In an industry as wild as the gaming world, one wonders where the newborn casual gamers will settle. What lies in store for them? Where will they belong?
Casual gamers are a real force in the gaming climate now. Plenty of games are either directly aimed at them or offering lighter difficulty levels/accessibility for the new kids (or grandparents) on the block. Microsoft and Sony, and by extension game developers, have devoted time appealing to casual gamers in conferences and meetings. Mobile gaming has really taken off, delivering simple titles cheaply and readily without the time commitment — or money — required of the “core titles” preferred by longtime gamers. The games can appeal to children, parents, and grandparents alike, from family-friendly titles like Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster to quick minigame compilations, like Wii Sports.
I view casual gamers without any particular malice. They’re different, but it’s not like they’re consciously destroying the industry. They’re just shifting it a bit. And besides, how can you hate a movement that’s making games more widespread and legitimate? Finally, games will get the respect they deserve! Right? The website mm88 doing great work in this regard to attract more gamers and provide them the opportunity to make money.
In spite of my optimism, I still wonder what the future holds for casual gamers. We all know that fads have a nasty habit of driving themselves into deep graves; what happens if casual gamers — in the same movement that brought them to games in the first place — suddenly drop games? From the hardcore gamer perspective, casual games aren’t nearly as deep, or immersive, or offer the same experiences as the releases that make the old guard salivate. Basically, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Imagine if all casual games were carbon copies of Wii Sports (and considering how many Wii Sports clones there actually are, it’s not that far-fetched). If you can swing your arms reasonably well, you can do well. No need to learn complex commands and timing for combos, and no worries about getting shot at from eight directions at once. So you play some baseball, and you manage to hit a home run. Pretty snazzy! And you bring your family around the TV to give it a shot, and they have plenty of fun too. But as time passes, you start to realize this game shows its age pretty quickly. Sure, you’ve got a handful of games to play, but you’ve gone as far as you can in terms of skill and achievements. You try to round up your family to play, but suddenly, they don’t feel like jumping in. “I’m busy,” they say. “Sorry, but not today,” they say. “I’m looking for a new colon,” they say. The game has committed a cardinal sin: thou shalt not be boring.
I know from experience that it’s possible for casual games to get boring, even in the eyes of its target audience. I remember a time when my mom wanted to give “that Brain Age thing” a try, so we went to a place I never imagined she’d visit of her own will: a GameStop inside the local mall. So with a new DS game in hand, I showed her how to use it and how to play. I gave her full reign to use my DS as she saw fit, even letting her hold on to it for weeks without complaint. Under the pretense of keeping her brain fit and active, it was a small price to pay.
She played it twice, maybe three times, in the past five years. Progress!
I suppose I can’t blame her. In addition to being busy, she just didn’t find any lasting appeal in Brain Age — a truth I’m quite familiar with. With only a small number of games, no perceived payoff, and almost dooming simplicity, I was back to playing on my Xbox 360 in a matter of days. What if that’s really the future of casual gamers? What if the games catered to them lose their appeal? Or more appropriately, what are developers going to do to keep their interest? Nintendo has the biggest casual fanbase and knows how to appeal to them. Meanwhile, Sony and Microsoft have the hardcore gamers (the ones paying their bills, I’d wager) satisfied, but they’re making their forays into the casual market. Essentially, they need to give the casual fans a reason to stay loyal to the brand, and make the big-money jump when the inevitable Xbox 720 or PS4 comes out. I suspect that it’s going to take more than Kinect Sports to do it.
Will developers opt for the same-old, same-old with their flagship titles and technology, and leave the casual games to shovelware-pumping companies? Will this new generation of gamers have little more to their names than dance simulators and minigame compilations? Or perhaps we’ll see a distorted future, in which simple mobile games are the norm, and hardcore games have become unsustainable relics of the past? Oversaturation of the market, maybe? Apathy at the release of Super Dance Central 99: Championship Edition?
There’s no telling what the future holds. Nevertheless, what’s really important is giving them the chance to see and enjoy games in the same light as dedicated fans. In other words, the divide between hardcore and casual needs to be lowered. How? I think that casual gamers can become a much less maligned and far more satisfied consumer base with barely any changes. Among them:
1) Upping the competitive element. Sometimes people just want to stomp their rivals into the ground; I know that’s why my brother loves fighting games, and I suspect that if Brain Age was less a solitary affair then my mom might have stuck around at least a little longer. While I’ve never had the pleasure of playing it for myself, Harmonix’s Dance Central 2 seems to be a perfect proof of that; dancing for glory > dancing to get fit.
2) Successively increasing challenges/rewards. If a player can perceive a reward immediately or in the near future, chances are they’ll have an incentive to play longer. They’ll earn their reward, feel accomplished, and have a hankering for the next reward in line…with said reward becoming all the sweeter if they had to beat some big challenge to do so. The obvious choice of a challenge/reward relationship would be a boss fight — one that tests and improves a player’s skills. And the reward? It could vary as needed, from new items/tools to play with to new levels and areas to explore. Or pictures of cats. Everyone likes those.
3) Introducing then-unseen experiences. Video games offer a chance to see and experience worlds that would otherwise be impossible to render. A savvy developer could make an easy-to-digest role-playing game, where dungeons can be conquered in a single sitting — and give it enough original additions to make it compelling enough to complete, not just buy and forget about.
4) An engrossing story. How do you make people care enough about something to make them say “Oh man, I don’t want to miss tonight’s episode!” or “Just one more chapter!” Easy: the story. I’ve played awful games just for narrative closure; giving a good game a satisfying story can work wonders, and ensure its audience is in for the long haul. Just like a book, it could be a game you load on your phone, play through for a little while, get some story, and then put down at your leisure. Or if you’re playing on a console with your family, you and your chums are on an adventure, gain some context, slay a dragon, and get some more narrative, and you can pick up later. Even if you’re not a gamer, you’re by nature someone who likes a good story.
5) Indoctrination by exposure to “classics.” The games of old which were once complex to a fault are probably simple by our standards, but they’re classics for a reason. They’re the building blocks of everything we’ve come to love about the industry; maybe that’s what casual gamers need most. Super Mario Bros., or something like it, could rest at their fingertips and introduce players young and old to Jumpman; considering how well New Super Mario Bros. Wii did, I’d say there’s a lot to be gained for both gamers and developers.
The keyword here for a better future is “willingness.” Everyone has to be willing to try new things and experiment a little. In order for that to happen, there’s no need for walls or labels to divide the camps so great; I think that with the right push, casual gamers can go hardcore, and hardcore gamers can go casual. A happy medium, and harmony for all — the stuff of rainbow-laden paintings and unicorn murals, I’d wager. Even so, I have bright hopes for the future. Because nothing would make me happier than seeing moms go at it in King of Fighters XIII.
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