Welcome to Softcore Gamer (Part I)

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ready.pngThe Softcore Gamer blog is something I've been wanting to start for a while now. I got the idea when I realized that the games industry is broken.

Many people will acknowledge it, even if they love games and have trouble describing precisely what's wrong. I'm not claiming that I have a solution to the problem, or even that I can fully illuminate the problem. But I do have some ideas, and I'd like to share them with you.

The gamer has evolved over the past twenty-five years, and the industry as a whole has struggled to keep up. The population of gamers in the United States is greater than it's ever been before. The mean age of gamers is increasing, the number of gamers over 50 is increasing, and the number of women playing games is increasing. But at the same time, soaring development costs have led to shorter games, reduced emphasis on story and gameplay, and a zero-tolerance attitude toward failure that necessitates a minimization of risk.

These hi-def, low-risk games are targeted toward the "core gamer" demographic. Core gamers are typically young and male. They want action, they want violence, and they want competition. They play a lot of first-person shooters and sports titles, and they've demonstrated that they don't mind repetitive content. They're willing to pay a high premium for incremental advances in graphics and interface. They also grow up to be game designers.

This is the audience that the games industry is courting, as well it should. The core gamer demographic is a lucrative market. But where's the long tail of video games? The current culture, which tends to invest heavily in proven franchises or genres, discourages the production of lower-cost niche titles or unconventional games that are unlikely to capture the core gamer demographic.

According to the ESA, 38% of gamers are women. But that figure is misleading. If you limit yourself to mainstream games - games targeted to core gamers, with high production quality and wide release on physical media - the percentage of female gamers decreases significantly. On the other hand, if you look to the major players in the industry - well-known design teams, console manufacturers publishing first-party titles, and publishers with a long history in games - and examine the number of games they release outside the mainstream, the figure is similarly low.

This doesn't apply just to women, but to any group that finds itself primarily outside the core gamer demographic. The people who are serious about making games aren't making games for us.

In the follow-up, I'll talk about what it means to be a softcore gamer, and what significance it has to the games industry. I'll also mention some of the industry's current trends away from a traditional core gamer audience, and how that may impact the industry in the future.

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