I got in a short argument with someone on Twitter. He takes the position most people seem to take: that games have advanced technologically but not in terms of gameplay.
This sets my teeth on edge.
First, the two are inextricable to a surprising degree. We couldn't have a 3D shooter without the technology that allows it. We can't have Boomblox without decent physics simulation. We can't have Mario Galaxy without an overpowered level design system to keep developers from going insane. We can't have MMORPGs without the internet.
But more than that, game design has advanced tremendous amounts. It's just easy to ignore. Let's look at a few MAJOR, VERY COMMON titles.
Mario Galaxy. Would you dare to say it's just a platformer? That the design hasn't "advanced much" since Super Mario Brothers?
Prototype. I don't like the game, but the 'minor' technical upgrades allow it to have a smooth and flowing play experience. Is anyone willing to pretend it's not significantly different from Moon Patrol?
Dead Rising, with it's brick-wall learning curve, has an impressive design that not only unfolds a spiral of avatar upgrades but also allows you to use/destroy almost everything in the mall.
Even Gears of War is significant design change from early shooters. You can pretend that it and Halo are not significantly different from their predecessors, but only if you're willing to pretend that a car is not significantly different than a horse-drawn cart.
Shall I start talking about less popular games? I don't think I'll even bother.
I think the reason so many people think that game design hasn't advanced much is because it's possible to trace modern games contiguously into the past. When you can see the change tiny increment by tiny increment, it's easy to not even see the progress.
But the progress is there. We've made tremendous progress.
Not to say we're perfect, or that we're even very good. But don't pretend we're still standing on the sand thinking about going in: we're already wading up to our knees.