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Console or Casual – Who are the Real Gamers?

Mark Stephens

Who are the “real” gamers? It’s a bit like the question about what makes a “real” man? It depends who you ask and when you ask it…and how much you pay them to give you the answer you want to hear!

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Perceptions change: twenty-five years ago “real gamers” were perhaps using a Sega Mega Drive and playing Super Mario Bros 2 for hours on end. There wasn’t that much choice then.

But ten or fifteen years ago were they playing Tomb Raider 3 on the PS or using their PC to play Warcraft or SimCity?

And this year are the real gamers playing Candy Crush and Farmville on their iPads? Or are they clinging madly to their PS4 or Xbox 360 and queuing up overnight in blizzards to be the first to buy the new release of their favourite game?

More Ways to Enjoy Games

There is still a perception amongst some in the gaming community that casual gaming is not “real” gaming.

That’s fine, but it’s a bit like a movie buff who enjoys watching independent Iranian films claiming that Hollywood does not make “real” movies. Hollywood movies attract the stars and enormous popularity, and also pack a mean punch, even though they might not be as well scripted or have a great story line.

Games are entertainment and there is no reason to be “precious” about which type of games you play. I don’t recall board-game fanatics getting all precious when the first consoles came along and started promoting electronic games; it was simply another way to enjoy games, wasn’t it?

And isn’t that what the recent rise of social and casual games is – just another way to enjoy games? So a “holier than thou” attitude about being the “real” gamers is a little unnecessary.

A View from a Developer

“I’m not predicting the death of consoles, as a lot of peers are doing, but I do believe that the growth is happening in other markets.”

Patrick Liu, creative director of Rovio Stockholm, used to be at game developer Dice, making games for consoles. He moved to the social game developer Rovio (responsible for Angry Birds, you may recall) and he is not alone; as the two gaming worlds move closer together more developers are crossing over to the social side!

It’s no secret that casual digital gaming (and especially mobile) is the fastest growing area of the games industry, while console gaming has flattened out in recent years.

He was interviewed by Games Industry International last year and it’s interesting to hear the views of someone who played key roles on both sides of the gaming industry divide. Firstly, consoles:

“I’m not predicting the death of consoles, as a lot of peers are doing, but I do believe that the growth is happening in other markets. I still think that there’s enough demand to see AAA consoles continuing, it’s just not going to grow as much. I think the console makers realise that and that’s why they’re concentrating more on other stuff like TV, so they become more relevant as machines. Mobile and PC do so much else and people only have so much money to invest. So they have to remain relevant, but that upsets the core gamers. It’s a dilemma.”

Core gamers – these must be the “real gamers” we were searching for earlier! So what does he think about the “holier than thou” attitude of some console gamers and investors?

“Even amongst veterans there’s still an attitude that mobile and casual games are not really games.”

He goes on to say:
“I think that’s a problem for the industry, to not admit that they’re real games. It makes an elitist group saying ‘oh, we are the real gamers, we make real games.’ That’s really concerns me – we could kill this industry if we don’t get more inclusive.We have a new generation of gamers coming in that are learning and growing up with the current IPs and we need to teach them, I think it’s our responsibility as developers to show them all the other stuff we’ve been making for 25 years to see what they’ve got to look forward to.”

Strong words. Fighting against the social and casual gaming wave does seem rather counter-productive for the hardcore gaming market; Sony and Microsoft seem to agree, with big developments in the latest consoles with more social features.

Working together, as Patrick Liu suggests, is certainly the future for both sides of the gaming industry – and it could be an exciting one if the best of console gaming meets the best of social gaming.