Face It, Hardcore Gamers, You Don't Matter
It's the most painful thing I've had to say all year. But the facts are undeniable.
Although there are still plenty of developers out there who absolutely strive to deliver games specifically designed for the hardcore, the industry is now dominated by the casual crowd. And that can never change.
It can't because gaming is officially mainstream. Back when it was only for tech geeks and the kids who had trouble making friends in school, basically the only people who played were "hardcore." There was no such thing as the 26-year-old girl who sat down and played anything; see, we didn't have mobile gaming or games on Facebook, and the stigma that females did not play video games was in full effect. No girl would be caught dead playing a video game.
The evidence is right there in the content of video games. They were once nigh-on impossible to beat; only the truly hardcore, the endlessly dedicated, could eventually conquer them. But you can't get away with that any longer, as the majority of gamers are not hardcore and simply wouldn't play if we didn't implement the ease and accessibility that is now common. I've spoken out before about how this is actually a very good thing. And of course, we're talking about big business now. Big business doesn't survive without the masses. An obvious and irreversible rule.
So in the long run, if a publisher is looking to make money, he absolutely cannot focus on the hardcore. In fact, that publisher can't really think about such a small group at all. Losing the hardcore means almost nothing, provided the casuals love it; it has been estimated by analysts in the past that 80-85% of this industry is now comprised of people who are only "casual" in every sense of the word. With gaming spreading to multiple venues and becoming a normal part of popular culture, the term "hardcore" can only denote the die-hard avid fans, and that is always the minority in any big-business form of entertainment.
If movies weren't also dominated by the casual movie-going public, we'd have top-quality independent and foreign films that focus on writing, acting, cinematography, etc. You know, the stuff real film buffs actually care about. But the vast majority of movies are just flash and no substance, which is what the masses want. And that's what they're getting in the video game world, too, although I still maintain that this industry rewards quality in terms of both critical reception and sales.
So although the hardcore can no longer drive sales to the point where game makers can actually turn a profit, it seems most gamers still know what's good. ...to some extent.
8/3/2012 Ben Dutka