Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 04, 2012
The Economist

The Economist is a British weekly news publication, founded in 1843 to "to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress." Given how it is a rather serious publication, it was interesting to see that last month for the first time in history they had a special report on video games (the linked-to online article is a lot shorter than the print version). As you might imagine they were looking at it from an economic angle, and stated that at an annual revenue of $56 billion the video games industry was twice as big as the recorded music industry. And the fastest growing media industry around.

Two weeks later the Economist went one step further, and started discussing whether SWTOR will be a WoW killer. Their answer was "maybe", and then they wondered whether the subscription business model wasn't on its way out anyway.

I think it is safe to say that video games have arrived in the mainstream. The Economist even discussed how all new media are at first regarded with mistrust, and compares the scares that video games cause violent behavior or are addictive with similar fears about novels or rock and roll music. The Entertainment Software Association helped this arrival in the mainstream a lot this year when they published their report on Essential Facts about Video Games, showing for example that the average age of the American video gamer is 37, or that 42% of them are female. There are more women over 18 playing games than boys under 18. And while shooters are an important category, they actually come second after sports games, and have less than a sixth of the overall market. Many people play either with friends next to them, or online.

Thus the image of the video gamer as being a teenage boy playing shooter games alone in his mom's basement is being recognized as false by the mainstream media. Surprisingly today it is mostly the hardcore gamers who are furthest away from the realization that they aren't representative of gamers any more. Video gaming as an industry has moved on, and only a few dinosaurs still clamor for games to be made for a niche elite of hardcore players.
I'm currently reading Jesse Schell's "The Art f Game Design". While the book contains many trivial things it also contains a few interesting quotes.

On p.48 he writes.

"As technology advances, more and more aspects of human life and expression will be integrated into games. There is nothing that cannot
be part of a game. You can put a painting, a radio broadcast, or a movie into a game, but you cannot put a game into these other things. All these other types of media, and all media that is to come, are subsets of games. At their technological limit, games will subsume all other media."

I agree. And I am not certain I want this. But it will probably happen.
Mmh. One more thing. I don't agree with the way you illustrate 'hardcore gamers' as dinosaurs. Just because something becomes more popular doesn't mean that the people who first discovered it and care about it the most are somehow 'dinosaurs'.

I like to go bowling every now and then as it has become more mainstream over the decades. But that's no reason to call professional bowling players dinosours. I might not want to invest so much time and so much thought into 'just bowling' myself. But that's no reason to disrespect the professionals. They might think that I invest too much time into writing texts on the internet ..
But that's no reason to call professional bowling players dinosours.

No, but it would be reason to call people dinosaurs who insist that bowling alleys should only be made for professional bowling players, or people who spend their time pointing fingers at casual bowlers and telling them how much they suck.
I think what's so interesting about the mainstream is not that they cover MMOs but that they cover it so badly.

Had they asked you or Spinks to discuss whether SWTOR would be a WoW-killer they would have got a much better answer. Instead they publish an opinion that seems poorly researched and inaccurate. The explanation of network effects sounds clever but is just faux erudition and has little to do with WoW's dominance. The argument that SWTOR might kill WoW because it's based on Star Wars seems to have lacked the information that there was already a Star Wars MMO made which didn't kill WoW (in fact WoW killed it).

I suppose it's difficult writing a piece on something you don't know much about but if I had to write a piece on, say, pro wrestling, I think I'd commission someone who knows the sport to write it or failing that at least read around the subject and see what other people are saying.

I don't think it will be long before people like you and Spinks are getting offered journalist jobs because this articles and many others I've seen in the mainstream press are just so bad.
Tobold I think that we (you, I and a lot of the readers of your blog) qualify as a type of hardcore gamer. Anyone who has indulged in a hobby for so many years, has put so much time into that hobby, has taken the trouble to read widely about that hobby and then write about it themselves is surely a member of a very small "hard core" even if we don't have the highest APM, K/D ratio or gearscore.

Mind you even if you allow us into your definition of hard core your point still holds. We are not representative of the main gaming audience and in a sense we have become dinosaurs.

In my work I regularly meet enthusiastic gamers who are almost 30 years younger than myself. Despite nominally sharing a hobby it is very difficult for us to have a meaningful conversation about gaming because we have no common points of reference.
And yet, military shooters and sports simulators (FIFA et al), are reliable chart toppers. The hardcore gamer market is still driving development, you only have to look at upcoming titles to see who is being best catered for.

I do agree with Nils' quote that gaming will subsume all other media. I think that 'playing' is becoming the primary mode of interaction with software/ tech devices (ie. play with it until it works the way you want) and gamers actually have a strong advantage in that type of setting. Frex, the reason I sort out techie problems at work (which includes helping people use software I've never seen before) is not that I'm an IT specialist, it's because I'm not afraid to play with stuff.
Stabs: I still don't have an answer for how SWTOR will do. But increasingly I think the playerbase for MMOs won't ever let another game do a WoW, they just have lost the patience we used to have for long term goals in games. And these are games which, at their outset, relied on people quietly getting on with progressing towards long term goals.
I buy the Economist, and the videogames report was excellent. There was a particularly good and sympathetic article in there about "esports" such as Starcraft 2, which I would urge every gamer to read.

And as for Stabs point about the MMO article being poorly researched and a blogger should be asked instead - isn't that exactly Tobold's point? Gamers and the gaming industry are changing so quickly, that bloggers and geeks don't represent the gamers or the target market any more.

We are an increasingly marginalised niche part of the market, and it's simply becoming less and less profitable for games to be made for us.
As I think others have suggested, you seem to be equating "hardcore gamers" with "teenage boys playing shooters in their mothers' basements". And posing yourself as some exemplar of a silent majority who wants games to be more casual friendly.

Of course there are lots of different viewpoints and lots of different types of games. The market - the MMORPG market in particular - is certainly reacting to a perceived demand for casual gamers; many would say that it has already gone too far in catering to the casuals by Zynga-isation. Many who would say that are not primarily interested in shooters and have left their teenage years far behind.

I hope developers *will* listen to the "hardcore gamers" and produce a wider variety of games, especially in the MMORPG sector. For example, a MMORPG that wasn't mindlessly 'balanced' to the extent that the only distinctions between factions, choices, characters and sometimes even classes are just graphic fluff would interest me a lot more than Star Wars. How about a game where no two characters have equal abilities?
"As technology advances, more and more aspects of human life and expression will be integrated into games. There is nothing that cannot be part of a game. You can put a painting, a radio roadcast, or a movie into a game, but you cannot put a game into these other things. All these other types of media, and all media that is to come, are subsets of games. At their technological limit, games will subsume all other media."

I find this a bit odd. A radio broadcast can be put into a game, such that you listen to the radio while playing GTA. But that's just listening to the radio in GTA. You can't listen to "game radio" whilst driving a car. You can put a painting into a game, and maybe at the limit you can even reproduce the difference between oil, acrylic and watercolor, such that you have the full experience of looking at a painting in a game. But what about a painting on the wall of your house? Is that part of a game? Will people stop wanting pictures on their walls and only want pictures of games? Photography is media, will people stop taking photographs, and instead only take screenshots?

This seems more like a contrived argument that Artificial Reality will subsume all other media, and that a Game environment is the most likely vehicle for Artificial Reality. But I don't really buy that Artificial Reality will exist. Well, maybe as some hard sci-fi concept whereby all actual RL activity is carried out by robot and we are wetwired at birth into a network, but I don't think we are discussing that.

In short, just because you can put a radio network in a game, doesn't mean that gaming has subsumed radio as media, unless radio stops existing outside gaming. If radio broadcasts are listened to whilst driving, walking the dog, mowing the lawn, and playing a game, then that's just radio.

An interesting discussion point indeed!

Back to the main topic, I also liked the Economist articles. As a collection, they were fairly well informed given that they are economists writing for people with a main interest in that angle. And I agree that "core gamers" are a small part of the overall group, albeit we are also the HIGHEST SPENDING part, which means (according to basic economics) that our needs should continue to be catered for!

Now, there is a separate argument as to whether bloggers are "core gamers" or some even more niche sub-species, but a taxonomy for that escapes me!
Mind you I should point out that pop music is more popular than classical or hard rock. This does not mean there should stop being concert pianists or heavy metal guitarists and all musicians should start playing pop. Yee gads what a horrifying vision. As CCP and Mojang have demonstrated, there's still place for the more independent studio - if only to provide an outlet for those who find more mainstream games bland.
@BoxerDogs, I agree in a way. There are two ways to argue.

The first is what you say: The painting on the wall will not be removed and put into a game in the future. It will still be just a picture on the wall. I agree with this, but I'd like to point out that these painting (and other media) will be small in revenue when compared to games.

The second way to argue is more interesting and starts to make sense the more you analyze what games do. From a business point of view games are activities that people pay for to be able to engage in. They are things that "keep the mind busy" in such a way that people are willing to pay for them.

In this sense a painting is just a special case of a game with little interactivity. If companies could create pictures for computer screens which would make people pay for the right to watch (preferably per hour) they would do just that. Would that be a game?

If we already call WoW a game, just as we call Farmville, Chess and Badminton a game, we could just as well broaden the term to include games that are not interactive. And there was never a reason to just look at computer games, anyway.

Games will dominate the coming decades because technology forces a majority of the population to do useless things. (Almost) All problems are solved. Unless you want to be a scientist you more and more have the problem of boredom (or, in some societies, earning money by doing things nobody needs done - which is why these things pay so badly).

In a society in which only a few can substantially add to the welfare of the whole, one big problem is giving people (human brains) things to engage in. Most of these things are called games nowadays.
I was going to make essentially the same point as Letrange but with movies. We don't want only summer blockbusters to be produced, and I don't think there is anything wrong with critics reserving their best ratings for more intellectual or artistically impressive movies.

I have a friend whose favourite movie is Independence Day. There are people in the world who would really look down on him and talk down to him because of that. These people may be annoying, but I wouldn't call them dinosaurs.
Pretty clear you don't live in the U.K. Tobold! The most cursory exposure to the media here will demonstrate that the Economist article is a very rare exception and the great majority of journalists, news editors and "experts" very clearly do believe that the audience for video games is teenage boys.

When forced to consider statistical evidence to the contrary they will grudgingly concede that some adults who have the mentality of teenage boys may also play video games, as may some adults of extremely limited intellectual capacity or those with severe personal problems. Oh, and criminals and professional sportsmen.

The day when video games are treated like other entertainment genres by the British media are still a very long way off. It will happen one day - it has finally happened to Science Fiction (although not to Fantasy) and Comics are just about there too. I'd say video games need another 15 to 20 years at least before they get treated with the same derisive contempt as romance novels, reality television or t.v. soap operas, by which you will know that the form has finally achieved popular acceptance.
For me to understand (and agree with) Jesse Schell's quote from Nils, I have to broaden my sense of the word "game".

My wife and I have a running joke when we do unpleasant tasks together by saying, "Come on, it'll be fun if we make it a game."

Thus gamification can be set as an intention by the consumer, not just the developer or creator.

I went on a tour of a 500 year old cathedral in Spain. Above the front steps was a massive relief sculpture of scenes from hell, allegories of sin, etc.

The guide said that people would come and stare at these for hours, making up stories, naming the characters, gasping at the horrors. And did I mention the topless she-demons? It was essentially interactive entertainment in an era of limited liIteracy.

As more accessible technology is developed, the previous iterations disappear. How many of us knows anyone that has ever sat for a portrait painter?

Nearly everything I read is now on my IPad. It's interactive, it feels like playing a game. I pick and choose links, often following trails that will lead to surprising content.

The quote "There is nothing that cannot be part of a game.", could also be interpreted as 'There is nothing that cannot be MADE INTO a game', or There is nothing that cannot BE CONSUMED AS a game'.
Is it just me, or are you assuming that anyone who is over 30 or a woman cannot be a "hardcore" gamer? Frankly, the implication that I must hate min-maxing and love to plant flowers in Facebook games because I have ovaries is insulting.

I think you need a better definition of "hardcore" before you declare your market victory over them.
A mmorpg blog quoting The Economist...

Indeed times have changed. It reminds me of the saying about Rock and Roll: If it's too loud you're too old.

The problem is that MMOs in general have a much larger upfront development cost than other genres of games, which makes it even riskier to target the hardcore niche.

Publishers, along with anyone else who invests in game development are, by their very nature, risk takers as they are fronting large sums of money in the hope of greater returns in the future. Despite that, they still make sure their risks are calculated to be as safe as possible.

It is why it is the indie game scene that drives innovation in gaming, rather than the big budget, AAA developments.
Great post! What I found most interesting was the part that hardcore gamers are no longer representative of the average gamer anymore!
I've always been leary of using the term 'Hardcore'. It's a perception, and everyone has a different set of qualifications for it. 'Hardcore raiders' were originally considered raiding every hour of the game, 5-7 nights a week, 200 wipes per boss. Oddly enough, many guilds that consider themselves hardcore usually only things 2-3 nights a week, usually only 2-4 hours at a time.

'Casual' has earned the same kind of treatment. Really, this is just 20% of gamers vs the other 20% of gamers, with the rest stuck somwhere between the two not understanding where they really are. To me, 'Hardcore' is the group of gamers that consume the end-game content faster than it is produced, and the casual consume it slower than produced.

With that description, you can be casual in one game, and hardcore in another, which I believe is the real truth here. Trying to tie it to time involved or to player skill is, well, a bit short sighted. You can have an absolutely wretched hardcore player in an end-game chewing guild, and an amazing player that's very casual in no guild.

As far as a game like WoW possibly never occurring again, I'd say that it's always a bad idea to say never.
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