Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How Game Studios Perceive Their Consumers...

Being an avid gamer who is currently working on completing no fewer than eight games, at the moment (yes - ambitious, I know), I am full aware of my tendency to fail to complete a game that I've purchased.  Today, I ran across this article on CNN:

After attempting to finish the article itself, it was so poorly written and supported in its claims, though interesting in its statistics, I found myself feeling somewhat insulted by the belief that shorter games with less engaging story lines are the remedy to unfinished games.  

My initial reaction is to believe that game studios are out of touch with what their consumers want, particularly since they have very easily identified their consumers: the average age of gamers is 37, with the average age of game purchasers being 41.  This being the case, I think that we should reexamine the reasons why this age of people might try to enter the world of gaming.

1.)  Games were originally designed as a form of entertainment and distraction. 

Today, many game markets have moved forward to require so much time that they can overtake life, itself.  I'm not talking about games like Pokemon - though you've "Gotta Catch 'Em All," you can very easily put the game down for a few weeks or months or years, and pick up right where you left off.  I am talking instead of real-time games that require constant attention in order to maintain a positive experience.  

Take, for example, a simple children's game, Animal Crossing.  The most recent iteration of this game for the Wii was a massive step forward, in terms of the interface, and had many of the hallmarks of games geared toward the obsessive compulsive - a game designed around collecting objects, items, and fish, and the ability to endlessly customize the world around you with different types of plants, flowers, insects, houses, furniture, paintings, clothing, and...Jesus Christ...that's just too much many options.  On its face, this is just good business.  What better way to ensure repeated gaming experience than to offer endless play?

But then, there is the interactive feature.  Animal Crossing City Folk was offered with the Wii Speak accessory, which allowed players the ability to contact another person playing the game at the same time to visit their city, during which time they could speak with them in real time.  Great.  Just what any parent wants for their kids.  Given that the average age of gamers is 37, the likelihood that you're going to find someone under the age of 18 to chat with while touring their city is slim to none (I found no one who was under 25), leaving unattended children able to freely connect with any creepy adult.  Ugh.

In addition, in order to obtain everything, you must constantly attend to your game, checking in at least weekly, if not daily, to see what new things are available.  Every holiday in imagination has its own special events with special prizes and insects and contests and add-ons.  The game operates off a real-time clock set inside your Wii, which you CAN change to affect the game play, but at that point, is it really worth it?  The amount of time required to "complete" the game is never ending, and frankly, the gameplay and rewards just aren't worth it.

Once one peels back this very thin veneer of good business, there is a far more insidious product underneath the surface.  The game has its own form of currency - Bells - which one collects and exchanges for many of these upgrades to their house and home.  Consumerism at its best!  In fact, much of this game is predicated around a very consumer-driven concept of happiness.  The commercials for this game were very clear that there are no children playing this game, showing grown women playing the game together, either in person or via Wii Speak, talking about what new items to buy in the boutique.  Great.  Not only is it consumerist propaganda, but it's sexist, as well?  

Ultimately, Animal Crossing: City Folk has about as much staying power and long-lasting appeal as a Calorie Counter website.  Unless you're truly dedicated, updating it just isn't worth the effort.

2.)  The online gaming experience, outside of simple games, just isn't a good replacement for real life.  

We've all seen the fantastic video wherein the irate teenager freaks out when he finds out his World of Warcraft account has been canceled.  Whether the video is real or fake, it presents an interesting perspective on the negative repercussions that social gaming can have on one's life.  If I have one more person tell me that they've got to "water their crops" on Farmville, I might punch them in the face.

REALLY?  You're at work!  Take a freakin' break!  These are the game players for whom video game companies have a massive fetish.  They are easily manipulated into repeating a simple experience over and over again, so long as their friends are doing so with them.  These are the people for whom The Sims was an addiction, because it so clearly mirrored an idealized form of daily life.

Which I understand the appeal of sim games, I have yet to have the time or sustained interest to "finish" one of them.  There is, in fact, no finish to be had other than to throw one's hands up in frustration and walk away.

(To Be Continued...)