The other day I had a thought about the gaming industry as a whole, and the direction it seemed to be heading in, and I wondered if the industry itself was slowly dying from the recent surge in casual gaming. Now, before you all think I’m about to bash the casual gaming genre, please take the time to actually read what I am about to say instead of jumping to conclusions.
For many decades the hardcore gamer has had a vice-like grip on the industry and has, whether consciously or not, controlled what became a hit. We saw the FPS genre become over-saturated, zombies appearing in just about everything imaginable, and MMO addicts helping WoW stay in the spotlight. In recent years, there has been a noticeable shift in the market, and we are now seeing more family friendly things on store shelves.
When I was a kid, gaming wasn’t popular. It was what a nerd did. If you owned an NES you were either the fat kid, the kid with bad skin, or the kid who was a teacher’s pet. You were never the kid that every girl had a crush on, or the girl that all the boys wanted to chase around the tree in the schoolyard. It just never happened. However, as I got older, and as gaming became more mainstream, it seemed as if everybody had a PlayStation or a Super NES. The jocks were even gaming! It felt as if something so sacred had been ripped away from us, and video games were perceived as “cool.”
As far as parents were concerned there was still the social stigma, they looked down upon it, and assumed we would all grow up to be mass-murderers. The media sure didn’t help either. Studies were coming out all the time and publishing rubbish like how gaming would make us violent, how it would make us somehow mentally inept, or that it would lead to a myriad of other problems. Gaming, and gamers, couldn’t catch a break and some of us probably found ourselves having to defend our interests.
If you were to go into a gaming retailer now you’d see shelves filled with games that would make most of us cringe. Sure one could debate that somebody out there will be interested in whatever the title may be, but the majority of gamers who have been around for decades perceive it all as unnecessary fluff. It’s there to make money off of whatever the target demographic may be, but it isn’t there to create a memorable gaming experience. When you really think about it that way, those games are doing the consumer a grave injustice.
Until the day I die I’ll always remember playing Super Mario Bros. 3 in the family room, or the first time I beat Crystalis on the NES, or how almost every Final Fantasy game has made me cry (for good reasons, not because I thought the games were horrible). If someone were to ask me what casual games I’ve played, I know I wouldn’t be able to name them all. There are some that stand out because I genuinely enjoyed them, but most I’ve forgotten because I’ve played so many other titles that were exactly the same. And why is that? Are those studios lacking in originality and creativity? I personally don’t feel that’s the case, but I can imagine how others might feel that way.
I had the chance to play many casual titles last year, and while I enjoyed about 99.9% of them, there are some I wouldn’t play again because I achieved all that I needed to. There wasn’t a lot of replay value, and I suppose that’s okay. Not every console game warrants multiple playthroughs, so it would be unfair for me to require that from a casual game. A person who is into casual games is in luck because most of them cost under $10, making it easier on their wallet, but does that make the game better because it is cheaper? I would have to say no. I think that, regardless of the retail value, a person should get what they pay for. If I am to spend $60 on a console game, I damn well better get my money’s worth. Sometimes I don’t, and I grumble about it because that is a lot of money, but it happens. When spending $6 or $9 on something, I believe I should still get an enjoyable experience. I don’t expect the same quality in terms of graphics, but I still want a good story and good gameplay.
In a way, we should be thanking the casual gaming genre because they are slowly starting to help change people’s perceptions about video games. We’re seeing people in their 80’s play Wii Sports, but if we were back a few decades ago, none of them would’ve touched a SEGA Genesis controller. Women are discovering companies like Big Fish, PlayFirst, and MumboJumbo Games. Little girls can develop interests in cooking, crafts, gardening and more from the Mama series by Majesco. Mobile gaming has exploded, and those (incredibly annoying) Facebook games are distracting people who are at work across the globe. Also, with the recent releases of Microsoft Kinect and PlayStation Move, families can game together and have a fun time while doing so. What was once an activity done in the privacy of ones own bedroom is now something deemed appropriate for the living room.
Am I a little disgruntled that the current trend is to appeal to the consumer who isn’t a life-long gamer? Yeah, just a little. I think that balance is key and right now it’s heavily lacking. Part of me does get a little worried that hardcore gamers might feel as if they have been abandoned, forgotten, or thrown by the wayside. The last thing one needs to feel is as if the companies are saying “Thanks for your patronage, but we want new money.” Hopefully in 2011 we will see a return to the true gamer, and I say true gamer because we are the heartbeat of the industry, not because I think we are the only ones who have the right to deem ourselves as a gamer. I still think that companies should continue to put out those games for the casual individual, but that maybe they should put a little more heart and soul into them. In no way would it have a negative effect, and they might even get some great feedback from their customers.
Gaming has, and forever will be, an escape. It is a place where many can go to shut out the problems they have in their lives and in the world. It’s something that has helped me through my darkest times, and it is something that will be with me always. Do I feel that the industry I hold so dear is being threatened? No, not even close, but I am excited to see what the future has in store for all of us.
How do you feel about this, or the opinions I gave in this article? Share your thoughts in a comment below!