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Innovation Stagnation

Here in the United States, we believe that by providing monetary incentive (for example through protection of Intellectual Property) we can bring about innovation. However, this ideal seems to have been undermined by those at the top who are afraid of competition.

For example, computer games. If I were to sit down and code a computer game myself, it would not have some of the things that a big-name game does. However, this in itself would not neccessarily make it a bad game, it just wouldn't have a bunch of technically advanced features. That's fine, to the discerning gamer it's not really a matter of being impressed with gee-whiz graphics or physics, it's a matter of new and entertaining game mechanics.

I can only comment from an individual's perspective. For me, the trouble is that even if I were to create a fabulous game, barely anyone's going to hear of it. In the recommended reading section of my Blog is currently a link to an excellent independant gaming Blog. How many of those titles have you heard of before? Chances are, just about none. Why?

Much like any other field (such as books or movies) big-name publishers dominate the gaming scene. I'm willing to bet that this is deliberate - they're looking to crowd lesser known game studios and individuals out so they can keep as much as the multi-billion dollar gaming pie to themselves.

If big name companies regularly came up with sufficiently good games to justify this, I'd say more power to them then. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that most stuff released by the big-name publishers is crap. Rehashed clones, the same old boring ideas, and basically a demonstration of total stagnation. It's reached the point that, in the unusual event that something new and good is released, we're thrilled to find it.

The problem can be found beyond computer games and nearly anywhere in the U.S. Market. Books have become largely dominated by hack-writers that people know, often ghost-written or (worse) written by authors who have long since given up even trying. Movies and Television are largely dominated by imitations as well. In exactly the same way as with games, we're overjoyed to discover when somebody has released something new and interesting. We're quick to assume that there simply are no good ideas out there, but the reality is much simpler: they're quashed under the collective weight of big-name companies. Companies who have a vice-like grip on what you get to see on Television.

To go far enough down this road is to ultimately end up looking at the wealth distribution in America. Because our innovative incentive system is working so poorly, bottlenecked under the competitive pressures of those at the top, we've been losing the race for innovation. In some ways, we've actually gone backwards. You may not have noticed, but the days we can really say we're the dominant superpower in the world are gone.

We may never reach a point where our stagnating market forces radical social change, but we will reach a point where we're simply grossly technologically inferior to other countries. (Some would say that we already are in many ways: health care, social security, ect.) Once we far enough behind, the entire country becomes dependent on others for survival, in much the same way we require China to do much of our manufacturing or India to do our call centers. Whether we can change before our dependence is complete and irreversible is anyone's guess.

How to reverse the process, then? Well, that too is anyone's guess. However, my choice would be to place the incentives (tax breaks and other government support) on the bottom and not the top. Our society needs to support the little fish and, when they become big fish, see if they can float on their own. It's cutting breaks to those who feel they don't have to try anymore, putting large companies on government life support for fear the economy will collapse without them, that has resulted in stagnation.

Of course, this will mean some big fish, especially those which are currently on life support, will sink and die. The trick is in learning anticipate and accept this. In nature, the corpse of a big fish decomposes and ultimately becomes nutrients for the better swimmers of tomorrow. This is how innovation and change looks, it should not be feared, as it is the natural flow of living things. More importantly, it is needed, as without this there will be stagnation, and all the death it brings.


Grimwell said…
I don't think it's really as bad as you make it out to be. Anyone with a good idea can still make it big. Look at Harmonix and Guitar Hero. It was a good idea and they made it happen, and it went bigger than they could have ever hoped. Now they have sold it off and are on to other things with the money.

Smarts count more than the good idea does, as you have to see it thorugh to make it big. Not that everyone can (you can't force people to like something, there is no perfect recipe for a cultural success), but we all have that option.

At the top level, success does strangulate creativity, because people are afraid to risk money without predictible returns, but that's not where the big flash in the pan happens... it's at that indy level.

There is still hope.
Well, I hope you're right about that.

Some days Corporate America seems more oppressive than others to me, and I suspect that the correlation has to do with the caffeine level in my bloodstream for the day.

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