Game Changers - the significance of casual games
Regardless of whether or not you've ever even touched an iPhone game or the Wii, I can guarantee that the casual gaming movement of the last 6 years has had a positive impact on your personal gaming experience. Don't believe me? Well, lets talk about it...
Editor's Note: I always knew there was an upside to "casual gaming." Thanks for proving me right beyondthestars!
Even if you're an an old-school gamer who remembers cartridges and password saves, I am certain that you've benefited from the explosion of casual games onto the market.
This means that whether you're someone who only ever touches Bejeweld (but undoubtedly plays it religiously), an 18 year-old CoD and Madden fanatic, or one of those few people out there that actually uses your Wii Fit - if that's the crux of your gaming lifestyle - you're a casual gamer.
We are currently experiencing a shift in the cultural perception of video games. This is very important and very, VERY good for all of us gamers. If we just rewind the clock about 10 years and take a peek into what the climate looked like back then, we'll see a drastic difference in the way that video games are perceived and accepted by the general public. Back then, if you played video games then it was assumed that you were probably some adolescent or angst-ridden teenage boy. If you weren't then you were an anomaly... no doubt a lazy man-child. Then, if you were a girl, well... people's heads would explode because that was something that just wouldn't compute at all. People, not understanding video games, would look on at them from a distance and only see someone sitting in front of a screen for hours on end. To them, video games were the ultimate time and life wasters. Now, don't get me wrong. video games CAN be a colossal waste of time and completely devour a person's life if not kept in check. But you can say that about almost anything. What needed to change was the way that people looked at games and the way that video game culture was perceived by the general public. The only way to really do that was to trick everyone into experiencing the joy of gaming for themselves. How does one accomplish this mighty task? With casual gaming of course!
If you don't know, Nintendo was a huge forerunner for the casual gaming trend back when they first decided to experiment with their blue ocean strategy. The DS and the Wii are fine examples of this. The hook was that these video-game systems were specifically targeted toward non-gamers; a revolutionary idea for its time. When Nintendo first started talking about the Wii, I remember being shocked by something that Shigeru Miyamoto said. He claimed that they didn't consider Nintendo to be in competition with the other hardware developers this time around and (here's the kicker) if people wanted a traditional core gaming experience then he suggested that they should either buy Sony or Microsoft's systems instead.
What?! ...Nintendo was actually suggesting that some people pick up an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3?! Unheard of!
But before you go getting your pitchforks and torches and screaming about how Nintendo knowingly and willingly abandoned its loyal fan-base, let me continue to have the floor for just a little bit longer so I can state my case. Nintendo wasn't trying to alienate the gaming community with its push for casual games, it was trying to move the boundaries of what it means to be a video game to a more accessible frontier. They have always been trying to let an industry of interactivity evolve in creative ways and just because they make games that appeal to the casual gamer doesn't mean that they aren't "hardcore" anymore. In fact, this casual gaming idea is as hardcore as it gets. Nintendo's goal was to change the stigma associated towards video games so that the industry could be taken seriously by the general public and truly bloom as a culturally viable and respectable form of entertainment (despite whatever Roger Ebert thinks).
As I have already pointed out, before the Wii, gamers were largely made out to be outcasts and they were presumed to be deserving of that fate. Many were ostracized and ridiculed for playing video games but now, just six years later, there is virtually no longer any negative stigma associated with playing video games any more (relatively speaking). Plus, not only can gamers get dates, I actually know as many girls that play deep and engaging video games as boys. Wii Sports and the like weren't the goal that Nintendo was aiming at but the stepping stone towards a shift in the cultural paradigm. That's one of the reasons that they brought back the 2D Mario games with the New Super Mario Bros. franchise. Those games are ones that a more casual market can get behind. Don't believe me? How many of you have friends who aren't real gamers yet still pull out Super Mario Bros .Wii while at parties? But, as I said, that was never the end game. Next on the list for Nintendo's clever strategy of non-gamer acclimation was Super Mario 3D Land, a game designed to be a bridge between the Mario games (2D and 3D) and get casual gamers more comfortable (and attracted to) the more hardcore experience of the 3D ones. This is a wise choice since even though Mario 64 is considered a classic, it didn't sell nearly as well as the previous Mario games.
In a recent speech, Shigeru Miyamoto stated that he always uses his wife as a meter of success. As someone who doesn't care for video games at all, the more interest that she shows in a product, the more successful he considers the product to be. Although at first blush that might not mean anything to us gaming enthusiasts, we can't deny the impact that strategy has had on the games that we love to play. He used it for basically every classic game he's ever worked on... Mario, Zelda, the Mario Kart franchise... you name it.
This kind of strategy has spilled over to our everyday lives in significant ways but Nintendo isn't the only one who's been expanding the market. My brothers dropped video games a long time ago and it's been interesting to see how things have changed over time. A few years ago, I would feel like a black sheep in the family whenever the topic of video games came up. If I expressed excitement over a new release, I would often receive condescending looks of embarrassment. Admittedly at best, everything would become very awkward and I had learned to hide that part of me to at least some extent. But something changed and every year they began to act and talk more and more like hardcore gamers themselves. My brothers, like most guys, are largely competitive and they started to partake in the occasional Smash Bros bout or play quick competitive matches of Halo. They loved it for the sense of competition and because matches only lasted a few minutes at a time. Games like those were short and refreshing – the perfect gaming gateway drug. Time would go by and they consumed these short matches like potato chips, one right after the other. But those games started to become stale and feel repetitive. They needed something else. They needed to go online.
It's undeniable that online competition has been a foundation for what we call “gramer” culture. With online gaming finally extending it's reach to consoles in a significant way (sorry Dreamcast), gramers like my brothers were introduced to an exciting world of competition that in many ways felt endless with its opportunities and potential for variety, change, and, above all, interactivity. The way that Microsoft specifically has been able to tame the internet has brought growth to the market in ways that arguably rivals Nintendo's own casual expansion. Although my brothers still didn't feel like they were that “loser” across the hall throwing away hundreds of hours on RPGs and MMOs, they themselves were spending hours upon hours building their stats and climbing arbitrary leader-boards.
Then my brothers both purchased iPhones. Apple's genius marketing tactics had convinced them to dive in and soon they were filling their time with apps... and not the practical ones, mind you... those that were in fact full fledged games hiding once again behind the mask of quick and casual consumption. A year ago, I watched in awe as they spent more time playing games then me and , in fact, it felt like they wouldn't shut up about them. Most recently, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had both purchased and played through Skyrim almost immediately after the game had come out. I haven't even gotten that game yet!
Do you see this transition that's happening? It's not just my brothers, too. It's the entire culture all around us. Movies like Scott Pilgrim and TV episodes like Community's “Digital Estate Planning” are examples of the shift from the gaming community in shows being represented as pizza-faced, pale, undatable shut-ins to a respected emerging subculture. Even Jimmy Fallon openly expresses his love for video games.
There's no denying that the blue ocean strategy as well as Apple's gaming dollar menu and the internet's ability to finally keep up with video games have all made a significant impact on the gaming ecosystem. Just look at the statistics...
As a gamer, whether or not you personally partook in the casual gaming boom that we've seen over these past 6 years, I believe that we should all be gracious and thankful for this blessing that we've received.
We all owe a lot to our casual friends.
Playing video games for some is an outlet of what is in the inside. In video games, they get to become someone and do things they could not possibly do in real life. - Missed Fortune
No problem, it's a great article. I'm figuring out what topic I want to discuss next that isn't a rant (or negative) because that's mainly what I'm thinking about ><
Ugh, my computer's been double posting lately DX
That's great! I feel like my blog has officially been validated.
That was a really good read. Yeah, I love Nintendo for all that they've done. Their philosophy of elevating creativity has led them to drastically change the industry on several occasions. I also find it funny just how much of a trend setter they really are. The Wii was meant to be casual so it had casual games. Yet even with the Move and the Kinect, I feel like Nintendo was still the first to come up with a core game that really uses motion controls well (Skyward Sword). I wonder if Sony and MS were thinking, "We can do that with motion controls?" Apparently, now that Nintendo did, they can ;)
Oh things were DEFINITELY different in the early 90s (at least from my vantage point). Glad to hear that the 2000s were much better!
I'm not completely sold on the argument either, to be honest.
Time will tell if the price of "legitimization" was too high.
Awesome job man. I never thought about Casual gamers and "gramers" that way
what? next time you'll tell me to get off your lawn? ;)
My college still must think games aren't cool, as every gaming site, whether it has playable games or not, even this one, are blocked. Of courese you can watch youtube, check twitter and facebook, get all your sports feeds, and practically everything else on the internet except for porn of course. Kinda gets on my nerves.
i almost started a reply with "Back in my day" . . . . . . . . . damn im old
bloody young wipper snappers
As a kid, I never felt that video games were frowned upon. It usually went like this, if you didn't play video games, you were most likely the one who's gonna be left out because mostly everyone played video games back in school. But then again, I was in grade 6 when the Wii came out so maybe it was way different during the early 90's.
I'm not entirely convinced that gaming becoming more socially acceptable was worth the influx of casual shit, rehashes and brown fps games.
This was well thought out, uniqe and had a quite amount of charm to it. Great job!
Amazing article, which will hopefully enlighten many of those reading this. Growing up I was a kid who loved videogames, but was pretty much at the mercy of whatever my brother or dad got (thank goodness they have good taste, especially my brother) but as I got older, I realized I liked different types of my games from my family. Anyways, my love for videos kind of died out between the 6th and 7th generation. It was actually the Wii that got me to start playing again and it was with casual games. I actually purchased a 360 primarily for the Kinect. It wasn't a until a few months after that I truly became a hardcore gamer again and started digging for great games I've missed while eagerly awaiting new releases.
I never looked upon the casual gamers as the scum some have, I tried to be optimistic and hope that at least a few come around and become full fledged well rounded gamers. Even if its probably rare.
What I find poignant is how Nintendo has (to an extent) brought the medium and the industry full circle.
Take the success of the Nintendo Entertainment System and the design of its controller. The NES not only revived the video game console market, but expanded it twofold, thanks in no small part to a more intuitive and straightforward input device in the form of its gamepad. Relative to the incoherent mess of control discs, numeric keypads, and side buttons that game controllers had become post-Atari, the NES gamepad was a pretty radical departure.
Of course, the graphical horsepower of the NES made concepts like continuous side-scrolling platformers plausible. However, having a simple, horizontally oriented controller with a D-pad on the left is what closed that distance between "plausible" and viable.
By the time of the PlayStation 2's reign, modern gamepads and the game design built around them had morphed into something of an intimidating barrier to newcomers and to those who hadn't put thumb to button since the Super Nintendo. The Big N, as we all know, responded by going back to basics . . . just as they had done over twenty years prior.
This isn't to say that motion control in video games does not come with gremlins. To paraphrase Craig: "I love how the Kinect makes things simpler and harder at the same time."
Still, I give the folks in Kyoto their due, which is more than fair, coming from an old school Sega fanboy.
well written article and brillaint points
anpothe rpoint i've allways made with nintendo is that ther egames have allways be pointed towards to easier to play but hard to master or just something fun you can jump in. U still had metroid and zelda to have the longer sessions but Mario, kirby and alot f the platformers wher emade to get anybody to play it
Nintendo is starting to look like a good natured uncle.