The Gamification of America, Part 1
One of the moms in my son’s Boy Scout Troop happens to be an adjunct professor at the USC Institute of Multimedia Literacy, and last week she invited me to speak to her Mobile Applications Design class about anything I wanted. I pulled together some topics from pervious talks I had given and chose what I thought was a dramatic title: The Gamification of America. Here are some excerpts from my talk.
What makes this image of an elderly couple playing a video game so funny? Partly, it’s because we’re watching them from the perspective of the video game. But mostly, it’s because it defies our expectations. We tend to think of videogamers as teenagers, especially teenage boys. However, our expectations are not the reality.
According to a survey conducted by the ESRB in 2010, gamers aren’t necessarily teenage boys (40% of all gamers are female), they aren’t even necessarily teenagers. In fact, only 25% of gamers are under the age of 18, while slightly more (26%) are over the age of 50. So, the image of the two elderly gamers above is as close the truth than would be the image of two teenage boys playing games.
Now, when I first started making games in the 1980’s, games were made by computer hobbyists, games were sold in computer hobbyist stores, and games were played by computer hobbyists. However, as the game industry grew, large publishers such as Activision and Electronic Arts formed, and games were marketed to the teenage boys who previously played pinball and arcade games in America’s arcade parlors. Game development became more sophisticated, with larger teams and higher production values, and so did game distribution, which penetrated big-name retail chains like Toys R Us and Walmart.
I would sum up the trends I saw during my first 25 years in the game industry as follows:
- Big market (AAA) titles increasingly dominate game sales and settle into a small number of well-defined game genres
- Team size, budgets and retail price grow larger and larger
- Games sold in “brick and mortar” stores — originally just in “mom and pop” computer hobbyist stores and then increasingly in big retailers like Walmart
- PC game market gets eclipsed by console game market
- Games played either in family room or in console game market
- Games mostly played by “hardcore gamers” (teenage boys)
- Blending of big market (AAA) titles alongside smaller market (AA) titles
- Indie and small development teams continue to rise
- Mobile market continues to grow
- Digital distribution has been a viable source for purchasing games for years and shows no sign of slowing
- You now must be logged in to play games, although the games may be free-to-play
- Games being played by everyone, everywhere, all the time
However, about a decade ago, several technological changes took place and began to reverse these trends. The acceptance of the Internet for online purchasing gave game developers a route around the big publishers and retailers who decided which game concepts were appropriate for store shelves. Digital distribution through such outlets as Valve’s Steam allowed developers to offer their games directly to potential customers. Social and casual games playable on the internet, usually with a free-to-play option, found an audience much broader than the traditional hardcore gamer, spanning both sexes and all ages. Finally, the development of mobile phones capable of purchasing, downloading and playing games created a market for games of a smaller scope and made with a much smaller budget than those offered in retail stores.
Thus the trends over the past ten years have been as follows:
In many ways, the game industry has come full-circled to where it was in 1980, where a broader variety of games are available to play thanks to removal of the structure and restrictions that developed as the industry first matured.
In Part 2, I will define just what is a “game”.