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  1. #1
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    Where do you draw the line between feature and gimmick?

    Okay, so... on the table today from the thoughtgroup of things that occurred to me whilst spending too much time thinking that will probably be relevant to the interests of most RPSites is: Where do you draw the line between feature and gimmick?

    How do you do that? When does something stop being a clever or innovative feature and turn into a gimmick? Does it have somethig to do with how much of the focus it takes up in a game, does it have something to do with the intrinsic nature of the feature/gimmick, does it have somethig to do with usability and accessibility, does it have something to do with pragmatism and practicality, or is it a mixture of all of these things? How would you define a feature vs. a gimmick, and what examples do you have of what separates them?

    For example, is the Wii remote a gimmick? If it is, then is the physics puzzling of Portal 2 a gimmick? How do we define these things? Is the word "gimmick" simply applied to features that we don't have a personal taste for, or is it more objective than that? Ultimately, perhaps, do we need a more efficient set of wording for this? Is "gimmick" a vague and dificult to define concept for you? Does it, perhaps, have something to do with the style of it, and it feels more fluff-like or there to be fashionable rather than having some intrinsic function within the game? Do you feel that examples you might have of that are examples where someoe might argue for that gimmick or feature having intrinsic worth both inside and outside of the game?

    Is a gimmick a bad feature that somehow brings the rest of the game down with it because it negatively impacts the game somehow, and therefore it's a "gimmick that should not have been there?" How then does one separate a gimmick from perhaps a buggy or broken feature? Can a gimmick imply a broken feature, or does a gimmick mean something else? Does the word gimmick take on any kind of different meaning when applied to games, which by their nature are ephemeral, versus any form of physical object which may be "gimmicky?"

    Share your thoughts, anyway.

    ...and my apologies if I've just mildly destroyed what you believed to be a solid concept of what a gimmick is vs. what a gimmick is not. My mind does this to me all the time. Too many damn nuances and contexts. It's something I'm deliberating on, but I'm curious as to the opinions of the other thinker-noggins around here.
    Last edited by Wulf; 06-01-2012 at 10:18 PM.

  2. #2
    Lesser Hivemind Node Kodeen's Avatar
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    I think the necessity of the aspect plays a big part into the decision. If you take it away and it doesn't really have much of an impact on the game/product, then it was probably a gimmick. If the product suffers from the removal, then it was a feature.

    And the aspect in question can change from feature to gimmick depending on the context. For example, you bring up the Wiimote. For games like the Legend of Zelda, it largely comes off as a gimmick as these games would be perfectly serviceable with button controls (especially Twilight Princess, which was originally designed for the Gamecube controller). But for a game like World of Goo, the Wiimote was at least more fun, if not more useful.

  3. #3
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Lambchops's Avatar
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    To further obfuscate this (because I'm childish like that!), Wulf's post focuses on the idea that a "gimmick" is a negative thing, something to be avoided. That's not always the case though. i've often found myself describing something, whether in games or advertising or wherever as a "clever" gimmick or "actually quite a neat gimmick."

    To actually offer an opinion on the topic in an entirely boring fashion (because I'm tedious like that!) it's one of those words whose usage various from person to person but can usually be interpreted easily based on the context. Of course some people might be using it in an obectively wrong fashion but even then we probably mostly get their point.

  4. #4
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    A gimmick is something that could be taken out of a game at no loss of quality while being used in its marketing.

  5. #5
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Lambchops's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wizardry View Post
    A gimmick is something that could be taken out of a game at no loss of quality while being used in its marketing.
    For all my blathering about context and multiple ways of interepereting the word "gimmick" in relation to games that is the correct definition. Succinctly put too.

  6. #6
    Network Hub MD!'s Avatar
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    I don't consider 'feature' and 'gimmick' to be mutually exclusive.

    But as for my definition of 'gimmick', it's basically just a question of how well fleshed-out a feature is and how much it adds to the experience of playing the game, as against its pure novelty or advertising value. I guess it gets a bit tricky to define this perfectly -- for one thing, by 'how much it adds' I don't necessarily mean it has to make the game *better*, but it has to change it significantly in a way that doesn't make it both simpler and worse.

    e.g.: some sort of laggy, imprecise input peripheral would change significantly my experience of playing a game; it would be a gimmick not simply because it made the gaming experience worse, but because it did so by limiting my freedom and the complexity of my possible interactions with the game.

    A controller that went the other way, and ruined the game for me by being far too complex for me to use well, would not be a 'gimmick' if it opened up a new world of depth and complexity for those who were good enough to use it well. (If it were humanly impossible to use well though, it would effectively be a limiting or simplifying element, and would tip back over into gimmickry.)

  7. #7
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    Thanks, Lambchops. I'll agree with that and I've thought to myself before that there are things which are commonly considered "gimmicky" which I like, which makes me wonder the nature of the term, really.

    As it is, it sounds like a tool to convey a subjective idea. Further, it seems that "gimmick" is being described as a completely subjective concept, and one that cannot be laterally applied to objectivity in any way, not without involving personal opinion. So the word "gimmick" then commonly exists to convey: "I feel that this function/feature could be removed from the game and the game would be no different without it?" Gimmick is a shorthand conveyance of that statement?

    So, therefore, the positive element of gimmick, as raised by Lambchops. As in that something is a gimmick but a liked one, is where you feel that something adds nothing to the game, but you like it anyway? However, contrary to that, if you actually enjoy its presence is that "gimmick" not actually adding something to the game that you would actually miss and perhaps even long for the reinstatement of if it were removed? Is a 'liked gimick' an instance of empathy, wherein you recognise that most people will see it as a gimmick (as established above, in the negative way) but you actually see it as being a feature of worth - and thus, in this case, it becomes a gimmick that you like?

    Totally overthinking this. But eh, overthinking is fun.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wizardry View Post
    A gimmick is something that could be taken out of a game at no loss of quality while being used in its marketing.
    Absolutely agreed.

  9. #9
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Mounted 50cal on a drivable HMMWV in BF3 MP: Feature.

    Mounted 50cal on a setpiece HMMWV in COD SP, pointed at the corridor you just cleared: Gimmick.
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  10. #10
    Lesser Hivemind Node westyfield's Avatar
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    To me, a gimmick is something that can be removed without any significant loss to the game as a whole, but nonetheless is focussed on to an almost annoying degree.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wulf View Post
    Thanks, Lambchops. I'll agree with that and I've thought to myself before that there are things which are commonly considered "gimmicky" which I like, which makes me wonder the nature of the term, really.
    There's no inherent negative connotations in the word. Generally the ire aimed at gimmicks is less to do with their nature and more to do with how it's used, either too much (i.e. it loses it's novelty value at best, or becomes a chore / boring at worst) or too little (i.e. the perception is the game would be improved if the gimmick was fleshed out into a feature).

    As for the definition it derives from marketing speak - a gimmick is something added to make something stand out from the rest of the market which has little or no bearing on the actual function of the product, which depending on the product could be anything from a celebrity endorsement or unique colour scheme to the pseudo-science you often see in cosmetic adds (particularly if preceded by the words "unique patented technology" or something to that effect).

    It's tricky to really apply it to games. In one sense, it would be perfectly valid to take the core gameplay based on genre or the like and declare everything not part of that to be a gimmick (ie intended to make the game stand out from it's peers), in which case I'd suggest the only real difference between a gimmick and a feature would be how much it's used. So something brief which has little relation to the rest of the game, say for example the buggy sequence in Half Life 2, would be a gimmick, while something integrated a little more, such as the gravity gun, would be a feature.
    if you actually enjoy its presence is that "gimmick" not actually adding something to the game that you would actually miss and perhaps even long for the reinstatement of if it were removed?
    Under some definitions the gimmick could be the entire game. Portal's gun for example could be defined as a gimmick*, yet the entire game is built around it.

    * Utilising a different approach (which to be honest is usually applied to movies and music) of comparing the mechanic, object et al with gaming as a whole, ie in terms of complexity of mechanics or the like.

  12. #12
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by archonsod View Post
    There's no inherent negative connotations in the word.
    I'd argue that there is. It's not the "trope/cliche" dichotomy. There's a definite pejorative aspect, in that it's a special element for the sake of a special element, because clearly it doesn't add to the product aside from drawing attention to it.
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  13. #13
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    It's a feature that sets the game apart from other games. It tends to be used mostly in a negative fashion though. For example, people don't tend to describe Bastion's narration as a gimmick, but if it had been done badly and not worked, you can be almost certain they would have.

  14. #14
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus mickygor's Avatar
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    Since I'm a linguist over a gamer, gimmick to me means "selling point." Features and gimmicks are essentially the same, in my books.

  15. #15
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mickygor View Post
    Since I'm a linguist
    and a lazy one at that.
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  16. #16
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus mickygor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    and a lazy one at that.
    So "an ingenious or novel device, scheme, or stratagem, especially one designed to attract attention or increase appeal," doesn't translate into a selling point?

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    and a lazy one at that.
    To be fair the OED basically agrees with him:
    http://oxforddictionaries.com/defini...mick?q=gimmick

  18. #18
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by deano2099 View Post
    To be fair the OED basically agrees with him:
    http://oxforddictionaries.com/defini...mick?q=gimmick
    The OED agrees with him that gimmick is the same as feature?

    it is not so much a programme to improve services as a gimmick to gain votes
    Last edited by Nalano; 07-01-2012 at 06:05 AM.
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  19. #19
    Network Hub SMiD's Avatar
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    I would submit that the difference between feature and gimmick lies in the realm of the item's value. It's some thing is significant and greatly valued it would lean toward feature; whereas if another thing is considered cheap, ill-fitting, or unimportant, it would be closer to the gimmick end of the spectrum.
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  20. #20
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Berzee's Avatar
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    Usually I try my very best to make absolute and objective quantifiable definitions.

    I just took some cold medicine a bit ago, so instead I'm going to be all crazy and generally useless and say

    A gimmick is a feature that does not impress you.

    Edit: Actually I don't think of gimmicks and features for games I *buy*. Mostly when I hear or think about gimmicks, it's related to free flash games. =P The ones that are like standard platformers with a "gimmick". And in relation to *those* things...maybe the way that I differentiate between a platformer with an interesting new feature or a platformer with a gimmick is whether or not I feel upon beating it that the particular eccentricity is good enough to make more games that include it in the future.

    In other words, for me, it's not about good versus bad (despite my facetious reply above the edit). I consider a gimmick to be a one-shot thing that may yet be interesting but doesn't need to be repeated. A feature is something worth incorporating into the future of the genre, or at least the future of the series.

    Of course I may change my mind and disagree with myself tomorrow. ;)
    Last edited by Berzee; 07-01-2012 at 06:51 AM.
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