It’s that time of year when I have to start making difficult choices. So many good video games are out there, and I have so little time to play them all. The fall rush is coming, and I figure now is a good time to reflect on what it all means before I get too busy.
The battle for my eyeballs started early this year with a tough August, when I had to choose between games like Hellblade, Fortnite, and Lawbreakers. This month, big games like Destiny 2 and Total War: Warhammer II arrived, and now we have Cuphead and FIFA 18 coming out today. And very soon we’ll have titles like Forza Motorsport 7, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, The Evil Within 2, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Super Mario Odyssey, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Then we have the big rivals, Call of Duty: WWII and Star Wars Battlefront II.
It is dawning on me that I don’t have time to play these games, let alone indie games like the excellent Slayaway Camp and Tiny Bubbles. Heck, I don’t even have time to write about these games. And I know that people like my colleague Jeff Grubb feel that I should just spend my time playing Player Unknown Battlegrounds, the runaway indie hit of the year. If I haven’t mentioned your game, I’m sorry. But I can’t keep up with every tribe. Our gaming world is fragmented, and the days when all of us used to consume one media, like The Wonderful World of Disney, are gone.
The fall slate means that my pile of shame is going to get worse. I would like to give that Cuphead story a rest. But something about it made me think. Games are expanding in so many directions. The number of gamers has crossed 2 billion worldwide, and the average age of a gamer is 35. Game developers no longer have to focus on the narrow market that loves hardcore games like Cuphead, which is so challenging that some people won’t touch it.
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Game creators can expand in so many ways. They can go in just about any direction and find gamers. Just this week, we’ve seen the birth of a platform with new augmented reality games based on Apple’s ARKit. Developers can veer off into esports, virtual reality, mobile games, console, PC, tabletop games, and even digital toys. Heck, they can even support new consoles like the upcoming Ataribox. Tripp is making VR apps for altering your mood. Actor Kevin Hart sees gold in mobile games. And Rockstar Games stoked us all for Red Dead Redemption 2 coming next year.
If you just look at the news I’ve covered in games this week, you’ll see so much variety. Carnival is making mobile games for cruise vacationers. Musician Steve Aoki and rival Synergy Blue are taking arcade games into casinos in pursuit of millennials. Zen Studios released its Pinball FX3 for nostalgic fans who can now play pinball on digital platforms. Osmo is making toy-game hybrids on the iPad based on Hot Wheels.
This is not something to worry about. This is something to celebrate. It’s why gaming has become a $108 billion industry, and it is taking a greater share of entertainment, attention, spare time, and revenues. Developers are pushing games in all directions.
Yet I detect more tribalism, thanks to my recent flame wars over Cuphead. Some traditionalists worry that the distinction between gamers and non-gamers is melting away, giving way to a world where just about everybody plays games. I’ve heard them say that it will lead to dumbed-down games that aren’t fun for the hardcore. But they’ve got their difficult-game revival going, thanks to titles like Dark Souls. The success of Dark Souls is leading to more games that are like it. A certain tribal group feels like they should draw the line and say, “These are real games. Play these. Get good at them, and ignore other stuff.”
That’s a bit of an imaginary conversation, but it feels like a mirror of our political divisions. The country has become divided over our leadership, and the politics of division always seem to win out over the politics of unity. In my own ways, I have been tribal because I love certain genres so much. I used to worry that some of my favorite genres, like historically accurate war strategy games and flight simulators were going the way of the dodo. But it’s wonderful to see new kinds of strategy games like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle on the Nintendo Switch. This allowed me to let go of my old fear.
As a sometime tribalist myself, I detect some people are frustrated that the hardcore gamers are somehow being forgotten or left behind. They feel outnumbered, and they want the attention to come back to their sector. But they shouldn’t have to worry. Gaming is a Darwinistic industry. The best rises to the top. Just because one type of game is growing, it doesn’t mean that another one has to fall by the wayside. As more gamers come online and more people around the world become gamers, the industry can support more games in the market at any given time.
Yes, we do have a ridiculous number of games in the market. But we shouldn’t have to worry that our type of game is going to disappear. Competition will demand that we as customers should be served, and developers who spot the opportunity to serve a market will do so, regardless of what is hot at the time. We all like a certain kind of game, and liking it makes us feel like we belong to a group.
If more people become gamers, more people will buy games. Developers will have more money, and they will have the ability to make even better games for the hardcore crowd. That’s why we should welcome new gamers and make them feel at home. Every now and then, a Rockstar game like Grand Theft Auto V will come out and bring the hardcore and the casual together, resulting in a true blockbuster. But that’s a rare event.
To me, we’re all one world of gamers, and we have no reason to look down on one another. We all have different tastes in games, and different reasons to play. I love this idea, and that’s why I love the Sony commercials about gamers in this story’s images. Sometimes in our lives, we can sink dozens of hours into a great game. And some days, it seems like all we have time for is a quick game on a mobile phone. During different parts of our lives, we are different kinds of gamers — all within the same person. At times, I’m a console gamer, a PC gamer, a mobile gamer etc.
We’ve got such a diversity of product, made by a diversity of people. And the more diverse, the better. Hey, maybe it’s never going to feel like The Wonderful World of Disney again, because we have so much tribalism. But gaming is in a good place, and it’s getting better. As a gamer, I embrace all games.
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