The State of Gaming


By Matthew Conley. Published April 25, 2011.

It seems so strange. As little as five to six years ago, the term “gamer” defined a predominately male, teenaged population that invested with the Big Three (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo), commonly purchasing titles from popular series, such as Final Fantasy, Halo, Metal Gear Solid, Mario, and a massively diverse list of other archaic standbys that made the gaming world what it is today. These classics defined gaming; they brought new and wonderful stories, action, and characters into the plot and most individuals that called themselves “gamers” at least had some shred of knowledge about the major titles.

With the advent of the Nintendo Wii, however, the face of gaming changed. A proponent of “the people’s system,” the Wii revolutionized the gaming world. Few could’ve seen it coming in the way it did. Instantly a massive success, the Wii went on to dominate the gaming system market for years, hardly even stopping to scoff at Microsoft’s Xbox 360 or Sony’s Playstation 3. People sought after this small, white, highly desirable machine on a nearly frantic scale, almost going so far as to bid for it on eBay at ridiculous prices (then again, the same thing happened with the 360’s release in 2005). This did not spell the doom for the other two companies associated within the Big Three; Microsoft and Sony continued to make decent sales and produced quality games as per usual.

Something else, however, arose from the Nintendo Wii’s debut. The population of gaming changed. The demographic went from a predominately teenaged male dominated environment to an equally distributed male and female population that now encompassed a variety of age groups (Gamespot.com). How could have one console, one tiny machine changed an entire group of millions of individuals? Was it the fact that the Wii simply offered motion control over the standard gaming controller used by other companies? Could this simple idea have created this much change within the world?

Surprisingly enough, it seems that the Wii’s use of a motion peripheral over the classic gaming controller, along with a great deal of social games offered at release and beyond, created the demand for a different audience. Why play Halo with your friend when you can grab your family and get a good round of Wii Bowling underway? It seems reasonable enough. The market opened to a much larger group of people. Nintendo made a brilliant move and certainly capitalized on the great deal of money they brought in. Today, though, gaming has changed once more. Social games, such as Farmville and City of Wonder, make millions through the use of the social networking site Facebook. Despite their simple appearance, these games attract an innumerable number of individuals, from the teenaged boy to the middle aged mother, to their flock.

But what does this mean for gaming? Do all of these individuals now call themselves gamers? Has the very term of a “gamer” changed? I suppose that’s the ultimate question. The realm of gaming seems divided into several territories: “Casual Gamers,” “Mobile Gamers,” and “Hardcore Gamers.” The “Casual Gamer” makes a name for himself through his spectacular Wii boxing exploits, Rock Band scores, and the size of his city in City of Wonder; the “Mobile Gamer,” a declining population, relies solely on his ability to succeed through the use of systems like the Nintendo 3DS or the Sony PSP; the “Hardcore Gamer” purchases needed upgrades for her PC or loyally follows the next console release in order to experience the best and the most difficult of games offered by her favorite company. This disparity between groups seems staggering. Could one system offering motion control truly have made such a difference within the gaming community?

Look at the evidence. Not too long ago, Sony announced that it began work on its very own motion peripheral, the Playstation Move, a remarkable device that resembled a microphone with a light on top. This idea clearly borrowed from the Wii and its motion controller. Eventually, Microsoft, too, announced that it toiled on a brand new motion system. Entitled the “Kinect” by its developers, this motion system threw away the controller altogether. The users would only need themselves. The entirety of the Big Three now have motion systems, all because of the Wii’s gargantuan success. Gaming no longer has the same face as it did just six years ago. Hardcore gamers do not make up the sole majority of the population anymore. Companies work to release more motion control games on all of the systems, even bringing series giants such as Star Wars into this casual realm.

It’s reasonable, I suppose. There’s money in the casual gaming world. The fact that 170 million people in the United State, alone, now play video games lends credence to that idea. What could this mean for the hardcore? Perhaps companies will continue their course, some staying loyal to the traditional idea of gaming while others deviate from this routine. But in the end, how can many companies resist the temptation to easily make millions of dollars with the creation of a social game? I worry about the inevitable world of gaming. Video games comprised my childhood. I love the idea that more people became interested in the idea that video games weren’t just a place for the faithful to jump into for hours on end.

As it looks, though, the State of Gaming has changed. No longer do the hardcore reign supreme. Instead, they make up a third of the gaming audience (Gamespot.com), with one third declining (mobile gaming), and another third (casual gaming) rising with increasing intensity. Could this spell the slow end to the hardcore gamer?