Lack of innovation in the game industry

It's been now 6 years that I am in the video game industry (I worked part time as a user experience and foresight researcher during my masters and Phd and am still doing that) and I have always been amazed by the lack of innovation. Part of the reasons for that are covered in are interestingly described in this interview on gamasutra from a game studio director at Vivendi:

"It seems like most companies are one failed game from either dissolution or being purchased. Most companies have to put all of their eggs in one basket just because of their size, and when that basket is filled with 20 million dollars, it tips over. What kind of industry is going to result from that mentality? I don't think it's necessary.

CK: I don't think it is either. I don't think that making minigames and digital content is entirely the answer. It's one avenue, and they'll do more of it. I look toward some of the other industries that have solved this problem. There's car design centers that design cars, and set things up. It's a different skill set, and it's often either a different branch of the company or a different company altogether from the ones that figure out how to reduce costs much as possible to save money on things that they know about -- the repeatable things that don't have to be iterated on.

Our consultant uses the Big Mac example -- a Big Mac tastes exactly the same in Japan as it does in San Diego. The reason for that is that they have a 300-page Big Mac recipe manual. That's how you mass-produce things, by knowing exactly what it is. You can't do that with games. You can't repeat that process unless you know exactly what it is you're producing. That's what I'm saying -- separate the preproduction, know the game first, and only spend the five million dollars discovering that one hour of core that you want to sell. Then go to your 300-page Big Mac recipe and make 40 billion of those, like they do at McDonald's.

The problem is that you've got a developer like Angel Studios, which has big spreadsheets explaining, "Okay, we have to be in production here. I don't care where the game is. I have to find something for these 50 people who are coming off of Midnight Club to go on, on this date." You've got to make payroll, and you've got to get cash flowing in. That's what's forcing us to make all these decisions. The decisions aren't being made about the game. It's because resource flow on huge games is what rules developers right now. These days, you can't survive just having one project with 100 people. You've got to have three to justify your company. You've got to figure out what everybody's doing on a day-to-day basis."

Why do I blog this? quite sad but very common in the industry. Which does not mean, of course, that there are exceptions (the Wii, WoW, etc) or that external actors are going faster (see Sulake with Habbo Hotel for instance).