Posts Tagged casual

The Psychic Costs of Today’s Gamer

As much as I love gaming, I’ve noticed my buying habits have taken somewhat of a gradual decline.  I’ve become extremely more sensitive to what I’ll spend my money on.  Up until a few years ago, I had a massive collection of video games.  Seriously, I had a closet packed with boxes full of gaming nostalgia.  Each box dedicated to specific system followed by genre sitting in pristine condition.  But today?  Looking at my collection, I estimate about 30 games across all three major platforms.  That’s still a sizable amount or more than your average casual gamer. But it’s nowhere near the pack rat status I had before.  One day I’m sitting on a quintessential library of video games throughout the generations.  But now I’ve scaled back to the bare minimum.  So what the hell happened?  Despite brief stints of unemployment, social / relationship issues, age, and whatnot; that still doesn’t account for the drop-off in my purchasing habits when life is on the up and up.  

A few months back, renowned author, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote a piece regarding the NBA lockout: the psychic benefits of owning a sports team. Basically, the gist is that most (NBA) owners derive a greater value / pleasure from owning items (in this case, teams) more than what they’re actually worth from a market valuation standpoint.  The whole notion of psychic benefits is to evaluate the level of stress involved when considering a transaction or facing a dilemma.  It’s the reason why stores offer rebates or attractive discounts on extra accessories when you’re contemplating buying that pricey, new laptop.  It’s the reason companies and recruiters offer lucrative signing (or referral) bonuses when scouting new talent.  All of this is to help alleviate the psychic cost (i.e. stress) of the situation.  Naturally, I began to wonder how this would relate to the gaming industry.  And it seems to apply just as well.

Same cost, Diminishing Value
Video game MSRP’s (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) have remained relatively steady throughout the generations.  However, I do believe that the majority of today’s releases are grossly overpriced given the quality of their content, especially for single player games. Granted, the criteria for what qualifies as a $60 game is debatable in itself. What can’t be disputed is the production quality of a game. Case in point, there’s no way in hell a titles such as Hunted: The Demon Forge, Spider-Man: Edge of Time, or even Thor contain the same level of attention and detail as say, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Fortune or even a lesser known gem, El Shaddai.  But I would be more inclined to buying games if they were released at a more reasonable price point.  The problem I face buying games today is twofold:

  1. I feel like I’m overpaying for a half-baked product (see Homefront)
  2. If there’s a generic multiplayer (MP) mode is tacked on, I feel like I’d only get half the value since I’m not a fan MP modes. This is the main reason why I skipped out on the latest released Call of Duty: MW3 & BattleField 3.

This is where the industry is failing.  So much energy and money is dedicated to hyping up AAA titlesm most of which are similar to each other where many of them fall into familiar territory too easily.  It’s no wonder they turn into massive flops (anyone still even playing Brink or Rage).  To me, it’s not worth wasting money on cookie cutter games I’ve already played for the past decade.  My buying influence is furthered weakened when a generic multiplayer mode is needlessly shoehorned in (see Dead Space, Assassin’s Creed, etc).  I’d rather play something that’s a bit more fresh (or shorter). As such, the psychic benefits I used to gain from most games has gradually diminished as a result of all of this.

Lately I’ve come to enjoy bargain bin titles more than many mainstream hits.  They’re short (5-10 hours), relatively simple to pickup and play, and they’re just as fun.  There’s this flawed conception that “cheap” games are bad games.  This is an area where the industry could really make a bigger impact.  These smaller, single player games could yield a larger return with a few tweaks the current model.  Think about it: cheaper production costs would allow developers to explore new ideas / gimmicks in smaller samplings instead of hedging their bets on expensive blockbusters.  Furthermore, it’d free up more capital to actually to market these “standard” titles. Plus, marketing a base of “standard” titles would allow people to move on to other games faster.  It would be even more awesome if these games were initially released digitally, not 3-6 months later when they’re well forgotten. Not to mention, more resources could be delegated to promoting commercially viable games from independent developers. This is another area that the industry continues to fail capitalizing on.  This year alone I’ve spent a fair amount of money and time playing indie titles that could make a commercial impact had the right parties taken notice. I’m not saying the large, AAA hits need to go away.  We still need those; I love those!  But we also need to broaden our focus and recognize what the community outside the majors have to offer.

Peter Pan No More…
Yep, I’m getting older.  The allure of having a mountain of games, midnight game releases, and trumped-up special edition releases just aren’t worth the hassle (or money) as I get older.  I’ll always be a nerdy gamer and I’m glad to help the culture evolve.  But as mentioned above, my priorities are shifting as I slowly become an adult.  There’s a silver lining to be found here in that gaming has transformed from being a mere “kid’s hobby” to a hobby people of all ages enjoy (whether they want to admit it or not) or even productivity applications (see Gamifcation).

I’m pretty confident I’m not alone in sentiments. But the gaming landscape is changing and expanding at an incredible rate.  Casual & mobile games are taking off and console gaming is starting to shrink sales wise.  If the industry wants to stay competitive and retain & grow market demographics, it will need to adjust their brand offerings & pricing model accordingly.  Soon enough you’ll find more gamers such as myself skipping out on even more games and transitioning to more suitable options.

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GamerScore / Trophies: No longer just for bragging rights

During the Q&A session at Major Nelson’s PAX Prime Podcast, someone made a comment that after a certain point maintaining a high gamerscore almost becomes a mundane & thankless task. Oddly, there wasn’t any more discourse on the topic and it was pretty much skirted as a non-issue which I found shocking. These developers put so much effort in broadening the gamer market, that it only makes sense to put an equal amount of effort to maintain that group. To be fair, Major Nelson did say of the 23,000,000 active XBL users, the majority have a mean gamerscore ~20,000-23,000. The real hardcore gamers (like myself) are in the minority. Interestingly enough, there is a huge potential for publishers to take advantage of these numbers. I have a few ideas on this topic but here’s the most prevalent one:

Tiered Discounts Based on GamerScore / Trophies :
Quiet simply, why not provide a slight incentive to keep gamers playing? I know this idea may make a few gaming purist balk since it “cheapens” the gaming experience; but bear with me. Imagine the following:

  • 10,000-25,000 GS receive a 5% on select avatar items, game add-on’s, etc.
  • 50,000 GS receive a 10% on select avatar items, game add-on’s, etc.
  • 75,000 GS receive a 15% on select avatar items, game add-on’s, etc.
  • 100,000 GS receive a 20% on select avatar items, game add-on’s, etc.

Apparently, the bulk of most gamers sit right around 5,000-10,000 GS. The incentive marks could be set just slightly over the mean of each gaming segments (casual, moderate, hardcore, professional, etc.) ensuring only the earnest will be rewarded. This could even translate over to Games on Demand, Zune music, Netflix videos, and Marketplace games / apps. Furthermore, this could also tie into seasonal promotions or events (Superbowl, Playoffs, Elections, etc).

Conversely, the program could even be structured around certain game series. That one is a little fuzzy; but I’m thinking certain avatar items, add-ons’, in-game items can be unlocked or at least given a small discount based on the amount of achievements unlocked in previous titles. Say for example, Cliff Blezinski could provide ardent Gears players discounted modified weapons or maps in Gears of War 3 based on the amount time / achievements from the previous games. That one is a little far-fetched and raises some major game balance issues. But with a little tweaking, it may be a plausible strategy as well.

The possibilities are endless. It’s just a matter of how far the big 3 want to take it creatively. Aside from MS, Sony, and Nintendo, the partnering studios, networks, developers, etc. need their cut. Implementing such an incentive program means someone is going to have to take a cut somewhere. Not to mention, implementing such a program would be an operational nightmare. If such a program did evolve though; I just hope it would be a driving force to enhance the gaming, entertainment experience. I’m a gamer first and foremost. The last thing I’d want is for games to become laden with incentive-driven achievements just for the sake of driving up future sales. And on that note, let’s stop there. I can’t give away all my ideas. 🙂

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