Almost ten years ago I was hanging out with some non-game industry friends and we were playing Buzz! – a well known quiz game at the time. I wasn’t working in the games industry yet, but I was well into writing my Masters thesis on MMORPGs, if not completely finished. I was blogging about games here and I was a contributing writer on two other games blogs. I was giving lectures on games and I was constantly procrastinating reading about games. So my friends cunningly tried to avoid the “Video Games” category in the game feeling fairly confident that I would beat their asses without breaking a sweat. Eventually one poor sod had to go up against me. And you know what? I couldn’t get a single answer right. Not one! I didn’t recognize any of the games that were mentioned and I remember the room becoming eerily quiet. My friends were awkwardly embarrassed for me and I was stunned. The only games that were mentioned were kids games that were associated with kids movies. I had no clue about any of them. I didn’t have kids, none of the games blogs I was reading at the time had even mentioned any of these.
Discussing the awesomeness of Firewatch to the a room who hadn’t even heard of it
I think this is one of the first times I really understood how segmented this industry is. And now that I’m in the industry I’m constantly disappointed with the lack of knowledge of indie games when I meet gamers. Last year I was in a panel discussing something about games, I forget the theme, but after the panel had been discussing Firewatch passionately for 10 minutes, I asked the audience who had played or even heard of Firewatch. One person raised his hand acknowledging that he had heard of the game (this may be a slight exaggeration but it was dramatic). We were in a room full of people who play games with a passion.
I remember feeling a bit saddened by this. How can we discuss the awesomeness of games when the general public has only played 1% of them (totally a made up statistic by me)? The value of us discussing it to this crowd is that they probably went home and looked it up after. But it seems too small to me!
With so many indie games struggling to reach profitability and yet the number of gamers seems to be increasing, I wonder if there is something more that we can do to remind the average game consumer that there’s a rich variety of amazing games out there.
From the inside of the industry it certainly feels like the platforms and consoles are doing their best to promote games and they always make sure to bring indie game titles to their shows and more. I think that’s brilliant. But a friend of mine, who recently left the games industry to work for a young and hip internet company called me one day and said with amazement “Linn! These guys haven’t even HEARD of Steam!”.
Defining and reaching a broader market
This has to mean that there’s an untapped market out there, right? How do we tap into that? Here are three of my thoughts on the topic:
- A marketing campaign for games in general.
I sometimes feel like the world of video games is an exclusive club and it’s
dangerous to tell others about its wonders and gorgeousness. I guess we’ve just been through a scandelous time because of it. I believe that reaching new markets will take some capital investment. Whilst the industry recognizes that it’s the games from the independent game studios that are pushing the boundaries and coming up with new creative gameplay expressions, more often than not, these studios will not have the funds to market to new audiences. Even if they’re signed with a publisher, I believe the marketing budget is targeted at the audiences that they know.
So I’m wondering if we should gang together and create a campaign to spread the incredible diverse array of games that are out there? I have no idea what it would look like and where to target such a campaign. But I wonder if it would be worth some time and effort to look into what we can do?
- More visibility in mainstream media.
This is half the reason why I’m so intent on getting more articles about games into women’s mainstream media and magazines. I want games to be more accessible. I certainly don’t want anybody to feel like they don’t have the skills to play games. There will always be room for specialized media for games that has the knowledge and experience to cater to devoted gamers. I would like to expand our reach to more mainstream media as well, but to do this we need to find another form of rhetoric other than consumer journalism. The work that Spillpikene (Norwegian group of women writing about games) has done on this issue is really impressive and should definitely be considered an example.
I keep having the same discussion with with people in the games industry and journalists. All of us agree, but we never seem to be getting anywhere. Particularly on my end of things. I keep wanting to start things but never truly following through.
I’m very impressed with what Brie Code is doing by designing games for non-gamers. I love the attitude and vision of her work. But I also genuinely believe that there are so many undiscovered games out there which the sceptics, the ones who think gaming is a waste of time and boring, would love.
In search of the right rhetoric, I’m currently working on curating a talk for people who’ve always been curious about games – but have yet to understand their appeal. First I’m organizing a dinner with a bunch of local business women I’ve met on my journeys that are keen to get engaged with games, but have yet to understand their appeal. We’ll see where it goes from there.
- Festival/Award/ – Sundance/Cannes for games
I know what you’re thinking! Not another one, right? We’re all already constantly exhausted and jetlagged because of all the trade shows for games! Yeah …. I almost didn’t put this here. It’s just when I think of the films industry I’m not so knowledgable. Sure … I’ve picked up a thing or two from our local film festival and I’ve been a member of a film club or two through my life time, but I’m not one of those that actively seeks out indie films on iTunes or something. I think of myself as a mainstream consumer of film. But when I see the words “Sundance” or “Cannes” on the film – I instantly think that it may be worth my while. I think BAFTA has done some great work there and many many others. But I’m not finding it hitting home among mainstream consumers yet.
Clearly – I don’t have the answers. But I would like to contribute to the conversation and this is my start of that.
Thanks for a great writeup! Yes, we need more people playing games.
I think that on one side we see more and more approachable casual games that appeal to people who would not usually define themselves as gamers. And on the other side I think some people start with casual gaming and level up into more serious gaming. Like if somebody installed steam just to play a mainstream casual game and they would later explore the shop a bit and find even more interesting, indie games. So, there’s progress I hope.
I also think that your story about Firewatch being unknown to most gamers is a symptom of a real issue. I had no idea about Firewatch until people kept mentioning the game on programmer podcasts from time to time. Gamers often stick to the mainstream games like Overwatch, Battlefield, Heroes of the Storm etc.. And they stay there. Why try other games if you can have good fun with friends right away? Also, it might be hard dive into indie gaming if you already feel like you have a backlog of AAA titles that you would like to play (like I think about now and then).
Anyhow. Cheers to more games and more gamers. :)
Thanks for your thoughts, Nils!
Hi Linn! Have you heard of GameCurious? You might be interested in what they are doing in Toronto. http://handeyesociety.com/game-curious/
Thanks for sharing this Brie! This is amazing!
I saw this from Nils’ LinkedIn profile, so I decided to write some of my thoughts.
I think that Nils has stumbled on an overarching problem. Triple-A games are by necessity very broad games with extremely broad appeal. And that’s great, mind you. But if we want games in general to be even broader, we end up with less variation, less diversity, less cool new ideas, and so on.
Sometimes I wonder if these (perfectly reasonable, to be sure) questions threaten a bit of the diversity in the gaming space. Some games have smaller but dedicated audiences, and games such as Europa Universalis would lose a lot of its charm if it wanted to broaden the playerbase.
I say that Firewatch should be free to be Firewatch, and Europa Universalis should be free to be EU. And you can have Shantae when you pry it from my cold dead hands. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pr_dtRgC144 You either platform correctly, or you DIE. Ingloriously.)
The sheer breadth of games experiences ensures that there’s something for everyone. If we only go by appeal we get Clash of Clans, Bejeweled and Call of Duty clones. (And of course a few MOBAs.)
In other words, I don’t think that we need to broaden any appeals. I think that more effective communication (as you pointed out) would make more people play games. On the other hand, if you look at the younger generations, this appears to be a self correcting problem. Every kid loves to play MarioKart.
This was really interesting to read!
And I think you’re touching on some really important points here. I see a trend in what kind of games my female friends play, based on how often they play games and for how long they’ve been gamers. Girls I know that spend a lot of their time gaming basically drift towards the same kind of games that buddies of mine do: LoL, WoW, Fortnite, Rocket League etc. These are games that take a lot of time and dedication to learn and get good at, and also market themselves to people who “know the language of games”. Girls I know that play more casually often end up playing games like easy-to-get-into mobile games, guitar hero, quiz-games, The Sims etc. These aren’t necessarily easier games to play or master, but they’re easier to get into.
What this tells me is that it’s not as much how difficult the game is, how approachable the theme is, or even how well the game is advertised to women. But more how easy the game is to get into for someone who weren’t encouraged by their peers to get into more and more complex games at a younger age. Because understanding why a game like Dark Souls is fun takes a bigger understanding of the genre. The game takes the gamer’s knowledge of many tropes and mechanics for granted. While a game like Guitar Hero, which is (in my oppinion at least) just as difficult to master, doesn’t require any previous knowledge of games to get into.
To me, this is very encouraging, because this means that you don’t have to be generic or do something safe and boring to reach new players. It’s actually better to do something new. Because once you rely on a player’s “gaming litteracy”, you actually miss out on a big chunk of your potential audience.
To make the same comparison to the world of film like you did, it’s hard for someone who’ve never seen a Marvel-film to get into Avengers: Endgame. But that doesn’t mean that those same people aren’t interested in film, or in fiction, or even super heroes. They just need the opportunity to watch a movie about super heroes where you don’t need to know anything about super heroes to understand what’s going on. And you can make that movie and still make it complex, have a great story, great characters and the wildest super hero powers imaginable.
So in conclusion; I think game designers have to take “gaming litteracy” into consideration when making games for “non-gamers”. If they want to reach the huge potential audience out there, marketing isn’t enough. They also have to make something that audience will understand. It’s easy for someone who’ve played games all their life to understand that red barrels go boom, A/X is jump, potions heal etc. But for someone who’s now discovering the amazing world of games it’s easy to feel alienated and/or overwhelmed if all those things are expected to be “common knowledge”.