Ah, how I love Pokémon. My generation had the honour of growing up with the very first generation of these little critters, and just like all the other kids on the block, I loved to play every game that involved these monsters. I collected the trading cards, and I fielded a nice team of battle-hungry Pokémon on my Gameboy. The video game was just so addictive. From the moment you received your first Pokémon (Bulbasaur for the win), to the satisfying moment where you defeat the Elite Four, Pokémon offered tense and tactical battles with monsters ranging from cute to threatening. Every time I give a new Pokémon title a try, I’m overwhelmed by this sense of nostalgia and unfortunately have to discover that none of the new games satisfy my lust for the collection of pocket monsters.
However, what these new games also show is how a rather simple game can turn into something really complicated over different iterations. Pokemon Red and Blue (I will not mention Yellow here. Only the lazy, snobby kids who wanted all the cool Pokémon in their time played Yellow, and I was far too awesome to start a game with a lame Pikachu in my team) were, essentially, nothing but a glorified rock-paper-scissors simulator: certain types were efficient against other types, so the trick was to have a well-balanced team that was able to hold its own against different kind of Pokémon. However, the franchise was and is still milked for every penny it’s worth, and so generation after generation of new games appear. Fortunately, they are no carbon copies of the originals. In fact, they take the basic concepts of Red and Blue, and keep adding additional layers to the game. These days, trainers have to be aware of so many things next to their Pokémon’s type, and when I hear players talk about their team set-ups, I feel like I’m listening to football coaches and talent scouts talking about something I once knew so well, but that has become something so deep that I can no longer follow them.
Despite the fact this added complexity has caused me to fall behind, I understand that this is the ideal evolution (see what I did there) of a game: starting out simple to get players used to the ideas and concepts, and slowly change into something that still holds on to these core ideas, but that is also refreshing. It’s an organic and really natural growth, that in most cases gives the franchise a fresh breath of life with every new iteration. Pokémon is by far not the only game who has done that. Recent sci-fi RPG series Mass Effect might have kept the same awesome and thrilling storytelling through all three titles, but the actual game that was behind the cinematic drama changed significantly throughout the three parts. Each new Zelda title sticks to a well-known set of characters, but also tries to re-imagine the world of Hyrule every time. It’s progress at its finest, and in my opinion the best way to introduce innovation into the market.
The problem with many great ideas is that you have to get them into other people’s minds. This entirely new game idea might sound really great in your own head, but that’s no guarantee that your target audience will understand it. Instead of throwing everything at them at once, risking the chance that the complexity and “newness” of it will scare your audience, introduce them to it step by step. Start simple, but get them hooked. Take the best part of your concept, and put it in a nice package. It’s like writing a text, where your opening sentence has to catch the attention of the reader, or else they won’t bother reading your stuff. See how I lured you in with some talk about Pokémon, and how you’re now reading something about organic introduction of new game concepts? I got you hooked, and step by step, I’m introducing you to my ideas.
Once the audience is on one level with you, ramp up the complexity. Build on the foundation you have laid, and see how they react to it. Should you go into the wrong direction, you can direct this form of intelligent design into another, better way. You control the organic growth of your product, and react to the demands of the market. In the gaming world, it’s survival of the fittest, and whoever can adapt to his environment will come out a survivor.
So next time you start writing a game or come up with a brilliant idea, break it down into simple pieces. Start with the core idea, and turn it into a strong element that you can bring to your audience. Then, let evolution do its work and see where it goes. I’m sure that, in the end, you will even surprise yourself about the direction it took.