Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Curious Case of Modern Warfare 2

Would this happen in any other type of media?

From the moment Modern Warfare 2 was announced, was there any doubt as to what its final review score would be?  To paraphrase Tycho, reviewers are torn between trying to decide whether the game is awesome or too awesome.  To a man, they all state that it's fantastic.  Here's the Frankenreview from Kotaku.  What's telling is the little two line sentence at the end:

Anyone surprised?

Isn't this a little weird?  I mean, everything has its detractors.  If you ask 15 different music reviewers what their album of the year is, they'll more than likely give you very different answers.  However, you ask 15 reviewers what their Game of the Year is, and you can be guaranteed that a good chunk will mention Modern Warfare 2. As soon as it was announced, you could pencil it in as most people's Game of the Year, sight unseen. Yes, it's well-crafted. That's not the issue. It is a very good game, but the accolades heaped upon it prior to release are a little weird, and the resounding reception that it's received from day one is intriguing.

So, the question becomes "Why?" Some have ideas revolving around conspiracies between the "gaming media" and the "gaming industry," and others decry that it's just marketing in action, nothing else. There's actually something going on that's far less insidious and shocking, but exposes a very large flaw in the gaming firmament.

If you're reading this, more than likely you are a male under 40 years of age. Since you are a male under 40 who is on the internet, you probably like Star Wars. You've probably seen and enjoyed some war movies in your time. More than likely, you have a passing interest in kung-fu movies. I'm just throwing possibilities out there, but my point is this: Males under 40 have some pretty standard interests. It's not hard to figure out what we like, especially if you're another male under 40 years old.

The gaming industry, gaming journalists, and the playerati alike are mostly populated by males under 40 years of age. Therefore, it's only natural that a game that's as well-crafted, adrenaline-soaked, and explosion-heavy as Modern Warfare 2 would excite your average male under 40. We kind of get each other. The industry knows what we like since we are the industry. The only difference between most game devs and gamers is what side of the screen they're on. So, when devs make a game such as Modern Warfare 2, they're aiming it straight at our flabby hearts because they are us. That's why it's getting such great reviews, because it's a love letter to us from us.

Therein lies the problem. That's kind of unsustainable. In case you haven't noticed, the majority of people aren't males under 40. We're actually a pretty small group. Now, we buy a lot of things so that makes us valuable to advertisers and executives, but we're less than a sixth of the total world population. That means that there are lots of people who really aren't getting served, who don't have an interest in a game like Modern Warfare 2, and who are wondering why the heck we're wasting so much time with our Nintenders, Playwhatsits and Xwhatevers.

That's the challenge facing designers in the 21st century.  They've figured out what we like.  Now it's time to figure out what the rest of the world likes, too.

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