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Not All Research Is Good Research

It's sort of my job to play the role of gamer/researcher, if anything, to ensure that as game players and creators we have a hand in the research that comes our way. But how do you sort out the l33t researchers from the n00bsicles?

 It's frustrating and always telltale and the overheard conversation usually goes something like;

"So yeah, video games are failing in the recession now too..." or "Yeah video gamers just sit at the console and play all day long..." or "It might work with 'hard core' gamers, but not with casual'.

 By this time, I'm usually standing there, teeth and fists clenched, desparately struggling to keep from making some eviscerating comment or retort.  Usually, I'm able to curtail the eviserating part.

I will, however, turn slowly, a smile on my face and ask; "Video games are failing eh, where's that data coming from?"  Or maybe I'll say "Wow those 'video gamers' can't keep the hands off the controllers, heh, crazy.  What's the composition of the audience you are describing here when you say Video Gamers?"

The results are unilaterally a parroting of what the mainstream media publishes and is nearly always more sensation then revelation.

 To be clear, "Video Games" are not failing due to the economy.  "Retail sales of mainstream console and boxed PC video games" might be in trouble and perhaps it is the recessive tendencies our economy is showing that is the culprit.

But make no mistake about it; video games overall are alive and well and the audience for them continues to grow at impressive rates.  Sure, people aren't scooting out to drop $49.95 at Target as often perhaps, but those reciepts only tell a portion of the story - they only describe a segment of the gaming audience and only cover some of how video games are monetized.

It would be like trying to gauge World of Warcraft's current economic health by it's month to month boxed game sales.  It wouldn't speak to the reoccuring revenues, trial to subscription adoption rates, etc.

And to the analysts who love to partition the video gamer however the data they have best allows, console gamers are not 'Video gamers', they are 'console video gamers' and that happens to be while they are playing on a console.  They may just as well be a 'PC|Mac video gamer' or an 'iPhone video gamer', who knows.  The bottom line here is; video gamers are people who play video games.

"Hard core" gamers, or "casual" gamers, and I'm tired of saying this, describes an engagement metric, nothing more.   It's just a way of saying "Wow, Bob really spends a lot of time playing video games", but it doesn't say "Wow, Bob is hard core - he only plays Call of Duty or World of Warcraft".  It could just as easily be describing someone who addicitively plays Mah Jong for 15 hours a week, or Solitaire (still one of the top Windows applications run consistently by users of the OS), etc.

Stop putting us into compartmental boxes and then calling that box 'video games'.  The only people that like hearing that are looking to drive eyeballs to headlines. 

So when I do my own research or review the research of others into the video game medium, I always look for the same critical points to expose the posers from the experts and here's how.

1. A compartmentalized description of the video gamer that then describes that compartment as 'video gamers'.  'nuff said on this one, its when people see one side of the box but not all the other wonderful sides.  The mainstream media loves this and this is where the sensationalist research decrying the death of our industry or the illustrations of gamers as old, fat and depressed comes from.

2.  Outdated data.  In pharmacueticals it may very well be that you could survey a bunch of folks in 2005 and here in nearly 2010 the results of your study will still hold water.  Not so much in video games.  If your video game research study started in 2005 or 2006 you might as well throw away the data, it's about as useful today as a 20MB harddrive. 

Ultimately, in any research or measurement of video games, it comes down to the difference between being 'inside' or 'outside' the business.  I have a little fun in many of my business engagements asking random people in the meetings, 'what games do you play currently?'

Anyone who gives me a blank stare or says 'I don't really play video games' automatically loses 75% credibility to me, you know, if they are trying to tell me stuff - about video games.

I research video games in every and any incarnation - and I do it because I love the artform, I love the people and I love the business.  Anything short of that just isn't good enough.

 

 

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