There are plenty of experiences in life that you’ll have explored about as comprehensively as you can. Any further exposure to those experiences would advance your ‘experience points’ – if you were counting – by zero points.
There are a tragically large number of games that fall into this ever-enlarging category of experiences for me. Take first person shooters. I look at the screen shots for new WW2 shooters and invariably the first thought I have is that I seem to remember experiencing that game before at some point, and even if it wasn’t exactly the same bombed-out city, I’ve certainly already done what that soldier is doing with that bayonet. Been there. Done that.
How do you avoid making games that end up falling into the abyss of familiarity? Perversely, I think playing too many games can sometimes be dangerous for developers. Being contaminated with the latest fads can tempt you down a slippery slope of being inspired by new games and unconsciously adding parts of their features into your own game. Got a scene that needs pepped up? Just check out that game that had that nice camera effect. ‘Adapt’ the controls of that other game because it seemed OK in their game. Down that road lies mediocrity.
Much more dangerous is the fear of not conforming to the expected. Be on the guard for conforming to the norm. “You can’t do that! No one does that!” People generally don’t like to stand out. Learn to enjoy standing out. Learn to push the boundaries far past the expected norms in all aspects of your game. The chances are that people will never have experienced that before.
Given the choice between a fresh-but-flawed thing versus a tired-but-slick thing I’d prefer the fresh thing every time. How about you?