In the wake of Ubisoft not including playable female characters in either Assassin's Creed: Unity or Far Cry 4, the standard tropes are trotted out...the average age of a gamer is 31. Forty-eight percent of gamers are women. Etc.
These numbers are accurate, but are presented with no context. They come from industry information published by The Entertainment Software Association (1). They include ALL gamers. A 60-year old playing Candy Crush Saga counts as a gamer. The legions of middle-aged women playing Bejeweled Blitz count as gamers. When a parent buys a game for a child, the age/gender of the parent is counted, not the age/gender of the child.
Well, today I spent two hours standing in line with my two sons to play the demo of Super Smash Bros. Wii U. Without doing an actual hard count, the total people I saw standing in line were about 95% men between the ages of 15 and 25 (2). "Core" or "hardcore" gaming--the gaming dominated by the AAA games that cost $50 million to make and another $50 million to market--is overwhelmingly young and male. Citing statistics that count all the people playing free mobile games and the like is not going to change that.
And developers know it. They know the people most likely to slam down $60 for a AAA game on day of release are teen or young-20s men and the games are aimed squarely at them. If you're a woman or an older man and you want to see the industry change, there's a simple way to do it.
Spend money. Until you're spending money on hardcore gaming, hardcore games are going to keep dissing you.
(1) Link to current info. Another "fact" that's funny is "88% of games are not rated M." Watch an E3 press conference and it looks like 88% of games are rated M. (There were some trailers that were too disgusting for me. I can't imagine what the games will be like.) Just another example of how the ESA's statistics have no relevance to hardcore gaming.
(2) The actual percentage was probably higher than that; I'm being conservative. Within my immediate space in line there was one old gamer (me), one young gamer (my younger son), and one female gamer (someone in front of me whom I did not know). Everyone else was a teen or young adult male.
It is summer and the weather is sunny and warm, great for wearing flip-flops. So it is appropriate Sony and Microsoft flip-flopped their positions from last year’s E3. In 2013, I (and many others) ridiculed Microsoft for talking about TV shows, and entertainment, and sports, and everything except games. I (and many others) praised Sony for focusing on games.
Oh what changes hath a year wrought! Microsoft delivered 90 minutes of games and nothing but games. There were no hardware announcements—almost no hardware was mentioned at all except for brief nods to Kinect and SmartGlass (1). Sony countered with two hours that was mostly about games, but, right in the middle, went off the reservation. New SCEA president Shawn Layden got thrown into the fire with an over-long spew of facts and figures that hearkened back to Sony’s bad old E3 pressers. And then, what’s this? Sony is producing television? Did Microsoft hack Sony’s press conference?
On the plus side for Sony, buried in the monotonous swill of data two exciting new products were mentioned. PlayStation TV and Project Morpheus are both worthy of more in-depth exploration and I hope Sony will give us even more details soon. They should have given us more at E3.
Still, it all comes back to the games. Both companies showed games that will almost certainly push consoles off the shelf. Sunset Overdrive and the Halo Collection for Microsoft. Destiny (2) and Uncharted for Sony. Both companies have deals with third party publishers to get exclusive content in otherwise cross-platform games. There were lots of indie games in both shows. The next couple of years look great for gamers (3). I was a little more excited about Sony’s offerings (UNCHARTED!), but that’s just me. There’s plenty to like from both consoles and nothing that definitively makes one better than the other (4).
How will this play out over the next 6 months (through the holiday season)? Sony established itself as a gaming machine and is now slowly adding other features. Microsoft tried to establish itself as an all-in-one entertainment system and is now trying to push games. Thus far, Sony has had the more successful strategy (almost twice as many consoles sold as Microsoft). Will Sony’s divergence into other markets hurt or will the added value only make their already gen-leading console more attractive?
Well, through 3-1/2 hours of press conferences from both companies, the loudest audience response was for Uncharted 4. I’m betting on Sony.
(1) At the time of this piece (June 10), there is no official SKU for a Kinect 2.0 for the Xbox One. In other words, right now, if you buy the cheaper X1, you can’t add Kinect later unless you go through the secondary market (eBay, Amazon Sellers, etc.). 2014 may well be remembered as the final nail in the coffin of motion control. The fad started by Wii has, blessedly, run its course and even MS is giving up and relegating Kinect to the dust heap of history.
(2) Yes, I know Destiny isn’t exclusive to PlayStation. But it’s available first on PlayStation and the new, Glacier White PS4 bundle will sell. Microsoft didn’t show ANY new hardware or bundles.
(3) Favorite line constantly repeated by Microsoft: “This game runs in full 1080p.” Translation: “Yes, we know our games have not been able to run in 1080p so far, that’s why we dumped Kinect so developers can boost the graphic performance. You’re welcome.”
(4) I’m not ignoring Nintendo. Well, actually, yes I am. Nintendo has become its own niche market. If you want to play Nintendo games, you buy a Nintendo console. If you have had enough Mario, Link, and Kirby to last for a while, you don’t need a Nintendo console. Even if you do play Nintendo games, you’re still going to need a PS4 or X1 to play everything else. I call the PS4 and X1 the “Or” consoles—you need a PS4 OR an X1. The WiiU is an “And” console. You need a WiiU AND PS4 or X1.
A gamer tells you graphics don't matter.
Then tells you to play games on PC because, better graphics.
A gamer bemoans the lack of innovation in the industry.
Then screams bloody murder when a favorite franchise updates the core gameplay.
A gamer complains there are too many sequels and not enough new IP.
While buying Super Mario Halo Killzone 15.
A gamer screams publishers are ripping them off with day one DLC.
Then buys the game used.
A gamer criticizes new consoles for not having backward compatibility.
But trades in all their old games to buy new ones.
A gamer argues games are art.
Then demands the artists patch their game because the players don't like the ending.
A gamer objects to the depictions of women in games.
Then treats women gamers like dirt.
A gamer mourns the closing of a studio.
Then returns their game that was only rented.
A gamer is passionate about games.
And passion makes you do weird things.
This is going to be a long essay, so here's the short version: The Wii U will be the last home console ever made by Nintendo, and the next Xbox could be Microsoft's last console. The home console gaming market is shrinking due to market fragmentation, and, while there's still room for a dedicated home gaming console, there is only room for two, and maybe only one.
Types of Gamers
Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, we have progressed through several types of media entertainment: radio, film, television, and video games. (The Internet isn't a media itself, just a medium that delivers media in different ways. It will eventually lead to the dissolution of traditional radio and TV stations, but we're still a generation or two from that happening.)
What has marked all those types of media is eventual fragmentation. The video game market is also fragmenting, and it will only get worse (better?) from here. Fragmentation of these markets are based partly on genre (like radio station formats) and also based on market demographics. For video games, more than other media, the market is breaking down by demographic rather than genre.
Broadly there are four types of gamer:
Enthusiast. Enthusiasts love to play games, and lots of them. Enthusiasts are more likely to own multiple systems, will almost definitely have at least one console, probably a gaming PC or laptop, and buy lots of games across a variety of genres. These are the so-called “hardcore” or “core” gamers that have been playing for quite some time.
Obsessive. Obsessive gamers focus on one or two games and play them to the exclusion of all others. Most often the focus of their obsession is an MMO or similar online game that is constantly updated with new content. Obsessive gamers may change their obsession, but it will be rare, so they don't buy many different games, but they will spend lots of money on their one or two obsessed-over games.
Pick-up-and-go. These gamers just want to jump into a game for 15 to 20 minutes and get a quick fix. They don't want big, complicated games or games with long levels or long times between checkpoints. They prefer puzzle games where they can solve a few puzzles and turn the game off.
Social. Social gamers like playing with friends. They could be lumped into any of the other groups, and, in terms of spending habits, may fall into one of those groups. However, they will only spend their money and time on games that offer an online component because single-player just isn't interesting to them.
Let's leave that there and take a brief look at the history of consoles, beginning with Nintendo and Sega.