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  • We Still Matter

    Posted on April 17th, 2006 Finster 6 comments

    I really dislike game industry executives that think games need to be dumbed-down or simplified in order to sell to the so-called “casual” gamer market. Here is a prime example I found in an article on titled “Do ‘Hardcore Gamers’ Still Matter?”:

    GameSpy: Can hardcore gamers ever be harmful to development?

    Kowalewski: Sometimes, yes. It’s a fine line to develop games that “anyone” could enjoy, and if you pay too much attention to pleasing the most vocal of your audience (the “hardcore” gamers), you run the risk of making the game unappealing to the market you’re really going after (the “casual” gamers) by making it too difficult or specialized.

    I hate this attitude. There is this belief that complexity and intelligence will alienate people. I completely disagree. What some consider to be specialized today ends up being popular tomorrow and vice versa. I don’t think this has anything to do with how difficult or specialized a game is. Katamari Damacy is probably about as specialized as you can get, yet it certainly is appealing to the “casual” market. (At least my wife liked it.)

    What’s funny is that the big-wigs in the game industry want to marginalize these nefarious “hardcore” gamers. This should be obvious when you look at the whole tone of this article. Next, they talk to a marketing weasel.

    GameSpy: How much attention do you think developers give or should give to hardcore gamers?

    Ervin: Right now, very little, because the types of games these guys get excited about are often the types of games that don’t sell well. Very often you’ll avoid marketing to them because no matter what you do they’ll be unhappy. If a game isn’t 40 hours long, very often the hardcore gamers will complain that the game was too short. Meanwhile, casual gamers complain that they only made it 20 percent of the way into the game before they lost interest or it got too hard.

    This sounds like someone who has had way too many of their marketing campaigns utterly fail. Oh wait, where does “Ervin” work again? Oh yeah, he’s the head of marketing at Infogrames. How’s that whole “selling off your game developers” thing going for you? Sorry… forgot that your company hasn’t posted annual profits since 1999.

    Gee, I wonder what video game developers HAVE made money lately? And funny how all of the popular games end up selling REALLY well to hardcore gamers. Huh. Go figure.

    Let’s see what a developer at another profitable company, Bioware, had to say:

    GameSpy: How important is this hardcore gamer group to developers?

    Ray Muzyka: Hardcore gamers are the “early-adopters” of our industry — they set the initial public opinion of a game because they’re the first to pick up and play something when it comes out. They are the opinion leaders that influence other players — other players often consult with early adopters to get their opinions, or read their comments online right after a game comes out — and hence early adopters can have a huge impact on your ultimate success. This seems particularly relevant to BioWare’s types of games — RPGs and MMOs, games driven by story, character interaction and progression, and exploration. As well, hardcore gamers tend to buy more games per person than other demographic segments do. They are very important members of our community at BioWare!

    And THAT is why Bioware has had hit after hit after hit, and Infogrames/Atari is quickly becoming irrelevant (again).

    Make no mistake about it, if you’re a “hardcore” gamer, the industry is out to get you. Or at least marginalize you. The reason is that we typically don’t tolerate crap. Casual gamers do. There’s nothing morally wrong with you for buying and enjoying the latest licensed game from Big Publisher X, but it’s a lot easier to dupe Joe Q. Non-gamer into buying that crap than it is the hardcore gamers. If they can push us to the fringe and make us less influential, then we won’t have the ability to influence what the casual gamers buy (or don’t buy). That’s what drives these guys nuts. It kills them that less experienced gamers listen to us, and take our opinions seriously. You don’t believe me?

    GameSpy: How important is this hardcore gamer group to developers?

    Kowalewski: Hardcore gamers are very important to developers and publishers because they are the “influencers” when it comes to driving buzz and sales for a game. Hardcore gamers may play up to 100 games per year, but they only make up about 1/5 to 1/4 of game purchasers, but their influence over the rest of the game sales is enormous, potentially turning a moderate hit into a monster.

    They know that we influence the market, and that’s why the marketing weasals end up having pipe dreams like this:

    GameSpy: In the future, what do you think will happen to the hardcore demographic?

    Ervin: There will always be hardcore gamers, there’s just going to be fewer and fewer games for them. That being said, there’ll always be enough content for them to keep them happy because there are always at least a few great games coming out each year. But the lion’s share of games will be aimed at general audiences. For example, Electronic Arts is a success because they are a good marketing company and they appeal to the larger market of casual gamers.

    EA is a success, eh? See, in Crazy Marketing Land, 6 straight quarters of lowered or missed earnings estimates equals success. [Update: Make that 7] But even EA is beginning to see the light.

    The point being that it would be better for a lot of bottom lines if we just all shut up. It’s easy to make endless streams of shovelware and have it all be blindly accepted as Quality Video Games. There will be no end to crappy video games, just as there will never be an end to crappy movies. Just ask Uwe Boll.

    The key here is that we still matter. As long as there are buttons to be mashed and zombies to be slain, the voice of the hardcore gamer will be taken seriously, in spite of the secret desires deep in the cockles of marketing wonks’ hearts.


    5 responses to “We Still Matter” RSS icon

    • I think the hardcore gaming market was over-emphasized and it was discovered that selling to them alone doesn’t make a profit. Or maybe it was because games made for that market turned out to not be very good anyway.

      Unfortunately, tossing that segment of the market aside is a mistake. It’s true that many of them will complain about anything, but there is still value. Which complaints seem universal, which ones cross demographics, are real problems being identified?

      Funny, I always had this idea that marketing was supposed to be about looking at data, finding patterns, and making selling decisions based on those patterns. More and more it seems like marketing decisions are made sort of seat-of-the-pants. The problem with ignoring the hardcore gaming market is that you make the assumption they will buy your game no matter what. Pretty bad assumption.

    • I agree with your take on marketing. It is too often a bunch of people blabbering about “holistically leveraging our paradigms” and trying to “defenestrate their current strategy”. I would say there are probably only a few really good marketing departments out there.

      I also kind of see your point that the hardcore market has been over-emphasized. Casual gamers play a lot more Bejeweled than hardcore gamers, I suspect. BUT, look at the popularity of some of the Xbox Arcade titles. Ostensibly, Xbox Live started out as a hardcore-only type of service. I believe that it became more popular with the casual gamers because of the buzz created by the hardcore market.

      So, I’m not sure that over-emphasizing the hardcore segment is necessarily a bad thing. (It probably IS a bad thing to ignore the casual market, however.) I think this because I’m kind of an elitist, and I believe that if the “hardcore” segment of video gamers believes a certain game is “Good”, then casual gamers will naturally buy it and want to see what all of the buzz is about.

      So, that’s pretty much where I’m coming from. Even though the hardcore segment is much smaller than the casual segment, if you ignore the hardcore segment, you end up losing money. But if The Powers That Be can maneuver the market so that hardcore gamers have less influence, then maybe Goldeneye: Rogue Agent would’nt have been the sales disaster that it was.

    • I’m kinda wary of this hardcore/casual thing everyone seems to be going on about. For one thing, nobody uses the damn terms for anything approaching a consistent meaning, even in the same sentence.

      Really- each of these guys are using the term in a different usage. “Casual” ends up meaning anything from a gamer who doesn’t follow the development of games that interest them, to players with low skill, to folks with little time on their hands for sustained play sessions, to non-evangelist gamers. It’s a old term we made up to seperate ourselves from the folks playing “Barbie Horse Adventures” instead of respectable games back in the day, but now that video games are a nearly mature medium, we’re killing ourselves by falling back on arbitrary distinctions.

      There’s no actual split market here (well, there is, but it’s the result of almost uncountably many different groups being lumped into two camps- makes the focus group results easier to code, but it flattens out complexity in favor of a nice story you can tell your boss at the presentation). We shouldn’t pretend that this is some sort of unbridgeable gap- it’s just normal market variation. Some folks are going to seek out more complicated, challenging fare, and others aren’t. Let’s not turn into movies, with an arbitrary Arthouse/Blockbuster split.

    • I agree completely, and is part of the point I was trying to make. There is a whole marketing paradigm (har!) that strives to separate and marginalize one segment of video game buyers. I also like the analogy of the movie industry split. That is EXACTLY what we all want to avoid!

    • I’d disagree with your assertion that there’s nothing wrong with hardcore gamers, but then I’d also agree with the comment above that says the term’s so misused it’s meaningless.

      So, I think there are two groups of players, with some overlap – there’s a group that will want changes to a game that make it more complicated, and thus more interesting for them, at the expense of accessability; the other group will heap scorn on any game that doesn’t follow the formula it’s “supposed” to. I’m thinking about Myst here, but I’m also reminded of Penny Arcade’s criticisms of Final Fantasy XII, which appeared to be entirely about how real-time battles aren’t turn-based battles and they want turn-based battles, dammit.

      The thing about Katamari Damacy wasn’t that it was complex – as much complexity as there is in the game, it’s accessable and intuitive (once the game suggests that you think of the left and right thumbsticks as left and right hands). There’s plenty of other games that are just as complex but aren’t nearly as accessable, and when there’s too many of these games in the market, it collapses. (Like adventure games, which became really a waste of time towards the end.)

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