A little while ago game developer Brianna Wu published a series of tweets concerning the reaction to her IOS game, Revolution 60, going up on Steam Greenlight.
Now my own feelings on Brianna Wu aside when I read the tweets I felt a twinge of interest in this idea of ‘New Gamers’, as I thought more about it my fascination increased. And so I would like, if I may, to explore some theories about what I think the term ‘New Gamers’ is all about.
In the last few years I have noticed a growing level of resentment towards what is perceived as the ‘traditional’ core gamer, both from the gaming industry and the gaming media. We have been described as entitled, whiny man-children (remember we’re talking the perception here) that bicker and complain too much and are owed nothing by those that descend from on high to grant us mere peasants the gift of video games. In the last few months that resentment has become outright contempt, in August 2014 there were the now infamous articles that attacked the very identity of ‘gamer’ and declared gamers to be “over”.
While that has been happening the market for IOS and mobile games has exploded. In 2013 around 1.4 billion people owned a smartphone worldwide, estimated to have jumped to 1.76 billion by 2014. At the end of 2013 it was estimated that 285 million people worldwide owned a name brand tablet (such as Apple, Samsung and Amazon) According to the ESA in 2014 80% of time spent on mobile was using apps or games and 84% of tablet owners mostly used it for playing games. Games such as Flappy Bird, Bejeweled, Candy Crush and Angry Birds have made IOS and mobile gaming into big business, with Flappy Bird at one point estimated to be earning $50 000 a day in advertising revenue and games like Clash of Clans earning a whole lot more. By 2014 the casual game market was estimated to be a $8.64 billion industry.
So why do I bring this up? Well here’s the thing, I think there may be a connection between the ongoing resentment towards ‘core’ gamers and the rise of the more casual ‘New Gamer’. This attitude of disdain for traditional gamers is everywhere, the gaming media, the mainstream gaming industry and even the Indie game community. However before I get into this connection I will first explain what I believe is meant by the term ‘New Gamers’
Now I am going to generalise a fair bit here so I will ask you to remember that this is a theory, an opinion, nothing more. Also I would ask you to remember that anything I say here is not, in fact, a criticism of casual gamers.
To me ‘New Gamers’ are the casual gamers that have come into gaming in the last few years through mobile/IOS games. When publications throw in the statistics that half of gamers are now women and that adult female gamers now outnumber teenage boys it is worth remembering that those statistics include those that play regularly on IOS and mobile. However this is an entirely different market to the mainstream triple A industry and as such the rules and expectations are different. So let’s explore the differences between these markets.
Games such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush as gaming experiences are based on instant gratification, ‘New Gamers’ like games that can easily be picked up and put down again just as fast. This is in contrast to the methodical enjoyment that comes from core games on console and PC that require more intense concentration and investment of time. In short, ‘New Gamers’ do not have the time or patience to grind. The industry for these games is aware if this and so adds features that allow the ‘New Gamer’ to skip all that pesky grinding business, namely microtransactions. ‘New Gamers’ can simply pay for more power ups, to unlock levels and for costumes/skins, it’s that easy and that fast.
Which brings me to my next point, ‘New Gamers’ like their games to be easy to learn with the most basic , simple controls. Because of this these are games that can be developed and pushed out relatively quickly and, more importantly, cheaply. While researching for this blog I came across this guide on how much it costs to develop a mobile game. According to the guide a basic level game like Flappy Bird would cost between £5000 (just over $7500) and £20 000 (just under $30 500) Just think about that, a game that cost that little to develop could end up earning up to $50 000 a day in advertising revenue. Of course IOS/mobile games that are more complex cost a lot more to develop but even the maximum amount of money, such as Infinity Blade 3 which was rumoured to have cost around £1.5/$2.3 million to develop, is never going to get anywhere near the cost of triple A game development. It is actually quite difficult to find out how much triple A games cost to develop since many of the big developers don’t have a concrete set budget and most estimates you find tend to include marketing in the cost of the game however I did mange to find a couple of examples. According to Stéphane Decroix, an executive producer at Ubisoft, the game Watch Dogs cost in excess of $68 million to develop. Quantic Dream was estimated to have spent around $27 million developing Beyond: Two Souls. Mobile/ IOS games are cheap and easy to produce with a huge potential for profit through advertising and potentially microtranaction revenue as well, they are easy money.
But what about Indie gaming? This section is two fold, the first part being that it has never been easier to be an Indie game developer than it is now. With software such as Twine, Sploder, Game Maker Studio and Unity3D now readily available if you have an idea for a game, a budget and are willing to put in even a little work you can get your game made and out on the market relatively easily. So we come to ‘New Gamers’ and it is becomingly increasingly clear that the standards of ‘New Gamers’ in terms of graphics, gameplay and visual quality are pretty low. Bear in mind many of these games/apps are very low cost or free so if a game is poor quality, glitchy or unfinished a ‘New Gamer’ is not likely to make that big a fuss, they’ll just uninstall the game and leave a one star rating on the App Store. Even when ‘New Gamers’ are being mistreated the level of outrage is minimal. In the UK in 2014 the British Advertising Standards Authority ruled that EA’s IOS version of Dungeon Keeper could not be advertised as a free-to-play title because they believed that it was virtually impossible to play the game without spending real money in microtransactions, this was after receiving only a handful of complaints. The amount of outrage expressed by core gamers about something like the Mass Effect 3 ending would never happen with ‘New Gamers’. Which leads me to the second part, ‘New Gamers’ are an audience with a higher concentration of female players, around 42% of mobile gamers are women.
This figure includes the people of any age that might play a larger mobile game say through Facebook, even my mother in law has played Candy Crush. However ‘New Gamers’ that would buy Indie IOS/mobile titles rather than the well known games are perceived by Indie developers to be a younger audience. In the last few years gamers have noticed a trend in Indie Gaming and Game Journalism towards certain social ideologies. As a developer or a journalist with a potential agenda which you would prefer? The core gamer audience that is around 80% male with an average age of 30 that is unlikely to react well or a younger, more gender equal audience that is potentially more progressive or at the very least less likely to argue?
Again, these are not criticisms of casual gamers, merely a supposition. Also I am not in any way suggesting that there is no cross over in these markets, some gamers that mainly play console or PC will also dabble in mobile/IOS gaming and vice versa. The point is the way that the core and casual audiences in gaming are potentially perceived by those in the industry and media. A market of gamers has emerged that want games that are cheap to make/buy and easy to play and these gamers are not too fussed about getting rinsed for cash.
When you look at it that that way is it any wonder that the kind of money grabbing tactics used in IOS/mobile gaming have rapidly begun appearing in core triple A gaming? Microtransactions, games sold episodically, content clearly stripped from the full game to be sold as extra content, even broken, glitched or unfinished games. These have all become common bones of contention for core gamers.
So what, in my opinion, does all this have to do with the resentment aimed at core gamers? Well if casual IOS/mobile gamers are the ‘New Gamers’ then we, the traditional core market for gaming, are the ‘Old Gamers’ We are the establishment. Many of us grew up playing video games, we remember when things were different, when games were better value for money and when game writers were just like us and actually seemed to enjoy writing about gaming. Things have changed and the rise of social media has made it a lot easier for us to complain about it. We don’t enjoy being ripped off, we expect a certain level of quality from our games, we expect our games writers to behave to a certain standard or, at the very least, to LIKE video games. But the industry wants us to behave like ‘New Gamers’, to take what is given to us without complaint and hand over the cash whenever called upon to do so. The gaming media wants us to stop liking the games that we enjoy and instead crave more intellectual, thought provoking games. They want our tastes to focus on games that are more easily recognisable as ‘art’ and that can be critiqued as such. A particular clique of ideologically driven journalists and their Indie game developer friends want gaming and it’s audience to change and become what they see as more progressive. They don’t want to be one of us, they want to tell us what to think and to have us agree unquestioningly. Gaming has become like being at school, the popular, cool kid clique has decided that the audio/visual club would be really great if it didn’t have all those dorky nerds and geeks in it and has set about driving us out.
And where will that leave ‘New Gamers’? Here comes the part where I will sound extremely ancient. New trends that remain over time become the establishment. Everyone and their dog will be trying to get in on the easy money of mobile/IOS games and the market will soon (if it isn’t already) be flooded with games with graphics from 1995 that look like they were coded by a chimp with a pipe wrench. As has happened with triple A ideas that sell well will be reused again and again, until the market reaches over saturation. The industry will begin to push it’s luck with the cash grabbing. Media trends will change, new writers will come in wanting to make changes and names for themselves. They may want a new audience, one more in line with their own progressive way of thinking. The core audience will grow tired, they’ll remember when things were different, they’ll remember when they got more for their money and when the hobby that they love seemed to matter to those that write about it. You see where I’m going with this? ‘New Gamers’ will become the ‘Old Gamers’ and the cycle will start all over again.
The sad part is there is plenty of room for both markets, core gamers and casual gamers can exist side by side. Yes we may mock each other gently but no more than we mock ourselves
As I said at the beginning, this is just a theory, maybe you agree with it and maybe you don’t. Maybe you think there is something I have missed, if so I would love to hear about it in the comment section. An ‘Old Gamer’ I may be but I’m not dead yet.
Thanks for reading