The Future of PC Gaming Isn't You
"'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.'"
Richard Aihoshi examines the future of PC gaming, and why you may not be in it.
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There's a potential problem here for hardcore gamers on both PC and console: a top-tier hardcore game can cost tens of millions of dollars to make, and only a few standouts like Halo, Final Fantasy, and Gears of War make a major return on that development investment. As more and more developers follow the money trail to casual games where you can get a better rate of return on a smaller investment, we may see fewer games being made for hardcore gamers... and as much as I enjoy Geometry Wars and Lumines, I would give up both forever without so much as a second thought for another game by the developers who made Shadow of the Colossus.
On the other hand, somewhat niche movies like The Fountain and Stranger than Fiction are still being made despite the massive popularity of YouTube, so perhaps the hardcore market will be able to sustain the kinds of titles we love. On that note, I'll be picking up BioShock next week.
I think there will always be "hardcore" games. Not only because of a potential demand, but thinking from the designer's point of view. Not everybody wants to make small casual games, even if they income is bigger than the "big" games. It is though, more risky to make a huge final-fantasy-like game, where you spend millions of dollars and don't know for certain that you will have the money back. But I honestly believe that big games will always be there, for designer's and costumer's enjoy.
I like both hardcore and casual games. But the difference is, I might play Bejeweled a couple of times during the week, but I play WoW every day. Bejeweled satisfies my inmediate need of something to do (while at work, for example), but in WoW I can go beyond that. That's probably the biggest difference between them.
Hardcore used to be the only market, when only the hardcore used computers to play games. Anyone else remember having to customize DOS config.sys and autoexec.bat files in order to play games? Now that computers are far more widespread, hardcore is a niche market for good.
However, I think more and more indies are going to find that it can be a very lucrative market.
Because most big-budget games demand a more mainstream audience. When a game costs $10 million and up, it's not enough to simply sell one to every hardcore fan. You have to reach beyond that audience. How do you do that? You make the game more accessible, which generally means you tone down the hardcore features. This, of course, makes the game less desirable to the hardcore fans.
Indies, on the other hand, do not need giant sales. They can appeal to a small niche, and do very well. Computer wargames were once mainstream and are now a tiny niche, and many of them sell for $50 and up.
Very shrewd and accurate assessment by Mr. Aihoshi, the author, IMO.
To Ajar's point, we could really stand to lose about 2/3 of all the hardcore games on the market, given their cookie-cutter game mechanics and narrow range of genres. (For that matter, we could stand to lose 2/3 of the casual games as well - but that would still leave hundreds of new games per year to choose from ;)
And I would argue that a sizable portion of WoW's user base is actually 'casual' - WoW is a fantastically accessible 'hardcore' game that most anyone over the age of 7 can figure out quickly and enjoy on numerous levels.
I wonder what % of 'hardcore' titles actually make a profit? I'm guessing 10-20%. We're already seeing the EAs, Microsofts and Nintendos of the world turning sharply in the casual direction... hopefully in future these behemoths of the video game industry will help drive innovation on the casual front, not merely consolidation!
My hope is that the tools to make game development less expensive will continue to improve in quality and price. It seems that huge, involved games' best bet for survival (if it is threatened at all, which I'm still not convinced of) may be as labors of love, created by suicidally dedicated hermit-programmers and created for exactly the same kind of person as the one who made it. Returning, that is, to the status quo of the pre-EA days, only with better graphics and the Internet.
It wouldn't be so bad, as long as the variety of games available doesn't stop increasing. Nobody wants every game to be Tetris, after all.