Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Dirty Secret Of The Hardcore Gamer

One more Nintendo article and I'll try and lay off it for a while. Recently, poster "Sambo" had this to say:
Yeh right on! screw core gamers right? they stopped being important with the wii you know. who are they to complain with their decads of support&making video games bigger than music or movies right? thay dont matter even if they spend more mony & buy more games then anybody else right! how dare anybody complain just be happy you even get to play a game. sheesh bunch of ingrats what do they think this is america/a consumer driven market?
It got me thinking. He has a valid point. For a long time, we feel that we've propped up this industry, giving a lot monetarily, and frankly, emotionally too. We care about this stuff more than other people have. We are, in many ways, as much or more passionate than cinephiles or audiophiles. We're certainly more numerous, and we make more of a difference on our respective industries.

For instance, a cinephile may appreciate French cinema or Ingmar Bergman films, but when it comes time to make a new movie, no one is asking their opinion. Audiophiles may love listening to Lou Reed on vinyl, but people aren't rushing to iTunes to download the new Titus Andronicus single. They're listening to Rihanna or Mr. Fifty Cents or whatever the kids are listening to nowadays. Get off my lawn.

The point is, these people are not as important to their respective industries as core gamers. We have a much bigger impact on what gets made and how it gets made. A great game like Beyond Good & Evil which sold all of 7 copies (most of which to Michel Ancel's family) shouldn't deserve a sequel. Yet, because we liked it, it's getting one. Kid Icarus will get an update someday because we ask for one.

However, we are not what drives it.

Nintendo doesn't care individually about what we want. Microsoft doesn't really get upset when we complain about frat guys being homophobic on Live. Sony doesn't care that the bloggers are lambasting them over Home.

All that they care about is money.

"Well, of course," you say. "That's obvious."

Not so fast. It's not obvious. We rake Nintendo over the coals for Wii Fit and Wii Music and Wii Smirk and Wii Watch Grass Grow, but the fact of the matter is that those games sell, for the most part. They won't stop making them as long as they sell, and that's not up to us. We can make as many derisive comments as we want, but these games are not going anywhere until the public at large get tired of them. Then, and only then, will they stop making them.

We do not drive this industry at all. We are merely fleas on the backs of the St. Bernard that is the industry, and the only time we have an effect is when we all lean to one side simultaneously for an extended period of time. Even then, we only get scratched at a little bit.

Here's some cold, hard science to remind us all of how little we affect the industry. The Playstation was the most popular system of all time until the PS2 came out. To whom were those systems marketed? That's right: Non-gamers. Because of the high rate of adoption, Squaresoft (as it was known) was able to release Final Fantasy VII for the PS1. After FF7 sold ridiculous amounts, what did other companies start making? RPGs!

Now, in Japan, they've always had RPGs. The Dragon Quest series has been going strong since the NES and shows no signs of slowing. Final Fantasy was huge hit for them. But remember: Final Fantasy was supposed to be Square's last game, hence the name "FINAL Fantasy." The only reason they made more? It sold!

We always complain about gaming being taken over by the Maddens and Halos of the world. Why do they keep making them? They sell! Why do they keep making lame movie tie-in games? They sell! No amount of complaining on our part will ever stop market forces from completely overrunning us.

So, when I hear complaining about the Wii, I've started hearing something else: Fear. We're scared by what's going to happen. I like my Wii, and I can understand the fear. I don't want my future to be filled with shovelware and cheaply-made ports of Bejeweled, and I'm sure you don't either. We're scared that publishers will learn the wrong lessons from the Wii. We're scared that they'll start putting waggle controls into every single game, and they'll make Bioshock: Undersea Carnival Games instead of proper sequels.

Here's the good news: It won't happen. Just because the movie executives don't care about those subtitle-loving, beret-wearing cinephiles doesn't mean that they never get movies made for them. Likewise, those vinyl-loving audiophiles get their Yo La Tengo LPs more frequently than they care to admit.

In a similar vein, while developers may be enamored with the idea of cheap games cheaply made, there will always be something for the core audiences just because there will always be someone to make it. Still, always remember the dirty secret of the hardcore gamer: Video game companies are far more important to us as we are to them.

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