Are you a dedicated, enthusiast gamer? Chances are the answer is “yes.” You’ve found this article because you have enough of an interest in gaming that you actively seek out more information about your favorite hobby.
You’re probably familiar with all the consoles to some degree and have committed to memory the release dates of your personal high profile games. You are what would be called a hardcore gamer.
You are also in the minority.
In the old days, when gaming was a niche hobby, there was only one kind of person that bought consoles; the enthusiast, aka the hardcore gamer. In recent years, thanks in part to products like the Wii, and games like Guitar Hero, Madden and of course, Call of Duty, the number of people that play games has risen dramatically. The big difference is the regularity with which those people play games. The traditional market for games, that is, US, the hardcore gamers, buy games on a regular basis regardless of the time of year. We follow the industry, we know who Ken Levine, Shigeru Miyamoto and Dr. Ray Muyzka are. We also know the release dates of most games, and are there on day one whether it’s the 1
sales quarter of the year to buy our heavily researched, anticipated title.
Then there’s the other gamer, the casual or mainstream gamer, and there are far more of them than there are of us. These are the gamers that only care about a big title because they start seeing posters in their city, ads on TV, or, perhaps more reliably, they are friends with YOU, and ask you what’s coming up next. If the answer you give isn’t Madden or Call of Duty, they switch off and lose interest. These are the people that keep the industry going, only showing up at the 3
quarter sales period of the year to buy one or two games. And there are tens of millions of these gamers. Enough to make Call of Duty one of the best –selling products in the entertainment industry today.
And this is where the problem lies. Unlike you, they don’t care about the specification of a console at all. They barely know which consoles have which games. All they care about is when the next COD game is coming out so they can buy it and play it with you. Despite their ignorance and lack of knowledge about the industry, these people are now the ones that steer the direction that games and consoles go in, and they don’t give a damn about how good the technology in a console is or not.
Hardcore gamers now find themselves in the same situation as audiophiles. You may be aware of how much RAM is in your console of choice. You might even know how many cores/SPUs the next generation of consoles may or may not be sporting. You care a lot about whether something is in 1080p at a rock solid 30 fps, but none of your “mainstream” friends do. In the same way that an audiophile was aghast at the advent of the iPod and MP3 files of middling quality that in no way represented how good a top tier audio recording could sound, hardcore gamers are now in the same position with regards to gaming technology as software and hardware.
Now here’s the scary proposition. If it’s the mainstream gamers, not the hardcore that are at the steering wheel of determining what consoles and what games sell, then why should the publishers and console manufacturers listen to us? In this generation we’ve seen some sweeping and potentially disturbing trends. The rise of the Wii as the ultimate casual console, an initiative that rewarded Nintendo with a staggering early lead in sales despite a dearth of 3
party, hardcore games. We’ve seen Microsoft push Kinect and Kinect features into every avenue they could, stressing how friendly and easy it was for the uninitiated. Even Sony has hopped on the bandwagon with projects like Wonderbook.
If you’re a hardware manufacturer that is in a position where you realize only a small minority wants new hardware to be an order of magnitude more powerful, while the majority doesn’t care, who do you focus on?
At the time of this writing, none of the console manufacturers have released hard data on the memory and system architecture of their respective hardware. But they are creating their machines in a climate where Angry Birds is the best-selling game on the planet, the average Call of Duty player probably doesn’t even know what RAM is, let alone lag. It’s an environment where Sony’s cutting edge Playstation 3 nearly crashed straight out of the gate because it was priced at $600 and consumers were scared off. Meanwhile the Wii debuted at $250 and rocketed to the top of the sales charts like a bat out of hell, securing the much sought after casual audience, and ridiculous amounts of dollars such a huge audience possessed.
What are the odds that no console manufacturer is interested in courting this audience again next generation and only wants to please a small, demanding, knowledgeable audience of hardcore gamers? My magic 8-Ball says “Not bloody likely.”
So what am I trying to say? Only that I wouldn’t be surprised if the next generation of consoles comes out, and it’s not the leap in technology that previous generations were. Casual audiences don’t care about that, and they have more of those dollars the game companies are interested in.