The average indie sells about as well as a pack of Trojans in a convent. You just can’t get people to buy them.

That’s not a slight on indies, it’s just the nature of things.

Indies constantly offer brand new gaming experiences. Titles like Her Story deliver something you’ve never seen before. And because they offer unique experiences, such indie games capture a niche market. But it’s next to impossible for indie games to please the mass market.

That’s because the mass market wants familiarity.

Mass market games like Call of Duty, Halo, Destiny, and Battlefield…those games are made for everyone and their mum. AAA game studios know how to create games that will sell like schnitzel in a room full of Germans.

AAA studios know the formula that will sell, and they stick to it like toffee sticks to your fingers.

That’s why so many games are the same over and over again.

Call of Duty has stuck to the same basic formula year on year while offering tweaks with each new iteration. Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft’s E3 presentations were basically a line of clones. Emperor Palpatine was probably watching that sh*t and thinking “Clone Wars part 2 here… we… go…”

By their very nature, AAA games have to be familiar. But at the same time they can’t stay the same forever. They need innovation to keep them looking young. Your mum needs her make-up. AAA games need gameplay and graphic tweaks to keep them fresh.

So just how does a AAA game stay fresh?

Right now, four AAA games are leading the way in terms of innovation. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and ReCore.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst both work off of the currently popular dystopian sci-fi genres. Society is controlled by an evil, fear-mongering government.

Huh. Evil, fear-mongering government… can’t imagine that ever happening in real life…

In both Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst you fight for justice.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is all about a war between cybernetically enhanced people and organic humans. A reality which according to Space-X CEO Elon Musk isn’t that far away.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is all about a war between cybernetically enhanced people and organic humans.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided nods to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Transmetropolitan and Neuromancer, which happen to be three of the best sci-fi novels of all time. Incidentally, read those books if you haven’t already. My God are they f**king amazing.

In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided you fight through claustrophobic, metal-soaked cities. It’s not an overtly original theme. It’s familiar, because being a AAA it needs to be familiar. But at the same time, there’s definitely plenty of innovation here.

Innovation in Deus Ex comes via way of a ton of new gadgets and weapons. Playing Deus Ex is like entering a massive candy store full of explosives and gadgets that would make even Q himself envious.

Square Enix actually wanted to know precisely what innovation gamers wanted to see in Deua Ex. So they conducted market research. You probably won’t be shocked to hear that everyone Square Enix asked told them that they wanted to have new guns and new gadgets.

I know, revolutionary, giving gamers guns, who would’a thunk it…?  

Again, it’s not an overtly original concept, giving gamers new toys, but it’s innovative enough to make Deus Ex: Mankind Divided feel fresh.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst approaches things from a totally different angle. It’s beautiful. Actually it reminds me of Leeloo from The Fifth Element, because it’s pretty, futuristic, bright, and stylistically minimal.


Mirror’s Edge Catalyst innovates in terms of gameplay, by developin the series’ parkour. Focusing on Faith—one of the most asskickingly cool female protagonists ever—it’s a run, punch, kick, and climb extravaganza. I played an alpha build back at E3 and found Mirror’s Edge Catalyst to be silky smooth.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst offers a different form of innovation to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. It’s all about the gameplay and creating that free-flowing feeling, making you feel like you’re out in the city jumping between rooftops, the sun burning down on you, sweat glistening on your skin… it basically wants the parkour to feel real.

What Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst share in common is the way in which they’re taking something familiar but tweaking it to keep it feeling fresh.

The same is true for Horizon: Zero Dawn and Recore. They innovate on a familiar theme.

Zero Dawn is a deep and realistic experience with crafting, boss battles, weapons-based combat and stealth.

Both Horizon: Zero Dawn and Recore share a similar story, about robots murdering humans in a post-apocalyptic world. But they have totally differing feels to them. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a deep and realistic experience with crafting, boss battles, weapons-based combat and stealth. It features realistic exploration that makes you feel like David Attenborough taking an expidetion through a post-apolalytpic landscape.  It’s also billed to have a Dickens of a story to it.

Recore’s different. This is the brainchild of Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune. It’s full of robot-dogs and metal creatures with cute, round edges. Compared to Horizon: Zero Dawn, Recore is more cartoonish; less serious, more fun. The story’s about how the surviving humans forge friendships with courageous robot companions and lead an epic adventure through a mysterious, dynamic world.


ReCore is familiar yet also novel. When you play it, you feel like you’re playing a familiar game but with a twist.

Recore features some excellent art direction and graphics

And that’s what innovation is in AAA gaming. It’s about making games feel familiar but also giving them something new. It’s about pleasing the masses who’ve grown to love AAA titles like CoD, but also giving them a new experience to sink their teeth into.

Too many people think that the games industry lacks innovation. Open your eyes. That’s just not true. Game developers take games in new directions every year. Sure, AAA games might not be as unique as indies, but what AAA studios do is perfect a genre. They take the games we already love and add to them.

AAA studios compete against one another financially, but they’re also working hand-in-hand to develop the industry. One developer puts out a first person shooter, the next takes that shooter and develops it into something new, and so on and so on. It’s a gradual progression that every developer is involved with.

Today, we gamers are spoilt rotten. We’ve got the true innovation, uniqueness, and craziness that comes from indie games. And we’ve got AAA studios constantly pushing our favourite genres in new directions and striving for perfection.


Categories: gaming

Paul Harrison

Paul M Harrison is an entertainment journalist, novelist, and blogger, and a specialist in the theory of storytelling. Paul Harrison can be contacted via his personal website or on Twitter or Facebook.


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