The Law of Averages
I read with interest the other day that the average video gamer is currently around 30 -35 years old, a number that looks set to rise over the next few years. However, if you were to read the pages and/or comments sections of any number of gaming websites it would appear that this older demographic is becoming more and more cynical toward and distrustful of the games industry with each passing month whereas, by stark comparison, the younger generation of gamers are lapping it up.
For every unfinished, broken game that’s launched, for every popular franchise where the single player campaign was once held as king and is now replaced by online-centric gameplay, (even cutting out the single payer element altogether in some instances), for every cynical piece of crap AAA publishers try to force upon its audience in the name of “expanding the experience”, (when in truth it’s about making as much bread as humanly possible off a bad product), there are cries of outrage and disgust from this older demographic at an industry they feel no longer listens too or represents them. As Jim Sterling said “The AAA games industry focus tests its games with small groups of 12 year old boys and bases its decision off that instead of real opinion”. Looking at the AAA game industry’s current yearly output and the way in which it markets said games to the masses – ie predominantly toward teenagers & younger children who are easily wooed by multi-million marketing campaigns and whose parents have plenty of disposable income to chuck about – it doesn’t take a leap of faith to agree with Sterling. With that in mind then arguably as the 30-somethings move on, having grown tired of an industry that no longer represents them, the average age of the modern video gamer will, in fact, fall not rise?
Video gamers possibly becoming younger over the next few years, not older as the report claimed, is a train of thought that is compounded further by the popular gaming press. Those gamers that grew up in the latter part of the Playstation generation and who are now in their early-to-late 20’s, now make up the brunt of the gaming press and who, for the most part, do not represent older gamers views and opinions. Visit any of the big gaming sites and witness how such ‘journalists’ typically sneer at old-school gaming genres enjoyed by anyone over the age of 35 while droning on endlessly about the emergent gameplay of online shooters such as Destiny, or how being sat on ones couch with friends huddled around a local multi-player game is ‘so last-last gen’ and that online gaming is ultimately where it’s at – even though the vast majority of online opponents are foul mouthed, pre-pubescent cyber thugs who will do anything to ‘win’ as opposed to enjoying the thrill of friendly competition. If the games industry is truly maturing and more keenly recognised as an adult pastime as opposed to a children’s hobby then that representation sure as hell isn’t happening online; the very place the AAA side of the industry is pouring many of its millions of dollars and resources in to.
I suppose the reality is that we, the older gamer, have grown and matured while the AAA games industry simply has not; stuck in an endless time loop where as much as it may like to pretend it’s all ‘grown up’ it’s an industry whose foundations are built on children’s entertainment and as far as some are concerned should only be enjoyed by the younger generation, not grown men and women. Arguably the very people who pigeon-hole video games as nothing more than a children’s hobby are, at least in some respects, actually right? As I become older myself I find it more difficult to find a video game I can really sink my teeth into or that appeals to my more adult mindset. The likes of GTA may purport to being for adults, but the reality, with it’s over the top uber-violence, bad comedy, B-movie script and gangland clichés, is that it’s really aimed at teenagers who still snigger at swear words. GTAV may be a technical marvel, but beneath the visual grandeur it’s still just a collection of fart jokes and blood thirsty movie shoot outs marketed toward 15 years old boys. Not to say GTAV isn’t a lot of fun, but lets not pretend it’s something it clearly is not – a video game for mature adults only. An accusation that can comfortably be directed at a lot of other games and franchises that masquerade as adult entertainment.
But, like Jim Sterling, this is the AAA games industry I’m talking about here, not the industry as a whole. Aim your sites toward the middle-market publishing houses and those smaller studios that make up the meat of the independent scene and it’s a whole different ball game. Yes there are games that are solely marketed for children and teens, (nothing wrong with that, that’s not the point here), and yes there are some unscrupulous indie studios out to rip-off consumers as much, if not worse, than the big boys. Nevertheless, there are equally as many of these smaller publishers & developers who pander to a demographic of gamers that the AAA side of the industry, whether by accident or on purpose, seem intent on pushing to one side: Yes, the 30-somethings. And my word are theses studios raking in the dollars. Why? Because they’re listening to their audience; an audience that have quite a bit of disposable income to burn up on a regular basis. In fact the rise in popularity of games from smaller studios amongst much older gamers has made some of the larger publishers sit up and take notice.
Take French developers DontNod Entertainment, a studio that has seen its projects backed by Capcom, (Remember Me), and Square-Enix (Life is Strange). The latter of these two games received critical acclaim for its story, characterisation and art direction while being everything that this 40-something looks for in a video game. It may not have made the top ten for any lengthy period of time, but in a world of cookie-cutter, me2, and yearly franchises whose content has been purposely cut up to then be sold back to consumers to “expand the experience” (yes what bollocks that is), Life is Strange was a breath of fresh air. The delicious irony being that as a video game aimed squarely at adults who grew up watching Twin Peaks it was also a game that centred on teenage-angst and the difficult transition we all experience from young person to mature adult, and Life is Strange pursued this course admirably. GTAV never did that. It was too busy telling fart jokes in a hail of bullets and explosions.
It’s clear that the middle-ware/independent games industry knows it’s audience and unlike the AAA industry isn’t so pretentious as to tell gamers what they should or shouldn’t be playing. The AAA industry may have decided that turn-based-combat RPGs are arcahic, (even though the huge popularity of Bravely Default for the 3DS with its turn-based-combat says completely otherwise) or that proper stealth titles such as Styx:Master of Shadows are considered ‘dated’ by the modern gaming press when compared to the horrendously conceived Batmobile “stealth sections” found in Batman: Arkham Knight, or that survival horror is no-longer en-vogue even though the continued success of REmake HD,( along with games such as Soma, Layers of Fear, P.T, Amnesia: The Dark Decent and a whole bevy of other horror titles), pisses on that belief one has to wonder what is it the AAA industry is actually trying to achieve? For my money I believe the AAA industry is surreptitiously attempting to lower the average age of the video gamer, not raise it. And the reason? Because kids and teenagers will swallow these company’s collective bullshit and badger mum & dad into coughing up the readies for half finished products, whereas perhaps the older, more discerning gamer isn’t so easily convinced into believing that extra £50 worth of content is for the benefit of “expanding the experience”.
Yes I’m an older gamer, but many of my peers don’t play video games at all, and if they ever did it’s no longer something they engage in. Their children do play video games, though, as do my own, quite a bit as it happens….Just saying.