the rest of the game as much as it should have.
So spending insane amounts of resources on a minor aspect of gameplay is bad?
Having a competitive advantage is important, but your advantage must keep the customer's needs in mind. If you fail to effectively identify what your customers want then you'll be producing a product/service that has no demand. A prime example of this being done success (we hope) is Guild Wars 2. Like Star Wars: The Old Republic, they've made use of voice acting and dynamic/fluid questing, but they didn't go to the same level of depth. They spread their focus more so that they could bring innovation in other areas such as combat style.
Tips for Innovative Design
- Pick a current feature of the product and expand on it. This method is far easier than creating a brand new feature.
- Make sure your innovation is what the customers want. Do not waste your time building a box if your customer wants a circle.
- Don't compromise current features for furthering your innovation. Even if you're innovating, the rest of the product needs to meet the minimum standards expected by your customers.