|Imagine that for five years
the majority of films were made for a select and highly sophisticated audience. An
audience versed in the history of cinema and able to, at a glance, discern a variety of
influences. Imagine if almost every book published for five years was aimed at the most
literate and critically aware individuals. I contend that that has been the state of
computer games from say 1996 to 2001, and we are currently in the last days of the golden
the most popular games of the last five years, you notice that most contain an amazing
level of complexity. All of the top RPGs and RTS titles have steep learning curves and
demand immersive play spending twenty minutes on Planescape: Torment or Age of
Empires doesnt yield much. Games like Unreal: Tournament were made strictly for
online play and hence require a certain degree of sophistication and an understanding of
online etiquette. Many games have deep storylines and nobody could say that Black and
White was designed with a casual gamer in mind.
it is the casual gamer who will, in the coming years, dominate computer games. At E3, the
casual gamer seemed to be on everyones mind. This type of player, according to
market research, isnt interested in significant levels of complexity. He wants to
play from twenty to thirty minutes at a stretch. He wants to be able to be able to play at
anytime without having to remember where he was at or what he was doing. According to all
of the sources I talked to, the casual game market is untapped and huge. (A good example
of this sort of game is the high selling but critically ignored Deer Hunter series.) The
definition of the casual gamer has been, I believe, derived from the console game market
and it will now be imposed on the computer.
How do I know this? Most of the games showing at E3 that will be
released either this year or Q1 of the next began development in the heydays of 1998/99.
Therefore, many of these Arcanum, Warcraft III, Torn, etc follow up on the
type of success forged there. They are complex, immersive, and ask a great deal from
players. However, it is clear that certain concessions to the casual gamer have entered
the development cycle. Arcanum players have the ability to select character types, which
allow the computer to handle the entire RPG/character screen portion of the game. In other
words, play Arcanum, select a Dark Mage archetype, and the game itself will allocate
points for attributes, pick spells, and determine specializations. Where character
creation and development has usually been a huge and important part of RPGs, the casual
gamer, desiring the quick thrill of the sitcom, has not the time or inclination for such
Future RPG titles like Star Wars: Knights of the Old
Republic have truncated storylines and the developers specifically told me that they want
to capitalize on the casual gamer market.
ascendancy of the casual gamer does have a few roadblocks. One thing that helped the
unusual quality of games for the last several years is that they must be installed. I can
remember playing doom and having to dig through my autoexec.bat and config.sys files
before getting it to work. Though most games have easier installs today, a player must
have a certain amount of computer experience and skill, especially when something goes
wrong. Also, a player must be able to maintain his machine and manage disk space as most
games are so large that a few will fill most hard drives. All of this means that somebody
must be competent and confident with a computer, willing to spend to the sometime
god-awful amounts of time necessary to various tasks such as reformatting a hard
like Deer Hunter appeals to a different type of gamer entirely. Id say that the
console is the perfect platform for casual gamers. For installation, one just pops in a
cartridge. Additionally, the console sits in the living room. They are played on the
television set. Computers tend to be shunted off to bedrooms and offices. As a result, the
console has a degree of socialability about it. Console games can and often are played in
groups. Computer games are not. Even playing online, one is often physically alone. As you
are alone on the computer, you can achieve a higher degree of immersion, like reading a
book, while a console has more of a party feel.
These factors have helped created the computer games of the
last several years and will also, hopefully, contribute to their continued sophistication
and complexity. Obviously Im advocating a certain type of play and would like to see
computer games moving away from rather then towards console-style play. The diversity
between the two systems is healthy. To keep that diversity, console and computer games
should become less like each other, each playing to their strengths and core markets.
Am I saying
that games like Deer Hunter dont have their place? No. They provide a certain type
of experience enjoyed by many. However, Deer Hunter cant be compared to
Baldurs Gate in any meaningful way. One is meant to be played for an hour. The other
for one hundred. One is a pleasant diversion. The other an epic story. One is, to be
frank, mediocre and bland. The other rich in complexity and variety. As the casual gamer
becomes the focus of the computer game industry and concessions to the casual gamer are
made, expect higher levels of mediocrity in the best games.
And when I say that the golden age of gaming is over, am I
for-sure correct? No. Thats the way of prognostication and prophecy. At E3 the meme
of the casual gamer was on many peoples lips and minds. I saw a whole load of
Hollywood types people who "dont even play games" but love the one
they are funding, people who would be selling Girl Scout cookies if the return on
investment was high enough and that makes me sure that money in computer games, now
of multi-billion dollar industry, has begun to attract more of the wrong type of people.
Expect gaming to become more like filmmaking and publishing where whatever will appeal and
not offend the most is best.
Maybe the sky isnt falling. Maybe Im
overreacting. But it is a strange business where Interplay can advertise itself as being
by gamers/for gamers and on the basis of their games we actually believe them. I think the
times are a changing though and expect the quality of titles in every genre to decrease
over the next few years. There will be great games, like there are always a few great
films every year, but well be wading through more dreck getting to them.