In my mind, most developers seem to design games back to front these days. So cornered by the publisher’s demands to maximize on the trends, they’re churning out permutations of a current formula entirely on purpose. The advertising is a dead givaway of this mentality; it’s some other game, but this time with aliens. Or cowboys. No, wait, it’s probably still just WW2.
Rather than to take a game that’s done already and think of what you can tag onto it to make it different (the ‘EA approach’?), I think the best way to come up with a design is to think of something that would be fun to do then turn it into a game (the Wonderous Child approach).
Spore (despite its publisher) is a good example of the latter: Will Wright didn’t think “lets combine Pacman, Populous, Civilization and GalCiv 2 and figure out a theme for it”. It was clearly more a case of “lets make a game about evolution, because the Discovery Channel is cool”. More designers need to go back to this. There are so many great experiences games could be giving us if they could halt making WW2 shooters for just five minutes.
A list of awesome things no game lets you do yet*:
– Freely explore a human body in a microscopic ship like in Innerspace
– Offer a ‘crew camaraderie’ experience running a small ship/spaceship online
– Let you experiment building an orbital vehicle (at a component-placing level) to try and reach space
(*) – As far as I’m aware, anyhow
Feb 2016: Since this post was made, we now have Kerbal Space Program, of course! Space Engineers is the closest to the second one; I don't think Star Citizen will hit what I had in mind, either. Exploring human bodies as a microsub is still lacking, though... if anyone sees one, I'd love to check it out.