Back in the 1970s and much of the 1980s, there were only hardcore and more hardcore gamers. The best graphics were barely enough to render out jagged lines and dots. It took patience to play the games, and the allure and enjoyment of the products themselves was rather fleeting.
Fast forward to today, and video games are a massive industry. In the United States alone video games were a $10.4 billion dollar industry in 2004 (1). Today the biggest entertainment grosses are not from hordes of fans going to see movies, but those buying video games on release–Call of Duty: Black Ops netted $600 million in its first five days, more than all but the tip-top blockbuster movies make in their lifetimes, and far more than any other type of entertainment (2).
At the same time, there is a growing gulf between types of gamers. The increasing mainstream adoption of video games means that the day of the hardcore gamer has all but ended. The demographics show the difference; the Entertainment Software Association’s 2009 statistics show the average age of a gamer is now in their late 30s, and a whopping 40% of those gamers are now women–a far cry from the perpetuated stereotype of gangly nerdy teenage boys (3).
Rise of Casual Gaming
Two devices can be considered the harbingers of the new order in recent years. The first is the iPod and iPod touch, which have sold more than 160 million devices worldwide combined (4). Guinness pegs the iPhone 4G as the fastest-selling video game device of all time, faster than the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable, and remember–the iPhone is a phone, first and foremost. The difference is that more and more consumers use their multimedia devices for gaming, and Apple’s App Store offers an easy delivery platform for gaming on the go. This opens up a new niche of casual consumers who won’t spend money on a dedicated system but will plunk down five bucks for a collection of games like Angry Birds or pocket Solitaire (for more info, read “The Next Great Console War”).
The Nintendo Wii, too, can be seen as a driving force in bringing a new type of gaming to casual audiences. With more than 80 million consoles sold, the device that hardcore gamers scoffed at as being “gimmicky” and underpowered became the little console that dominated hardware sales. Wii Sports, the bundled game that came with the Wii, is the best-selling game of all time, and showcased the potential of the Wii’s motion controls at engaging different audiences who felt put off by the other consoles.
Many hardcore gamers felt that this rise in alternative gaming was coming at their expense, and as a self-described hardcore gamer, it’s easy to see why. The Wii is notorious for its games that use motion controls as gimmicks or are just all-around poor products–often called “shovelware”. But many see the Wii as emblematic of a future where companies will just churn out games for a wide demographic–not the hardcore. For those who want large, expensive games, they may be out of luck if developers would rather sell many more $1 games than the expensive multi-million dollar AAA games of yore. Investors certainly seem to think so–the successor to the Wii U is seen as Nintendo’s return to courting the hardcore gamer, and on its announcement Nintendo’s stock took a nosedive (5).
But we hardcore and casual gamers can coexist, and even learn from each other. Today’s casual gamer can be tomorrow’s hardcore gamer, and these “gateway” games make sense–if casual fans are put off by the seeming impenetrability of more complex games, they might never enjoy and buy them. Hardcore gamers, too, might have been put off by the Wii’s different control schema at first, but as the PlayStation Move and Microsoft Kinect have shown, the format is applicable to “real” games as well. Over the next generation video game companies will better merge gameplay formats to best suit the games.
Hardcore games aren’t going anywhere, any more than PC gaming is dead, as is often proclaimed. The acceptance of hardcore games has only increased in recent years (6), and casual games aren’t going to decrease the incentive to create the next multimillion dollar blockbuster. Ultimately, casual and hardcore gamers have much more alike than different. Both want to play engaging experiences, both want quality products, and both ultimately want to have fun. I think the future is bright for gaming, and casual and hardcore gamers will be thrilled by what happens next.
* (1) Staff (May 12, 2006). “An Industry Shows Its Growing Value”. Next Generation Magazine. Retrieved June 20, 2011.
* (2) Edwin Chan (December 21, 2010). “Call of Duty Black Ops Sets Record for Activision”. Yahoo. Retrieved June 20, 2011.
* (3) “Industry Facts”. Electronic Software Association. Retrieved June 19, 2011.
* (4) Christina Warren (March 2, 2011). “Apple Sells 100 Million iPhone Units”. Mashable. Retrieved June 19, 2011; and Daniel Dilger (April 19, 2011). “Apple’s Samsung Lawsuit Reveals 60m iPods sold”. Apple Insider. Retrieved June 20, 2011.
* (5) Patrick Martin (June 15, 2011). “The Market May Be Wrong About the Wii U”. MSNBC. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
* (6) Doug Gross (June 16, 2011). “Today’s Video Gamer? It Might Not Be Who You Think”. CNN. Retrieved June 20, 2011.
Read more gaming stories by David Fuchs: “The Perils and Profits of the Video Game Trailer” / “The Future of Mac Gaming” / “The Worst Video Game Movies”