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On Becoming a Casual Gamer

Thinking about it, I thought this editorial was going to be a really personal one. It was going to be about the times when being a gamer went from a nerd-only thing to a system (or 2) in every household. However now I think the issue and transition that I've gone through in the past year or so is actually indicative of more of the videogaming audience than just me. And where the audience goes is where the industry goes.

When I was growing up I was a real homebody kid. The kind that comes home from school and played whatever system I had at the time until dinner time, went to bed, went to school and started it all over again. Back then I had the ability to stay up literally all night playing Gran Turismo, or whatever the latest cool RPG was. If there had been MMOG's back then I would've been an addict (coincidentally one of my younger brothers I visited this weekend is about to hit the level cap in World of WarCraft). I don't ever remember a specific time when someone put me down for liking videogames. I think during the time when that mentality was starting to phase out I (and the bullies who would be the delivery system) were too young to understand that videogames were a "nerd" activity. However I do clearly remember the change in other people who were late adopters of the national addiction. When I started out the question was "Do you have a Nintendo?" then later it became "SNES or Genesis?", "N64? PlayStation? Dreamcast?" until finally by the end of high school it was a forgone conclusion that someone had a videogame system. I stayed a pretty "hardcore" gamer for a long time, maxing out RPG characters, pimping out cars, slaying that end boss, clearing frequency songs, getting 100% until one day something happened that changed everything:

While I will continue to freelance for CVGames, I landed a full time job.

Done laughing? Can I move on? Okay. I remember pretty distinctly when I realized that I was no longer the gamer I once was. I picked up the special edition of the new RPG Jade Empire and despite really liking the game I felt extremely aggravated that I would come home from work, not really get very far in the game but still end up losing my whole night. There were other signs too: People online would talk about being disappointed over how short certain games were that I felt took me forever to finish, games people called "hard" (hello there Devil May Cry 3) I started considering "impossible". What have I become? Am I now doomed to a life of picking up Madden every year? No, my dear reader fret not. I have crossed the line and become a "casual" gamer but I have returned to tell you we're not all that bad. We don't all get together with our frat brothers to play Halo, we don't all snicker at the guys with Nintendo DS's on the bus (I'm actually envious). However you've got one thing to genuinely fear from us. The industry is favoring us more and more. As games garner more fans and as systems become required appliances instead of niche items the money your favorite company wants is less and less found in the hands of Johnny Hardcore. It's an extreme example but look at Nintendo's changing stance: They're unabashedly going for the person who just wants a quick 30 minute sit down session. The executives, directors, and developers say over and over again that the market they want to tap favors simpler, less involving games.

Here's where I see the future of videogaming: as of right now there's no way to go but up. Blockbuster hit games will continue to become more and more expensive to produce, more complicated and elaborate. The industry will continue to balloon until it's a Hollywood-like force. But that's obvious I don't think you're going to find a single person who follows the industry that will tell you different. However I also think that despite jeers and boos from the outspoken crowd, Nintendo or someone like them is going to find what they're looking for. They're going to find out that thanks to the industry being as big as it is you can sell a game to casual gamers and people outside of the 18-27 male demographic. And even better they're going to realize that there's still a profitable market in it. I believe someday the budgets in the most expensive games to develop and promote are going to catch up to the amount of money they make and there's going to be a plateau where companies need to find another market and another way of developing games to keep the green rolling in. Hell, I'd be surprised if they aren't doing it already. And I think that is when we're going to see a resurgence of truly clever, fun, innovative games being the big sellers and big names.

At least that's what I hope!

This article appeared in the August 2005 Issue of CVGames. You can view this Issue by clicking here.

By Zach McKeown - 08/10/05

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