Is the industry focusing on the wrong demographic? The question is compelling to me, considering my slightly anti-M-Rated position and my longing for the return of the Golden Age of the late 80s and 90s.
Back then, everything was different. While developers and console makers were always pushing the graphical limits, the hardware still limited their aspirations. Simple designs, gameplay at the forefront, and a crushing difficulty mirroring the coin-sucking arcade machines are what we aging gamers remember from our thumb-cramped youth.
The gaming audience was also very different than it is today—smaller and largely populated by a younger audience. Sure there was a demographic of gamers twenty years of age and older back then, but Nintendo and SEGA were widely regarded as toy makers, and the brunt of games developed catered to that crowd. But it was still a business, remember, and executives care about dollar signs, so they created products that would be purchased by the most relevant audience (or, in the case of video games back then, that audience's parents).
Things are different today. Very few people would classify the PS3, Xbox 360, or even the Wii as a toy, especially considering the various non-gaming features they all possess. The family of Nintendo DS portable devices may be the only systems of the bunch that, in an opinion poll, would be labeled as a toy, as they are still the younger audience's pocket electronic of choice.
So here I am, almost thirty-three years of age, having enjoyed games on every console since the Atari 2600, asked to give my opinion on the current industry focus. My answer is simple: Lifelong gamers will always be the industry's focus because they are the most stable type of consumer, and my generation has always been that target audience. We've grown up, and so have the games. Of course, the evolution of all forms of media in the past two decades has had an influence, but when game publishing CEOs are looking for the highest profit yield, it's those mature titles that get the green light.
Consequently, we get ever-expanding series like Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty, and God of War—all great franchises, but all marketed toward the same audience.
Try looking at a budding game development company. I guarantee almost the entire employee list is made up of avid gamers now out of college with their design and programming degrees, or ex-employees from other companies, all with one goal: to make a game that they'd like to play. So the process can unfold two ways: Either they are a fledgling company creating this new game that is likely violent and full of mature subject matter (basically, a perfect fit for your hardcore 18-30 male demographic), or they are already owned by a big corporation and creating a game that the board of directors has decided upon, likely intended for that same gaming audience.
There are very few men like Satoru Iwata left in the video game publishing world, keeping broadly appealing characters like Mario and Link alive, characters who remain within the ESRB's Everyone and Teen categories yet take risks by following the path of greatest resistance.
Nintendo will always be the console maker most scorned, because the voice of opposition is that of those with the tenacity and capacity to express their opinion. Just look at any forum or comments section following a game review or editorial piece. What do you find? 80% negative replies on either the game or the article's writer, (only a few that are thoughtful rebuttals with proper grammar). Who are these people? Why, hardcore gamers, of course, typing a hundred posts a minute and scouring the forums. They've got their smartphones, they've got their laptops, so they are the voice of the gaming world.
What we really need to do is broaden the audience by leveling the genre pool. We don't need a thousand shooters, gore-filled action games, or horror titles. Here's a challenge for the warmongers out there: I dare you to try a game like Rayman: Origins and honestly tell me it didn't put a smile on your face. And don't try to reverse the dare on me. I got my Platinum Trophy on Rayman, but I also played and enjoyed Spec Ops: The Line, one the most emotionally disturbing shooters ever. I'm not saying there isn't a place for violent games; all I'm saying is that the industry is becoming oversaturated with M-Rated games, and it would be nice to see developers besides Nintendo promoting clean titles with pride.
It would be nice, but I'm afraid it will be nothing more than a pipe dream. Because in the end, it's still a business, and business is about profit. There are a few shining stars in the game developing world who don't follow the status quo, who take a chance on something fresh and different, who sometimes strike that perfect note that resounds in our heads and hearts forever.
But they are diamonds in the rough. For the most part, the industry is not focusing on the wrong demographic, because that demographic is the one that fills their pockets.
Date: October 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.*