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When Will Gaming Grow Up?

How the industry should spend more time listening to the wider audience and conversations and now just focus on the buzz for their brands.

(Originally posted on Qube Media Blog)

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In both my work and leisure time I spend a lot of time looking at online discussions about videogames. I see a lot of things said that suggest there are a huge amount of gamers being poorly served by the industry.

The home console's birth in the 80s has grown into a monstrous entertainment industry. Everyone is now a gamer. But while the industry has got broader in appeal how much has it evolved for those 80s and 90s kids, who now have families, jobs and responsibilities?

Take for example Final Fantasy. A game that gained huge popularity in the west with Final Fantasy 7, selling just shy of 10m copies worldwide and a game that is so culturally important that it is still talked about today. Released in '97 when gaming was just beginning to flex its adolescent muscles and reach beyond being “just for kids.” Much loved for a variety of things especially its (at the time) visual flair and length.

When you don’t have your own source of income a game that can last up to a 100 hours is great value for money. But those cash rich time poor kids have grown up over the last 13 years. They now have the money to buy all the games they ever wanted, but not the time to play them all, certainly not to completion!

13 years on Final Fantasy XIII is just hitting the shelves and do those 90s teens have the time anymore? Many reviews are citing 20 hours of play are required before the game “gets good”. When many of the audience barely have the time to play a game for more than a few hours, will they be willing to invest almost a day of their life to get to the fun part?

Gamers are also now surrounded by opportunities and social choices that they didn’t have to worry about before. Many of the “hardcore” games are exclusive not inclusive, alienating partners and children. If you are looking for an opportunity to make a lot of money and a lot of people happy I would invest in creating games that those hardcore gamers of yester-year can play with their friends and family, be they the most dye in the wool elite hardcore gamer or a Farmville loving Wii waggler.

The gaming industry needs to start listening beyond the buzz. Stop just monitoring the discussions around your brand and start really examining the communities in their entirety. Look for trends in how people are playing and what they are saying. There is a big opportunity to listen beyond your remit and spot opportunities before anyone else does.

Additional notes:

For some insight into how the audience is maturing and how the industry may end up losing players I recommend checking out this recent forum discussion.

And for some steps in the right direction I would look at how games like Guitar hero have added independently scalable difficulties. How New Super Mario Bros Wii creates an environment for hardcore and casual gamers to have a good time. I would also look at how Portal and Braid created those complex and deep experiences much loved by “hardcore gamers” but presented in a shorter time frame or with bite sized chunks.

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