Having studied and worked in the Graphic Design industry for nearly 10 years, my mindset has been trained to think about the entire spectrum and function of design. The marketing, the key message, and the correct target market are the three most important factors in executing a well thought-out design. Before every design, I create I start with the same process. I decide on an art style, carefully select imagery, and craft a suitable message all in an effort to attract the interest of the desired targeted group. It’s an integral part of my job, and working within my category of field, I’m always overexposed to different terms and labels for different groups and demographics.
Recently, I attended a meeting with the GameCloud Team to discuss our plans and ideas for 2014; over delicious pizza, might I add! Admittedly, sometimes I can be fairly quiet, a dedicated spectator if you would. Although, at times, I’ll have a thought or two to share if I think it’s worth mentioning. And so, when the discussion turned to what the whole website is about, video games, everyone was talking about titles such as Dark Souls and Assassin’s Creed, and with great detail and passion; while I watched on being entertained by the friendly banter.
It was at that moment when I noticed something about myself. Most of the games being discussed were those I’ve never tried, and so, I felt as if I had nothing to add to the conversation. I started to questions myself, “Am I really interested video games, or am I out of touch?” “Why do I have nothing to say, when I have put in countless of hours of gaming?” “Everyone is so knowledgeable and experienced with games, do I have those same traits?” All those questions were running through my head, and I reassessed myself. Without notice, my design trained mind took over, and I gave myself a label that I have heard many times before. I called myself a “Casual Gamer.”
Since I began playing video games, I’ve notice that Gamers have always been coined with many names and labels as to define them into a group by both the media and society. More often than not, the labels created appeared to be both ridiculous and incorrect, and without knowing all the facts. In the mid ’90s, my favourite spot was the local arcade called Fun ‘n’ Games in Belmont. It was host to many great classic arcade games and skill testers. A few of my favourites were Mortal Kombat, King of Fighters, and Soul Edge; regularly chewing up most of my gold. Summer being a popular time for the business, it used to be completely packed, and with queues at almost every machine. Regrettably, one summer was a different story. The Fun ‘n’ Games arcade closed their doors due to complaints of Gamers causing trouble and defacing property. As you could imagine, I was quite upset, and not only because my local arcade went kaput, but because Gamers were being labelled as criminals. I for one wasn’t a criminal, or a trouble maker. Just a kid that loved button mashing to fighting games. This label bothered me as I felt all the local Gamers were falsely identified as trouble, and shouldn’t have been named as a collective group.
Flash-forward to the present day. Right now, there seems to be two strong labels assigned to gamers: the “Hardcore Gamer” and the “Casual Gamer”. These two names seem to be used everywhere on gaming media websites, magazines, and especially online forums. Although, with that said, they all bare their own definitions for the two terms. It seems the general consensus defines a Casual Gamer as a player who enjoys user friendly games with an easy learning curve. Controls that are easy to master and gamers that choose to spend only a few hours a week committing to games. Typically, their choice of gaming titles is usually whatever is trending for mobile devices and PC, with the likes of Angry Birds, Bejewelled, and Candy Crush being some popular examples.
Looking back on history, this became eminent to Nintendo in the mid ’00s when they decided that they wanted to widen their demographic (and profits) by attracting the so called “Casual Gamer”. With this in mind, it helped birth the release of the new console, the Nintendo Wii, released in December 2006. The President of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, had this strategy in mind: “Wii sounds like ‘we’, which emphasizes that the console is for everyone. Wii can easily be remembered by people around the world, no matter what language they speak. No confusion.” It’s with this statement that they were aiming to accommodate all Gamers, and it was particularly noticeable with their perception of the casual players used in their advertising campaigns. The TV commercials and print media for the new console used talent of all ages; from elderly grandparents playing the system with children, to trendy young adults waving the controller around in an inner city apartment. It didn’t take long to see that the campaign was very successful as it took hold of the US market by early 07′, outselling the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 combined.
Since that time, according to the retail markets, the purchase power of the Casual Gamer now determined what makes a successful and profitable piece of entertainment. What makes this even more interesting is that this marketing strategy has also brewed a very negative response from those labelled with the term, Hardcore Gamer.
To term the definition of a Hardcore Gamer, it could specify a group of people who play videos games for long periods of time during a standard week, and as a result, have a significant influence within their regular lifestyle. Other traits may include picking up titles frequently, whether its retail or online, and spending many hours on particular titles to master all the skills, and completing every objective. Most would say that there are many sub-categories to Hardcore Gamers, be it that they specialise in particular genres, have a console preference, or generally prefer a specific gameplay style. The stereotype I see most often is that many of these Gamers play MMORPGs the most, and for hours on end while they perform quests and level multiple characters. Specifically, the game World of Warcraft was a focal point. However, as mentioned above, there is no “correct” definition.
Currently, the casual demographic the larger group out of the two, and as such, it’s no surprise that Game Developers want to cash in on the casual market by accommodating to their particular range of interests and behaviours. The change to the industry sees video games arguably becoming more simpler and rapidly produced, to supply to this wider audience that is ever evolving. This has caused a divide as Hardcore Gamers feel as if they are the true invaluable source of knowledge, and assistance, to Game developers in their effort to create better quality games. For them to see that the Casual Gamer has now been made a priority implies their voices are being heard less, and in some ways, even threatens their beloved hobby with low quality games being produced.
In saying all of this, I’ve come to realise that I’m not, in fact, a “Casual Gamer”. I just chose to randomly picked a label for myself that I have heard countless times because I thought it meant, “someone who plays games for a small amount of time”. While recapping the local arcade fiasco I experienced when I was younger, it made me realise that just because there are labels and terms for groups thrown around, it doesn’t mean I should need to adopt a name to define myself. I have many consoles, an arcade machine in my garage, I read about upcoming games and news, plus I have four titles on pre-order. That to me doesn’t sound like a stereotypical Casual Gamer at all. As soon as I grab a new game, I usually pack in 4-6 hours on the first night, and in my opinion, that doesn’t quite fit into the “Hardcore” description either! So, I ask: why bother defining when there’s no clean cut definition?
Every individual will likely have their own preferences of genre, and an amount of time that they are willing to dedicate to gaming in a single week. Some players choose to play exclusively on one device while others prefer to purchase multiple. Is there such a big difference? From a business standpoint, I get it. There needs to be a target audience for your product, and then as a goal, to create games that suit each demographic. Platformers are arguably designed with younger players in mind, but to me, it’s one of my favourite genres; even though a majority of these games are built with a G-rated audience in mind. The difference is in the realm of society. There is no need to personally label someone because they either choose to play games casually or a lot. We each choose what games and genres that are worth playing, and according to only to us. Labels are arguably restrictive, and pigeonholes individuals into a class without even factoring in all of their characteristics, gaming habits, and interests. Collectively, we are all people that enjoy playing video games. Can’t we simply be just that?