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Remixing, the recipe for the next hit game?

An open notebook with a pen on it. One of the pages is filled with drawings and annotations.

What is remixing in games?

As per Wikipedia:

A remix (or reorchestration) is a piece of media which has been altered or contorted from its original state by adding, removing, or changing pieces of the item. A song, piece of artwork, book, poem, or photograph can all be remixes. The only characteristic of a remix is that it appropriates and changes other materials to create something new.

Taken into the context of video games, remixing is the idea of adopting specific features of a number of different games, and putting them together into a single one. These features can range from art style, to level design, game mechanics, and so on.

If you have ever taken a look at a new game and felt like something of it looked familiar, chances are, this game has adopted something from an older game that you have once played.

But wouldn't that mean that most games are remixes of something that released earlier?

That is very true. Most games are often inspired by some other game in one way or another. Some games build upon the mechanics of older games and take it further. There is inherently nothing wrong with that, as long as it is not blatant plagiarism.

However, remixes tend to marry concepts from genres that are generally not paired together. Take one of the most recent examples, Palworld. It is a mix of "monster collecting", with base building, resource management and even third-person shooter. This unique combination, along with the fantastic marketing of course, garnered over 20 million units of sales and dropped the jaws of many.

Are all remixes successful?

We do not know if ALL remixes are successful, simply because there are so many games being made and shipped out there that we have no way of easily measuring that. However, what we do know is, some of the top titles in the last decade have been remixes of other highly popular titles.

Take Genshin Impact for example. We have all seen how successful it is during it's prime.

So what is it a remix of? When it first launched, people only saw it for its similarity to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Players drew connections to the open world exploration, the composition of their advertising materials and even things like the stamina bar. But to be fair, Breath of the Wild did not invent open world games. Advertising materials for other products in various forms of media that came before also shared similar compositions. And the presentation of a stamina bar, while adopted from Breath of the Wild, it has been refined in Genshin Impact.

The similarities don't just end there. The more observant gamers would understand that the elemental system in Genshin Impact was a fairly common feature in most modern mobile games. What set it apart was that they allowed for the elements to actually interact on the battlefield itself, creating "reactions". Was that truly unique and groundbreaking in the world of gaming?

Unfortunately no, not quite.

We see interactions between elemental skills and the environment in Divinity 2 (released in 2017) as well. Where players can create puddles of water on the ground and electrify them, electrocuting all those standing in the puddles. An even more direct comparison would be the "combo" system from Guild Wars 2 (released in 2012). A quick example of how it works: If a player were to cast a Flame Wall and another were to shoot arrows through the Flame Wall. The arrows would come out of the other side alight with flame, inflicting additional burning damage to the enemy.

There are more features adapted one way or another, but these 2 stood out the most. Genshin Impact took these features, put them into a single game and refined them further. On top of having charming characters and writing, you have yourself a hit game.

So why do remixes succeed?

I once heard of the following phrase describing why certain products succeed. It goes something like, the products allows users to "do new things in an old way, or do old things in a new way". And if you take some time to think about it, a good number of the successful startups fulfil one of the two categories in some way or form.

Remixing games is a way to walk this path. Finding old features that people like, and allowing them to experience it in a new way. Or, having a new feature that adds another dimension to the original gameplay.

Regardless, making games is all about creating a memorable experience for the player. If the game is completely novel, introducing new mechanics and there's nothing familiar for the player, learning curve might become too steep. Players may never make it past the tutorial to even begin enjoying your game. That is not to discourage anyone from having novel ideas, but perhaps, if you are looking to make something with potentially easier market reach, a remix might be the way to go.

So, fellow game developers out there, will you be remixing your next game?


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