Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer, What The Hell Are ‘New Gamers’?

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.

wunewgamers

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”.

brace yourself

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.

Source: http://www.statista.com/

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.

grandpasimpsonmeme

 

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

dark-souls-boss-meme-generator-dark-souls-cuz-fuck-casual-gaming-d666c5you-filthy-casual-meme

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

Angela

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5 thoughts on “Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer, What The Hell Are ‘New Gamers’?

  1. I have had a few thoughts about this topic myself, not the least after the CEO of EA claimed their game was “too difficult”. I agree with you on a lot of the points you made, however I don’t think todays “new gamer” will become the “old gamer”. A minority will, but most people will highly likely just start as a casual gamer and will always stay a casual gamer. Note I don’t put any negative connotation to “casual gamer”, I only mean that these are people that picks up a game for a quick session and put it down again.

    “Solitaire” used to be the nr. 1 choice for casual gamers. Now that tablets and phones can run games so easily, the casual gamers finally have choices – and I applaud that, even though I would label myself as a hardcore gamer, I don’t have *anything* against casual gamers, I LOVE that my mom and even my dad is finally playing games. In my family, I was the only one regularly playing games until 5 years ago, and now all 5 of us are playing a game at least once a week.

    It’s quite obvious to me what casual gamers want. Something to pick up and play for 3-15 minutes and then you’re done. A casual gamer will have something from “a few” sessions a week, until “several” every day. (a few: 1-3’ish, “several”: 4-8’ish).

    A core gamer plays for 1-3 sessions a day, but they last for several hours.

    Gamers (encompassing everyone that plays a game) wil be placed somewhere between these groups and while there is an overlap, I imagine there’s a “bump” if you made a graph of these people at both ends. THAT is where EA and so many other companies fail. In the attempt of reaching everyone, they attempt to place their product in the middle and thereby miss BOTH of the largest markets.

    The first rule in marketing, AFAIK, is to identify your market and specialize your product for your audience. Pretty much EVERY company that attempts to reach *everyone*, will have such a huge job before them that they end up being outcompeted by the smarter companies that have figured out which people are their customers and are actively trying to specialize their products towards them.

  2. The thing is that AAA probably doesn’t quite view “New Gamers” the same way certain indie devs and the games press does. AAA publishers have gone to great lengths to refine gameplay mechanics to the point that it’s indeed very easy to pick up and play a game. My ex, who loathed video games and my liking video games, saw me just boot up Arkham Asylum and ended up playing through all three games. The Arkham titles are clearly geared toward “core gamers”. AAA, however, does know that their casual market usually comes and goes and approaches their business with a “whatever will stick” mentality. They spend the money and put out products that allow the two audiences to easily overlap. Worse, yet, core gamers have proved time and again that “new gamer” mobile title practices do suit them; microtransactions are a mobile market staple (and an MMO one and I would argue MMOs currently resemble the mobile market a lot more than they do the PC market), but DLC is purely a core market thing and we, as an audience, have stupidly embraced it.

    Small indies and the press, while being in cahoots with one another and standing to profit from their mutual success, view “new gamers” as a life-long market. They recognise the need to simplify their games so that they don’t need to appeal to people who actually game, but they also seek to replay traditional entertainment media (books, film) instead of playing to the medium’s specific strengths.

    I agree with your assessment that “new gamers” are mostly a casual audience that want games they can play and then quit instantly, but I’m unconvinced that the current indie market in question are trying to break into that audience. For all the questionable practices of the mobile games market, a good deal of them still do feature solid gameplay mechanics. In the end, good gameplay isn’t necessarily deep and complex, it just needs to be balanced and entertaining.

    Even Angry Birds is -from a gameplay standpoint- a far cry from Depression Quest or even Rev60 (or, hell, whatever David Cage is wasting precious money on). I think that’s where the ideology comes in. The majority of women who casually game are found on the mobile and the MMO market. The parade of nobodies on mainstream media scaring the living crap out of them is a gamble, but also gives exposure to the key players that any new-comer from that market will instantly trust. It’s no coincidence, as far as I’m concerned, that the first article euthanizing the “gamer” identity was on Gamasutra; a developer resource site. The key difference between Alexander’s article and the copy-cats that followed on other publications was that she was directly addressing developers.

    You are very much right in that both markets can co-exist and you’re also right that it’s a pity some people don’t want them to co-exist. This attack on the “core gamer” has been a shaming tactic from the get-go and “new gamers” are intellectuals from other forms of entertainment that the clique of indies and gaming press is angling to absorb without actually producing games for them. In that regard, you’re also very much correct about why they’re approaching that market. Quality is not an issue for them and they WILL become the wailing hyper-consumers Leigh Alexander likes to mock. The irony, however, is that they are and will remain a small market, at best niche that will eventually die out. Film is still easier to consume and the occasional QTE-based game is bound to be a time-killer, rather than the engaging experience they hope to deliver. Newgrounds existed solely on that principle and did alright in its time.

    What does absolutely baffle me, however, is that a lot of these people fail to see what AAA devs and pubs see: gaming is closely tied to technology. It was the progress of expensive technology that made Metal Gear Solid’s convoluted plot and Silent Hill 2’s symbolism possible. It was the progress of expensive technology that built Andrew Ryan’s Rapture.

    Most importantly, it was the progress of expensive technology that built Twine and RPG Maker Pro and Unity 3D. These things didn’t just descend from the heavens. AAA relies on technology and not just for visuals; they understand that they need complex code and complex engines to perfectly refine gameplay mechanics and make them accessible to a larger audience while maintaining certain principles of game design. This specific clique of indie developers and the press don’t realize that. They hope that such tools are life-long investments, but they’re setting themselves up to be eventually left behind by technology and actual progress. This is largely, I believe, why they are in such dire need to kill off the core gamer and welcome the “new gamer”. They need to make noise, gain attention and take the moral high-ground now, or their careers come with shortened expiration dates.

    I’ve rambled long enough; I wasn’t actually disagreeing with you, your theory is sound. I honestly think, however, that it’s a matter of time before they realize their investment is just bad and they will collapse, especially as more and more people point out the insanity of their methods.

    Great read, as always, Angela!

    1. Some excellent and very interesting points there, thank you so much for taking the time to articulate them and you’re right in that the kind of mobile/IOS market tactics we have seen move across to core gaming such as microtransactions have been embraced and accepted, in part I think because of the tendency that core gamers can have to be slightly apathetic at times :o)

  3. Tuesday, like on many Tuesdays, I hopped onto Destiny to run the raid. I hit up DestinyLFG and found a group of randoms for Crota’s End on hard mode. Everyone on the team was level 32. They were also all high school kids.

    Hitting level 20 in Destiny is easy. After that, you have to find gear to rank up light levels, though, which is much more time consuming. The best you can do without running the raid is level 31, but it can take two weeks to get everything you need. A lot of raid groups are reluctant to carry level 30s, and there is genuinely no other way to get the gear you need to hit level 32. You need at minimum 3 armor drops, but there are only 3 times in any given run that you can get them, and you can only pick up raid loot once a week. You also need other drops from the raid to even rank them up, something like 21 radiant shards per armor item, so 63 total, and you don’t get NEARLY that much from any given run.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that even with focus, it takes at least a month (realistically more) to go from being new to being level 32. These were young’uns.

    The core market isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

  4. I think dividing consumers into arbitrary groups for the sake of argument is hardly useful. While players on different platforms will have different mixes of characteristics, and there will be differences with players behaviour such as time spent playing, money spent, and whether players like to pay up front, or through microtransactions or indeed those f2p players that never want to pay at all.

    But to make meaningless distinctions as “New Gamers” or “Core Gamers” to back up some presupposed argument is just another example of the No True Scotsman logical fallacy. No group wants poor quality games or a worse player experience than the other. The people who play games are just growing in number and diversifying. While it is easier to sort out the confusion that this causes by using labels, I think it often does far more harm than it actually helps.

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