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Magiteknight avatar 4:03 PM on 06.18.2012  (server time)
Mass Appeal in Terms of Casual vs. Hardcore

With Electronic Arts' announcement a few days ago that Dead Space 3 would be going for a “broad appeal”, and the title needed to sell five million copies to stay viable and competitive in the market it made me cringe. EA is absolutely mental in thinking that survival horror games, with or without the bastardization of modern gaming habits would sell five million copies. Dead Space 2 was on pace last year to sell roughly three million copies, outsold Dead Space two to one in it's first month, and included an online pass for its less than stellar multiplayer (psst... free money). The game was a true evolution in survival horror for the franchise and improved an already stellar use of atmosphere and classic gameplay mixed with modern technology. Dead Space 3 could have sold five million copies, but of the three million or so folks who bought Dead Space 2, how many does EA think would be interested in Cold Gears of Bro-Fisting War Space?

The issue at the heart of all of these problems with game development is the fact that console wars of yesteryear have been replaced by a new war. A war between game players themselves. With such a huge change in the gaming industry and the introduction of millions of gamers into the fold this current generation who play social games via Facebook and through mobile devices, the term “casual gamer” has come to be associated with the types of games people are playing, not the amount of time invested in games in general. This is the Casual vs. Hardcore war!

This is the underlying problem of the regrouping of casual and hardcore gamers. We've seen an artificial grouping of a population of gamers who are considered casual: who may not even own a console, may never even heard of the IP a developer or publisher are marketing, but are still being factored in to a game's sales expectations and setting goals that are unrealistic. A more drastic problem is the grouping of all “hardcore” gamers into a single category. Game genre's exist for a reason! Survival horror fans will buy survival horror games, shooter fans will eat up Call of Duty, RPG fans will [almost] always buy a Final Fantasy title or Elder Scrolls. These are broad generalizations but consumers who purchase certain types of games will always gravitate towards them based on their preferences. With that said here are just a few recent examples:

“So we have a number of different experiments going on, and [when] we decide that we’ve found the right one of those to really help bring Zelda to a very big audience, then we’ll be happy to announce it.”
-Miyamoto on Zelda Wii U

"Looking at the marketing data [for survival horror games] ... the market is small, compared to the number of units Call of Duty and all those action games sell. A 'survival horror' Resident Evil doesn't seem like it'd be able to sell those kind of numbers."
-Kawata on Resident Evil 6

The homogenization of games has becoming detrimental to individual markets, individual players, and the companies that produce them. Soon we'll be left with nothing but brown/grey blobs of shooters that all play exactly the same, either first person or third person cover shooters with different pallet swaps for players, enemies, environments, and guns. When history looks back at this console generation the leap into photo-realistic gameplay will be synonymous with guns, guns, and more guns. With the addition of crossbows as it's last dying breath of “innovation.”

But there's a glimmer of hope in all the dread, the one genre of game that seems to appeal to the casual and hardcore gamer as the business models, and consumers seem to see how those two terms are defined these days: platformers. Believe it or not New Super Mario Bros. is a hardcore game, Rayman Origins is a hardcore game – these two examples just have mass appeal. Since the 8-bit days of gaming the platformer has been a constant both in terms of design, fun, and appeal. Most folks in the 24-39 range (oh god we're old!) more than likely grew up on platformers like Pitfall, Mario, and Mega Man.

But what makes these titles hardcore? We'll use the Mushroom Kingdom universe as an example (since it's argueably the most recognizable). Let's run down the checklist of things that make the cut in *most* games today which are categorized as hardcore:

Boss Fights – Koopalings & Bowser
Defeating enemies – Goombas, Turtles, Hammer Bros.
Collectables – Coins, Red Coins, Stars
Secret Areas – Star World
Different Weapons/Abilities – Fire Flowers, Tanooki Suit

Nintendo seems to have laid the golden goose with the Mario franchise. One of the main reasons the titles continue to be enjoyable year after year is for one simple reason, they're FUN! Publishers and developers take note, not all games need to be the same, just make them fun. Figuring out what players like in a franchise doesn't rely on making it a muddling mess of the same thing that worked for everyone else. Do what works for you, mass appeal isn't nearly as important as the fans who will continue to buy your titles for what they are. Give Suda 51 a call and ask him how he keeps making games, games that critically are blockbusters but never reach that mass appeal. Success is what you make it, just don't make your success off of trying to be like everyone else. Because when that happens everyone loses.

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