It aches me — it pains me — it makes me weep to see them go.
You will return, won’t you?
I hope in vain.
Or at least write and tell me how you are?
Not even a murmur.
Life is filled with heartache, but of all the crushes in my life none are more worthy to impress than the audience that fell out of love with videogames.
The videogame industry grows in size each year, and that’s amazing considering the size of the hole in its heart. Every year a generation of videogame players graduates from the system — out into the real world — never to return.
Most of the people in my life are these people. Videogames are not part of their lives anymore.
These are not people who did not grow up on videogames and don’t “get” them.
These people are not my mom.
These people are my brother, wife and best friend. These people grew up playing Mortal Kombat, Mega Man, Dragon Warrior and Resident Evil. The modern definition of “hardcore gamers” from a previous era.
Videogames were an entertainment staple for them. They were part of the core that supported the industry — they were part of its heart. They used to love videogames.
But now they don’t care.
Apathy and an aching heart.
The truth is that the videogame market is limited in a significant way. It’s limited because for a very large number of people the appeal does not extend into adulthood.
I have no time.
They are no longer interesting.
Ah, but what about the emergence of social and casual games? This audience you speak of plays those games, right?
I have noticed that they very, very rarely do. BUT let us be clear about something:
For the most part, people turn to “casual game” experiences while they are in-between other activities. Playing these games is not their true goal, but rather a filler activity, a time killer, a glorified substitute for plain-old waiting. Their prominence is the result of technology making people feel unfulfilled if they aren’t doing something. These games pack achievement on top of achievement to satisfy the 21st century brain’s obsession with “accomplishing” something every non-scheduled minute.
They are not chosen for their entertainment value.
This very large group of people, of whom belongs almost every non-industry person I know, is starved for entertainment. They consume a buffet of movies, TV shows, books, manga, music and theatre.
But not games.
The key to fixing this ailing heart is not to fret about the let blood, but to stop the bloodletting. We need to make experiences for those who are on the verge of falling out of love with videogames. We need to create a wide enough array of videogames to lead these people from childhood into adulthood and beyond.
Perhaps once there are enough viable videogame choices the portion of the audience that left long ago will consider returning.
Like most admirers from afar, I believe there is always hope we will be together.
So, if you are like me and you and are still interested in dating these beautiful people there are some things you should know.
First, current videogames are too long for them. Way too damn long. We must create shorter games. Much, much shorter games. Heavy Rain is too long. Two to four hours is an amount of time these adults may be able to find each week. They have very little time!
Second, they want to play videogames that are about things different than killing, winning, planning, strategizing and managing. They need to be about other things — anything else. They have already played dozens of games about those things. They are bored of them. Be more emotional and less cerebral. Consider making games about the relationships between characters more than the relationships between systems.
Third, sequels and new technology entertain this audience for about fifteen minutes (actual entertainment time not guaranteed). They crave content. If a sequel has the same characters and gameplay but a great new engine then they will say, “Ah, I get it. I did this already. Thanks but no thanks.” Give them new content over and over again.
Fourth, they think gamey gaminess is tacky — points, levels, objectives, side quests, trophies, and so on. These people already have enough things they have to do — they are not looking for another to-do list to hang on their fridge. They also don’t want to have to be a master to finish the game because that takes too much time. They have very little time! Accomplishing things that do not matter in real life does not make these people feel better about themselves — they still have to mow the lawn and pay their mortgage.
Fifth, the production needs to be big. Your game needs to shower, groom and wear its best suit. Then it must take the audience out for the finest videogame dining experience money can buy. You don’t want these people to be embarrassed by you! For all the interesting activity that happens on the fringe of the industry, it is the big production that will garner attention and retain these eyeballs year after year. The low-budget and obscure alone will not satisfy their discerning tastes.
I don’t expect a sudden change of heart towards these eternally neglected people, but step by step we will reach them — we will fill this hole.
Once the bleeding stops, and with regular exercise, I’m sure we will all be amazed at how big this heart can grow.
(Publishers read: there will be ridiculous amounts of money.)
And to those of you who have already left, know that even though it has been a very long time since we last met, I have not forgotten you. It may be true that you have fallen out of love with videogames, but it is also true that I have not fallen out of love with you.
There is still hope that we will be together again.