"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
It's a popular saying. One that usually suggests that a product is fine the way it is, and that trying to change or alter something that most people feel works just fine and are satisfied with is a bad thing.
Unfortunately this saying has become a bit of a creed for gamers who are perfectly happy spending their hard earned money on games that while not broken, certainly aren't striving for improvement. This sort of complacency is not only bad for the industry as a whole, but bad for the gaming community.
The desire to improve, to be better than what came before you. This is the basis for progress of any sort. Where would we be right now if everyone looked at the vinyl record (as fantastic as they still are) and said "It's good enough." Or the same about the earliest automobiles, medicine, and airplanes. In short, improvement is progress. Being happy in the middle of the pack leads to stagnation.
Few broken games get the second chance to prove themselves. Typically games that don't sell well or don't get positive critical and consumer response don't get sequels. So the mentality of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" really cannot apply to the industry as a whole.
The single driving force behind making a sequel should be to make it better than the original. Unfortunately I feel the gaming industry has grown to a point where they are able to fall into the same complacency other entertainment media tends to fall into. The big name developers are showing a decided lack of interest in improvement of their own products. Instead resorting to reiteration after reiteration of a formula that is successful. While this may work in the short term for big sales and critical acclaim, It can be a death knell for any successful game franchise.
I recently played God of War III for the first time. I enjoyed the game, but I had a strong sense of "been there" and "done that". By the time I was three quarters through the game I found myself just wishing It would end so I could know what happens. As I was tired of fighting the same waves of enemies using the same handful of combos inputs I've been using for the last three games in the series. I can say the same thing about the Call of Duty and Halo franchises. I can't help but feel that Sony, Activision, and Microsoft respectively will need to really push these games forward in their next iterations to hold my attention.
While I'm sure God of War IV, Call of Duty: MW3, and the next Halo will move millions of copies. I can't help but wag my finger at gamers themselves as well. If game developers and publishers are content with giving us rehash after rehash we have only ourselves to blame. If we are complacent, they have no reason to give us anything new or inventive. It's fine if God of War, Call of Duty, or Halo is your favorite game franchise ever. They are fine games, but don't get it in your head that it means you can't admit there are aspects of the game you don't like, or things you would like to see added to the game to make it better. As no game is perfect.
Thankfully there are a few shining examples of innovation that meets large success. I'm eagerly awaiting Team Ico's The Last Guardian, Valve has shown many times It can bring a unique and memorable experience to gamers, Bioware and Irrational have set new standards in story telling and immersion in games, Atlas released the brutally unforgiving Demon's Souls to surprising success, Ubisoft has given us one of the most engrossing game franchises in years in Assassins Creed, and Rockstar has taken a chance and made a game that doesn't feel like just another Grand Theft Auto in L.A. Noire and hit the mark dead on.
But for every innovative game that's a success. Many that deserve more attention get steamrolled. Which is why I look at upcoming games like Cathrine also from Atlus and wonder if this game has any chance of finding an audience in America.
To sum my point up: It's okay to like a game for what it is. But don't let that stop you from demanding that the game that comes after it to be better. With complacency comes stagnation, with improvement comes progress. "If it ain't broke don't fix it" needs to be thrown out the window and run over by a robot cowboy riding a giant centipede made entirely out of polished marble with laser guided rocket pods mounted on It's sides (now that's innovation!)
Originally being from Hockey Town Detroit itself, I think a better saying that gamers, developers, and publishers need to adopt is a fitting reference to the sport: "Don't look at where the puck is, look at where It's going."