Game Design: Imitate, Then Innovate

There are always people within the industry, the community, the hobby — however you choose to parse those terms — who insist that things need to be done a certain way. Sometimes there are good reasons, best practices that have developed logically over years and decades of experience. Other times they assert “That’s how it’s done!”only because it’s always been done that way. That isn’t good enough.

Every creator knows that the natural progression is to imitate, then innovate. We have to understand what we’re imitating, though. There has to be a justification as to why those before us did something, and did it that particular way. It might have been because they didn’t know better. There could have been resource limitations, a lack of time or money. It could have been a happy accident, because they didn’t know what they were doing. They may have though it was good enough, and settled.

We don’t have to settle. It’s not disrespecting those who came before if we don’t. There’s no reason to simply imitate and then stop.

Imitate, Then Innovate

Seth Godin wrote a blog post about repairing a sofa with tape that is a perfect allegory for this. By the fifth time you see a tear in the upholstery, you look at the previous repairs that were fixed with black gaffer’s tape and think okay, that’s the solution. More tape! What about the first repair? Why didn’t the person that made that initial repair do it correctly, or more professionally? Why has no one circled back to remove the tape and repair it properly? Because the standard was set. It’s acceptable. And it’s convenient.

If you want to innovate, you have to be willing to let go. No sacred cows. No “one true way” thinking. Put thought into the status quo, and how it got to be that way. If it works, great! Keep it. If the only reason you’re doing it is because everyone else does it, you should consider that a potential area for improvement.

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