8 Sep 2010

The Future of Gaming - Part 1 - Embracing Casual Players

This is the first in a series of posts in which I will take a look at some of the things I think are going to have a big impact on gaming.

This post is about how gaming is moving from a niche activity, partaken by a specific subculture, to being a part of the mainstream, or even a 'super-culture' which everyone (in the developed world at least) has some familiarity with and takes part in it to some degree or another.

Warren Spector's recent talk at Pax Prime brought home to gamers the need for them to open up to new members and accept them, even if the only things they play are Facebook or casual games. He pointed out the tendency of self-styled 'hardcore' gamers to look down on those who played these casual games and didn't really consider them 'proper gamers'.

Let me set this straight right now. I would probably consider myself a hardcore gamer. I play a lot of games, and most of my free time is taken up with this activity (which considering the fact that I am currently unemployed, is rather alot of time). As an EVE player I have been known, in the past, to look down on WoW players. I can't help it, its like its a meme that gets subliminally uploaded into your brain when you install EVE. I can see my error though and recognize it for the unfounded prejudice that it is.

I will go on to say that a gamer, in its most basic definition, is someone who plays games. Do you know anyone who has never played any game of any kind (video and otherwise)? No? I didn't think so. We all play games, and we have done for centuries. The point that I think Mr. Spector was trying to get across is that the clique that considers themselves Gamers (note the capital) needs to realise this and accept that fact that they do not have an exclusive claim to the title of gamer.

By all means, we should protect our favourite genre's from excessive dumbing down and simplification, down that road banality lies. But we should also realise that making video games is ultimately a business and more accessibility to the non-hardcore ultimately means more customers for the game's makers and more money in their budgets. Which mean better games.

The hardcore game is not going to go away. The gaming market is simply going to get bigger and more varied. There will always be room for the super-complex rpg, or the insanely hard FPS. And as the market grows I predict that more and more game designers and publishers will add in to their games the ability to select a level of accessibility (as something distinct from difficulty) which will adapt not the AI or toughness fo the enemies, but the accessibility of things like the UI or the depth of any tutorial sections. 

It may even get to the point where the level of actual interaction with the game can be adjusted so that the casual player is only involved in pivotal decision points in a sprawling RPG for example whilst the hardcore player can play a version of the same game where they have influence over every little detail.

The rise of adding accessibility could also herald a renaissance for story in games. A casual player is far more likely to be engaged by a good story than a hardcore player is to be put off by a bad one. It goes without saying that better story makes for better games anyway. A casual player will be far more likely to complete a game if they want to get to the end of the story, where as a hardcore player is more concerned with beating the game.

So, we're going to see more casual games, but these casual games are going to get better than the current crop of Farmville clones and match 3 puzzlers because the competition is going to get feircer. We are also going to see some supposedly 'hardcore' games get dumbed down before publishers realise that they can have the best of both worlds and please both sides of the gaming divide. And finally we're going to see the hardcore/casual divide disappear altogether as everyone is accepted as gamers. 

Just as people who go to the movies are no longer classified as part of some weird movie-going sub-culture (if they ever were), people who play games will no longer be able to separate themselves off form everyone else by calling themselves Gamers, because everyone will be a Gamer.

M out

HT to Nils for the inspiration even if this wasn't exactly what you meant in your post :D

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