I've always viewed playing games as a hobby that people of all ages could participate in. The video game medium is about as all-inclusive as you can get, and the marketplace has always featured plenty of options for people of all sizes, shapes, and ages. However, I've noticed that the "younger player" category has been a little bit under-represented in today's gaming world. If you ever go shopping for a child under the age of twelve with the intent to buy them a new video game, it's tough to find a decent game that has age-appropriate content and isn't outright shovelware.
Need proof? Think about the best games of 2011. Some titles that might come to your mind include The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Resistance 3, Gears of War 3, Uncharted 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, or even Batman: Arkham City. And what do these games all have in common? They are rated "T" or above, and are completely inappropriate for children to play.
In fact, the only E-Rated games that made any list of best games of 2011 were The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, LittleBigPlanet 2, Portal 2, and Super Mario 3D Land. All of these are great choices for kids, but as you can easily see, the sheer amount of high-quality M- and T-rated games puts this little list to shame. If you are an adult gamer, 2011 was a great year for you; if you are still in elementary school, you pretty much got squat to play.
Retailers Get Cut Out
So why are kids being left behind in today's gaming industry? I think it probably has something to do with marketing. You see, those of us in our twenties and thirties grew up with games as a hobby. We know exactly what we want by now, and we have money to burn. Game studios make logical decisions about making games that appeal to the market that will be most willing to fork over the green stuff. However, when you put kids into the mix, things become a little bit more complicated.
Kids don't have their own money (other than what they get in allowance), so they have to be marketed to a little differently. You have to show kids how awesome a game is so that they can talk to their parents about getting the game for them. However, once a kid mentions the game to a parent, the parents will in turn do their homework about the game (assuming they are good parents) and make sure it looks suitable for their child. And what do parents what for their children? Generally things that are educational and keep kids' hands occupied and brains stimulated. Marketing to both of these groups requires a delicate balance between showing elements of the game that are fun versus stimulating, and will require considerably more time and effort than just selling the next shooter to a 16-35 year old who was going to buy it anyway. And if you are a game publisher or developer, you are probably going to go with the cheapest (and most effective) option here.
Another problem with making and selling games intended for kids is that game development and publishing companies depend on money from week-one and same-quarter sales in order to keep pumping out new games at a regular rate. However, children aren't likely to know about release dates or care whether they play a game in November 2011 or February 2012, which means companies have to wait longer for the money they need to continue the development cycle. And that's not exactly something you want to put on an end-of-quarter spreadsheet.
Children are definitely being forgotten in today's gaming industry. The focus on older teens and adult gamers is one that may end up biting the industry where it hurts in the end, as children turn to other forms of entertainment to fill the gap left by video games. However, there are some bright spots. Games like Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, Disney Universe, and the LEGO series have all been great crossover family hits that were engaging, had great production value, and gave kids under twelve something to play that they could enjoy and their parents didn't have to worry about. If game companies could make more of these kinds of games, while maintaining their level of focus on the adult market, children could again become a big part of the gaming industry.
If you look back twenty or thirty years, video games were almost exclusively seen as something for children to play with. I don't think a return to that kind of thinking is necessary, but children should be a part of any large game development company's strategy. Unfortunately, right now it seems kids are really getting the short end of the stick when it comes to games accessible and intended for them.
Amanda L. Kondolojy
Senior Contributing Writer
Date: January 24, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*