Everyone is a gamer.
Whether it’s a console or a computer, you are likely a gamer of some sort. Once a niche market, casual gaming was a genre long-ignored until the release of the Nintendo Wii. Despite ushering in a new age of gaming, however, Nintendo unintentionally created a monster: that same casual sector that helped bring profit to the industry, also created a seismic shift that altered the gaming landscape forever.
Despite the consistent revenue streams of today, there are signs that casual games are hurting the future profitability of the gaming industry. As sales increased following the release of the Wii, the industry trend has been to cater to the casual market and milk it for all it’s worth. The problem is, such a dearth of content has also created a dilution of quality. Games have frequently been rushed to market, often under the safety net of a licensed property. Because titles were purchased without discrimination, there were no checks and balances to prevent a bad game from being profitable.
In essence, the consumers hurt the gaming industry by blindly pumping money into casual games.
The economics of the gaming industry are no different than any other industry. The concept of supply-and-demand does not escape videogames, and it is the demand for casual games that has increased their supply. However, in attempting to meet their quota, developers and publishers have had to resort to desperate measures, often skimming over the creative process in order to finish a game within a rigid development cycle. The artistry of games, as a result, has been sacrificed because the ends justify the means — as long as people keep buying bad games, there is no incentive to innovate or improve.
Although casual games and bad games don’t always go hand-in-hand, the reality is that there are far too many bad casual games on the market.
I’ve played many great casual games; Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo stands as one of my favorite games of all time, along with Tetris, Boom Blox, and Game Dev Story, among others. So to say that the casual genre alone is killing the industry, is a bit extreme. However, the argument can be made that publishers’ excessive focus on the casual gamer is killing the industry. The best example is the ripple effect that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had on the first-person shooter; put virtually any FPS next to a screenshot of CoD4 and you’ll see how they mimicked all of CoD4’s innovations. Rather than advance the genre, however, publishers and developers have been merely content with releasing retooled versions of Modern Warfare. Consumers, in turn, responded by buying these copycats in droves, turning more to familiarity than creativity.
Familiarity keeps us warm. It’s safe. We don’t like things that are strange to us (every alien movie ever made says “hi”), and anything strange, is automatically bad (“stranger danger!”). And yet, as much as there is a segment that craves innovation, the majority shy away from it whenever the latest Madden or Call of Duty comes out.
The sad thing is, in supporting these familiar standbys alongside the casual gaming market, game companies have realized that the easiest way to profit is to combine the two elements. We’ve seen buzz words like “accessibility” and “user-friendly,” both of which are euphemisms for “easier” and “more casual.” Unfortunately, all this has done is alienate the hardcore gamer — the very same gamers who supported the industry before it was cool to play videogames. Bear in mind, casual gaming can work; there’s a reason why many of the best-selling casual games, stay on top of the charts. But, just because a series becomes more casual, doesn’t mean the gameplay is improved.
As with the case of sports simulations, not everyone wants a casual experience, particularly when the point of a simulation is to mimic its real-life counterpart. Trust me, if everyone could play in the NFL, they would. But since they can’t, that’s why they turn to their copies of Madden to live out their gridiron dreams.
With the rise of casual gaming, we have seen the dumbing-down of storied franchises and the dilution of an industry. While the industry is more profitable than it’s ever been, we’re also seeing it at its weakest. There is very little room for innovation, as innovation is for those who can afford it. And with publishers always looking to minimize development costs, developers can ill-afford to innovate without a damn good sales pitch.
This is not to say that there aren’t good, creative games on the market today that appeal to many demographics. Rather, there simply aren’t enough of these games because the powers-that-be have dictated that their pockets matter more than our yearning for the quality of yesteryear.
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