Insights into some AxiCom thinking...
Time for the games industry to level up
My last post looked at why the term ‘gamer’ doesn’t work for all gamers, even though we (the industry) keep labelling them as such. Writing this made me think about how game content has changed over the years. Is it a bit chicken and egg - which came first the new audience or the new types of games? Or was the shift in demographics driven by new platforms coming to the market which made games more accessible to those players that hadn’t grown up with a joystick or gamepad in hand?
We recently saw two announcements about social gaming on the same day when Facebook and Google+ began to go head-to-head in the social gaming arena, where titles such as Farmville have been huge hits and are often cited in research looking at the growth of gaming.
This is where it gets confusing. Some folks then start to talk about what’s wrong with the games industry, notably how it’s full of sexism, violence, horror and drugs. Those factors, which are largely associated with an adolescent, male audience, are seen as alienating new game players, in particular the growing base of female game players who are largely responsible for Farmville’s popularity.
But this kind of comparison doesn’t work for me; it’s like trying to compare Night of the Living Dead with Eat, Pray, Love. The inherent sexism and violence around some games, like Duke Nukem, is partly down to the state of the market when the series first shipped in the mid-‘nineties. At this point it could be said that the stereotypical aggressive, teenage male gaming demographic was considered the norm and was an audience that was actively pursued – remember at that time “lads’ mags” still had high readerships! However, fast forward over a decade and, surprise surprise, the market has changed. The kids that were playing Duke Nukem games have now grown up and moved on and the brand now has little recognition with younger male gamers, who are playing Call of Duty or whatever … So its audience begins to become more niche.
Yet many developers have continued working to that stereotype. Some don’t think to challenge it because they themselves were playing the Duke Nukem games first time round, but perhaps more up to date market research is needed?!
There are now hugely varied types of games available for every platform and many of the most successful ones are family-friendly; from The Sims on PC to Singstar on the PlayStation and Nintendogs on the DS. Notably Nintendo’s Wii and the Xbox Kinect platforms have opened up gaming to almost anyone, so there is now quite literally something for everyone.
Times have changed, there is now a truly mass audience for video games and gaming continues to evolve. However, when I think of ‘gaming’ I still can’t help but think of spotty-teen-infested LAN parties and I cannot shake some of the images from Postal 2… Actually, I’m still scarred by that particular launch when getting an irate Richard and Judy to condemn the game was seen as a positive move to increase sales!
Some games will always feature sex, drugs and violence and there will likely always be an audience for that, in the same way that there’s always going to be a market for straight-to-DVD horror movies (even if that is just my brother and I).
But since women are rapidly growing as a significant audience for games, the headline titles need to change to capture their imagination, rather than alienate them. So will most women (and indeed many men) ever call themselves gamers? Unlikely – I think the connotations of being a geek in a darkened room will stick firmly to that label.
Personally I really enjoy some of the more “traditional” game genres and I’ve got a lot of time for the more ‘hardcore’ titles like Rocky and Final Fantasy (AND I can kick some serious b*tt in my household too, albeit to jeers that I’m ‘just pressing random buttons’ and ‘have no strategy’...sore losers). However, alongside all the Farmville fans out there and, as discussed in my previous post, I would never call myself a “gamer”.
I would like commentators to stop generalising about the games market, this means they need to stop lumping ‘gamers’ into a single demographic. There is no doubt that more women are playing games but there needs to be more analysis of what they’re are playing, where and why they’re playing them before condemning the likes of Duke Nukem for putting people off...Perhaps much of the problem comes down to how games are marketed and in-store merchandising? Nintendo has made a good start on attracting new audiences through its ad campaigns of the past few years, but braving the average games retailer can be daunting to the uninitiated. What does need to improve is how we differentiate between different genres and markets, after all the Duke Nukems of this world should only exclude those who aren’t interested in that type of game (in the same way that Farmville excludes me and Eat, Pray, Love excludes my husband).
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