Going With The Flow

Going With The Flow
A New Breed of Player

Marshall Honorof | 29 Mar 2011 13:08
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Take Bruce van-Schalkwyk, a coworker of mine and another hybrid gamer. Bruce grew up in arcades, when gaming was still almost exclusively a social experience. Although he's not a hardcore gamer, he's spent many recent weekends playing Call of Duty: Black Ops as a way to spend time with his brother - both on and offline.

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"The first-person shooter is currently my favorite [genre]," says Bruce. "It presents a series of challenges controlling the character, being aware of maps, and there are obvious rewards the more I practice - while it's a steep climb, I really can get better at it."

This may sound like the rhetoric of an up-and-coming hardcore gamer, but Bruce knows his limits. "Playing more ... would make me a better player, but ... I'm going to get better slowly," laments Bruce. "I only have so much time each week for the things I'm interested in."

The fact that both Lindsay and Bruce mentioned time investment as a limiting factor is telling. Like it or not, as gamers get older, more of their time gets devoted to work, friends, family, and other hobbies. This is not a bad thing, but it does mean that suddenly, an 80-hour console RPG might seem more daunting than inviting.

Does this mean that the future of gaming lies exclusively in the online shooter, rhythm, and handheld markets? Not necessarily. Any game can be played casually, which means that every genre is a viable candidate for a hybrid market. Shooters and rhythm games dominate this demographic right now because of their intelligent blend of skill-based gameplay and frequent rewards. Even getting in a few rounds of Call of Duty: Black Ops can net a player persistent character-enhancing "perks." Completing a single set list in Rock Band can pay for a shiny new digital guitar, or at least some outlandish virtual clothing. Compare this with the typical mid-game doldrums of any RPG: Gaining a single level can take hours, and a player may need to do this many times to defeat a certain boss and advance the plot.

With some effort, even slow-paced, methodical genres can appeal to a hybrid demographic. Take the portable market as a case study. If you consider the DS, PSP, iPhone, and Android platforms, gamers have literally hundreds of role-playing options. These numbers do not bespeak an ailing genre. Level-grinding becomes considerably more tolerable if a player uses it as a means to kill time during a commute. Furthermore, developers can deliberately design games to be less grind-intensive since portable games tend to be more condensed than their console brethren.

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