Yet another RSS feed I have picked up in recent weeks is for Nicholas Lovell’s Gamesbrief which came to my attention via the always interesting Tom Jubert. It’s a blog about the business of games development, which attracts me for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is that I have often considered starting up my own business.

But I digress.

One of Nicholas’ recent posts covers the death of independent UK games retailer Chipsworld and, in particular, Nicolas asserts:

This one is more of a belief than empirical evidence. I’m still researching it…

As people get older, with families and other commitments, they are less able to dedicate time to gaming. they are still keen gamers, but will seek alternative, less-intensive ways of getting their gaming fix.

This is precisely what happens in the film / television industries. Single, dating, childless people go to the cinema more often. Older, married couples with kids watch television. They are still consumers of filmed entertainment: just through a different medium.

(I can promise you they don’t play Neptune’s Pride for one thing.)

Nicholas’ comments caught my eye as I was wrestling with this game time versus age problem in my previous post.

Twenty years ago, the growth of gaming was fuelled by the young – but this first wave of pioneer gamers have all grown up. There are various estimates of the average age of a gamer but one of the most recent cites the number 32. Thinking about this, I doubt it is purely down to the softening and diversification of games to be more inclusive; we are also looking at a solid percentage of the pioneers continuing to game. (As an aside, the average age of a British mother at her first birth in marriage has climbed above 30 in the last few years; reference ONS data, Social Trends 40 Full Report pg 23).

So it is easy to see why casual gaming is so pervasive. Not only does it solve the needs of the burgeoning iPhone/Facebook generation but also the first wave of gamers who are settling down, trading gaming time for family.

This throws up all sorts of questions for me.

I wonder what lies at the end of this process, when the pioneer gamers are in retirement? Hardcore gaming will almost certainly still exist; but will it be labelled niche if casual is where the money is? Are we in the midst of cultural shift in gaming – with the rise of hardcore indie (more Avernum VI and AI War than World of Goo) being a sign that mainstream will eventually drop it for good? What’s the definition of hardcore anyway? Is this just all getting mixed up with the mainstream game development becoming dangerously expensive?

Answers on a postcard please.

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9 thoughts on “On the Causal Of Casual

  1. _________________________________________________________
    | Dear HM, |
    | |
    | I think that the majority doesn’t determine whether something is |
    |niche. A film like Syriana isn’t considered niche for being more complex |
    |than many films. The casting could even point towards the fact that it |
    |is, in fact, part of the bigger market. Perhaps hardcore games could be |
    |equated with something like Wes Anderson films: quirks unique to the |
    |medium, a good chance of entertaining those not deeply engrossed in |
    |the medium and production values greater than those of indies, even if|
    |the subject matter and presentation are notably different from the |
    |majority of films released. |
    | |
    |Regards, |
    | Sid |
    | |
    |P.S. Sorry the edge of the postcard is frayed, it’s the only one I have! |

  2. Thank you for your shredded postcard, Sid. Perhaps the word niche was badly chosen. I guess what I’m supposing a future where Bioshock might eventually be considered a pointless risk for a mainstream house when there is so much global money to be made from the right iPhone game.

    On my mind is something like this… EA takes IP “risks” with hardcore gamer experiences like Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge and fares badly. The stock market is unhappy.

    Now we have EA profits being buoyed by iPad Scrabble and they are teaming up with PopCap to distribute Zuma’s Revenge to mobile devices.

    Just wondering, that’s all.

    (Of Wes Anderson, shhhh, I have only seen The Royal Tenenbaums. But I liked it.)

  3. Disruption, in the Clayton Christensen sense of the word, is a highly overused term these days, but casual games definitely fit the model of disruptive innovation. According to the theory, a disruptive business will both open new markets and engage in zero-sum competition with existing companies in the marketplace. Casual games have absolutely proven themselves in new markets, the question remains as to whether or not they will be able to eat enough of the hardcore business to make it non-viable.

    And you need to watch Rushmore, sir!

  4. Interesting thoughts HM and the quoted text I can definitely relate with although I don’t think something as passive and short-lived as a film can be too much of a time sink, even to those with other commitments. TV is far more time consuming in my opinion because there’s simply so much on all the time, even if most of it is shit. How many people flick the TV on out of habit rather than a desire to watch a specific program? I’ve always regarded film and music as some of the most convenient media with books and games conversely being the most time intensive. I’ve discussed this with a few people over on Tap and it seems the recent slew of shorter games like World of Goo, Braid, Portal, Limbo, etc. even episodic content like Alan Wake are very popular with ‘impaired veterans’ such as ourselves because they simply don’t require unwavering devotion to them. They’re bite-sized and can be enjoyed in their entirety. That’s not to say time sinks are lesser entities but they’re significantly more inaccessible.

    It’s interesting you mention AI War because I’ve had it and the Zenith Remnant for ages now but I’ve just not found time to really get into it despite how much I want to. It’s a heavy game and one I’d definitely deem hardcore. For me hardcore denotes a game which requires dedication and expertise to progress, and to a certain extent familiarity with game tropes and traditions. I believe that these hardcore games will become a niche simply because they’re not commercially viable anymore. As gaming has diversified and new demographics have been tapped into, as well as generation x growing, there’s clearly less demand for these so naturally the industry will move where the money is.

    I think it will turn out very similar to how the film industry is consumed as BeamSplashX says, in fact it probably already is like that. There will be the shameless cash cows and the pretentious arty fluff and of course everything in between. We can only be thankful for the indies!

    My favourite Wes Anderson film is Steve Zissou’s Life Aquatic, well worth a look HM.

  5. Or should I say, not as commercially successful as some of the more casual games we see these days. Ah, crap I also meant generation x growing UP. Commenting at work is perhaps not a good idea!

  6. @Switchbreak: After I wrote this, I did more reading on Gamesbrief and it has been suggested that it’s the middle market of A games that are falling away rather than AAA games at present. Big titles still thrive, but not-so-big titles are suffering.

    @GreggB: Since Little HM was born, I have not been to the cinema ONCE – and I so wanted to see Inception. I’ve got AI War as well, I love what Christopher Park is doing; I just wish I could sit down to enjoy it. I did actually start it up once. I’m glad for the existence of indies to keep alive the more hardcore experiences. I feel that technology evolution => increasing expense => bigger risks is going to have to stop somewhere until procedural tools become commonplace, to take over previously expensive parts of a game (e.g. city generation, see Subversion). The current console generations have been static for a few years now and I think developers everywhere were quite comfortable with that.

    And all you people telling me to watch films. Did you not read the previous post on how much time I have? =)

  7. The plus of seeing a Wes Anderson film is that you’re watching a film AND listening to some great music at the same time. It’s super efficient! 😉 The cinema is a big deal these days though; you’ve got to travel there and back, most people arrive early to sit through 15 hours of trailers and terrible ads, then you’ve got the movie and that costs a fortune to watch. You’ve got to factor in a babysitter as well HM!

    I’ve got a lot of respect for Chris Park, he’s like some omnipresent developer showing up wherever AI War gets a mention. I wouldn’t be surprised if he drops by here to say hi. If I ask a question about it then he’ll definitely appear! 😉 I’d really love to play some co-op on AI War at some point but I imagine that would be nigh on impossible to orchestrate.

    Have you checked out Tidalis? It’s quite nifty, but very difficult.

  8. I think I’ll just make a post called AI WAR and just see what happens. The all-seeing eyes of Park will find us. Maybe we can trap him and make him do our bidding. I’m not exactly what my bidding would be, but I can wing that part of the plan when we get to it. Not tried out Tidalis, but it’s on my radar.

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