"The Future of Gaming"
The Future of PC Gaming Isn't You

Richard Aihoshi | 14 Aug 2007 12:23
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Removing the subscription barrier to entry worked because if players had fun, they didn't mind making small, optional payments to enhance their play. Indeed, it's far from unknown for those who buy items to spend far more than what a subscription would have cost, had it been available. The model also helped expand the total audience. "The logic is very clear," says Kim. "There will always be room for great subscription products. However, how many will a person play? One? Two? Nexon's casual games such as MapleStory and KartRider offer hardcore players alternative, free playing experiences while growing the overall population of gamers."

At NetDevil, Ryan Seabury is the Producer on LEGO Universe, a massively multiplayer online game that, while not necessarily casual, is primarily aimed at children. He agrees with Kim. "Look at Runescape or Club Penguin," he says. "They're very low-spec browser games with millions of players, almost all of whom came from outside the hardcore PC gamer market." While recognizing that there will always be some people willing to pay for the highest-end gaming rigs and spend hours playing every day, he understands the total PC user base is "several orders of magnitude larger," and that "as an industry, we'd be foolish to ignore them."

James Gwertzman sees the industry evolving in a way that makes ignoring any segment less likely. In his view, there's considerable overlap, more like concentric circles than a Venn diagram. "Traditional hardcore games appeal to a fairly small, albeit passionate, audience," he says. "Advanced casual games appeal to a slightly broader circle, and traditional casual games appeal to the broadest circle of them all. But hardcore gamers play Zuma, too, and as the latest example, Peggle is a huge hit with the editorial staffs of most of the hardcore gamer publications!"

St. John also regards the distinction between casual and hardcore as artificial. "Casual gaming is not a demographic, it's a behavior," he says. "Very few people just go to movies and refuse to watch television, or vice versa. Hardcore gamers are just really enthusiastic gamers; they play everything, including the light casual games. They may be less likely to buy them, but they play the heck out of them."

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"A fun game is a fun game, no matter how you look at it," adds Seabury. "There are countless examples of this ... Tetris, Pac-Man, Geometry Wars, Wii Sports. Fundamentally, both audiences look for the same things: accessible fun that turns into engaging depth over time, something that feels rewarding for the time invested. In another domain, all Pixar movies could be classified as for kids, but they're layered with superior technical execution, adult innuendo and cinematic excellence. They succeed in creating entertainment that satisfies almost every demographic, and there's no reason games can't do this, too."

In this regard, Gwertzman offers a word of caution, since movies are passive entertainment, while games are interactive. Although they share many elements, including soundtracks, computer graphics and storylines, "few movies cross over successfully into games, and it's not because people haven't tried hard enough in the past. It's because they're fundamentally mismatched mediums."

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