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An Ongoing Tribute to my own lameness.....

General random thoughts about gaming, both within and outside of the MMO genre.

Author: Jimmy_Scythe

Hardcore Gamers

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Sunday July 20 2008 at 2:51PM
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Fuck Hardcore gamers.

This is the line I used to begin a thread in the pub last week. I actually think that it must have set a record for shortest time to deletion. I got banned for a day over this post, and rightfully so. But I did mean every word. I've had some time to mull over my post and revise it considerably. Not only have I made the message less personal and more anonymous. I've come to realize that the situation isn't quite as pessimistic as I believed at the time of writing. None of this, however, changes the fact that the direction, and public perception, of gaming culture is driven by the so-called “hardcore elite” crowd.

We all know the gamer stereotype. Pale. Fat. Unemployed. Supremely unfamiliar with either the touch of a woman or the scent of soap... Spending all day, everyday camped in front of an overpriced electronic toy, or PC game, that's designed specifically to amuse preteen and teenage boys. The reason this image infuriates us as gamers is because it doesn't even describe most of us, let alone all of us. Unfortunately, it does describe a small, vocal and very visible number of us.

So how small of a minority are the hardcore gamers? To begin with, you have to track the number of gamers that there are. In the United States, it's estimated that about 65% of all households own a console or a PC that they use for gaming. According to an NPD survey, only about 65% of those gamers play games online. That translates to about 120,900,000 people. Of that number, 50,778,000 are women. Even more shocking, 85,800,000 online players predominately play puzzle, card and arcade games (think Pac Man). 48,750,000 online gamers only play “family-oriented games and only about 79,950,000 consider themselves avid PC gamers. There's some overlap in those numbers, but consider that there are probably only about five million people playing MMORPGs and another couple million playing Halo or Counter-Strike in the U.S., then throw in the fact that almost half of all gamers in the United States are offline, playing Madden or Guitar Hero, and you begin to understand just how small the “hardcore” gamer population really is.

What's really sick is that the hard core are actually proud of this minority status. Hardcore gamers seem to be under the delusion that being able to get 2000 lines in Tetris, 50 to 1 kill ratios in Counter-Strike, Tier 100 epic gear in World of Everclone, etc., somehow entitles them to a MENSA club membership. That somehow the interactivity of video gaming makes it a more intelligent medium than Books, movies and music which all have THOUSANDS of years of refinement and actual artistic depth. Yep, the hardcore play games and that makes them smarter than all the Literary English and Fine Arts Ph.Ds on earth. As fuckin' if. Just because you set up velvet ropes around yourself doesn't mean that you're special. Unfortunately, those velvet ropes attract the kind of shallow, status seeking fucknuts that ruin everybody else's fun.

The arrogance factor of the “hardcore” actually has two parts. The first being with games themselves. To a greater or lesser extent, we all play games to feel a sense of accomplishment. This has been true for centuries. It's the whole reason why sports are such a huge part of high school. Games give us a sense that we're competent and allow us to demonstrate that competence to others. Games also give us a very clear and concise way to compare ourselves to others. Most of the hardcore will go on for hours about how stupid it is for some “dumb jock” to use basketball as a measure of self worth and then turn around and brag about their stats and achievements in whatever game they happen to be obsessing over this week. And maybe this offers a key as to why there's so much hate directed at specific games. If you aren't playing the same game I am, I can't determine how you measure up to me! This is why those “dumb jocks” were so condescending to anyone that wasn't on the football team. If you didn't play football, you didn't rank. Not surprisingly, the chess club did the same shit.

The second element of hardcore arrogance is what I like to call nerd angst. It goes kinda like this: In order to cope with social rejection in the face of extreme social anxiety, the nerd constructs a delusion that everyone else is just jealous of his/her intellectual gifts and obvious superiority. To this end, they seek out other nerds and do things that are deemed “smart,” usually involving massive amounts of basic arithmetic, reading or both. Secure within this small support group, they and their new friends gleefully spiral downward in a cycle of ever expanding alienating behavior in the face of social alienation. Tragically, most never grow out of this. The worst case scenarios end up as the snarky, hateful forum warriors and asshat chat spammers that define the public opinion of gaming culture.

And that's a bad thing because not only have the hardcore taken something that many people enjoy and turned it into a colossal pissing contest, but they also push potential gamers away from the hobby. This is compounded by the fact that the demands of the hardcore have fueled trends that have lead to massively inbred game design and further distanced this hobby, not only from the mainstream, but from what made gaming fun in the first place.

You do remember fun right? It's that sensation that made you want to continue playing a game even when it was impossible or unending. It was what separated playing games from working on an assembly line. It's the reason that normal people play games. But not hardcore gamers.

As an example, let's look at the length of games. Hardcore gamers demand games that go on for AT LEAST 60 hours. Of course, even if the game does have over 80 hours of content, the hardcore “elite” still bitch that the game was too short because they burned through it in less than two weeks.

Fun Fact: Most people Don't even watch 60 hours of a single TV series. Most TV shows are broken up into manageable chunks of 30 minutes to an hour. Hell, one season of a prime time drama may only go on for about 10 to 15 episodes which translates to about seven and a half hours max. Aside from The Simpsons, name one TV series that went over five seasons. In short, the hardcore are demanding that everyone spends more time, in one week or two weeks no less, on one game than they do on a single TV show over the course of said show's entire running length. And if someone is unwilling to commit that kind of time, then hardcore gamers label those people as retards with ADHD. And since Hardcore gamers are the most vocal, developers cave to their demands and make monstrously long games that they know the majority of gamers won't bother to complete. It doesn't end there, and a quick glance at the schizophrenic demands of the hardcore will give you some truly fascinating insight into why core gaming is in such a sorry state.

Anything about a game that's too different the hardcore labels as "lame, gimmicky, bullshit." Any attempt to make a game more accessible to people not already entrenched in any given genre they rag on the game for being "dumbed down." Any attempt to streamline an interface or control scheme for smoother play gets accused of "lacking depth." Any game that hits all the conventions of a genre is poo pooed as a "clone." it really doesn't matter what a game does because the hardcore will fabricate some asinine reason why this or that game isn't filling the undefinable void in their life. I wonder if they've ever considered that problem might not be with the game?

I can only think of one other entertainment medium that produces contend based on the demands of a vocal minority: comic books. Despite the best efforts of people like Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Art Spiegelman, comic books still occupy a slimy, superhero fanboy ghetto. If the medium had spent time aiming for a more mainstream audience and developing the medium as an art, rather than catering to a few loudmouth man-children for the better part of fifty years, you'd probably be able to buy quality comic books in regular bookstores. As it is, you have to don a trench coat and hat, turn your collar up and hope that no one recognizes you in front of the rather ratty looking shop the specializes in comic books. If the gaming industry continues to follow the demands of hardcore gamers, this same situation could happen to us.

But there is good news. There's been a recent explosion in casual games. What's more, Wii Sports actually moved more consoles than Halo 3 or Metal Gear solid 4. We're also seeing a lot more artistic games such as Everyday Shooter and fl0w. The industry is finally figuring out that there is more money to be made by catering to the general public than a handful of socially awkward, arrogant, misogynistic, shut ins with borderline asperger syndrome. And it's about damn time!


I Am No Longer Killing The Gaming Industry (As much): Ask Me Why

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Sunday July 13 2008 at 1:37PM
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I gotta level with you, it isn't just the number of games on the Wii and 360 that lead me to purchasing them. My decision was also based on the fact that I could rent games and buy them used. Renting and used games just aren't an option for the PC. The simple fact that I can't rent or buy used, limits the number of PC games that I purchase. The offset is that I can get most of my PC games through direct download or subscription services.

For me, this trend kind of snuck up while I wasn't paying any attention. I still rented console games from Gamefly, bought used games from GameStop and bought my PC games on clearance. But I bought my last two consoles... new. What's more, I downloaded a lot of virtual console games on my Wii as well as a few classic Playstation games from the Playstation Store for my PSP. I even purchased The Orange Box, Everyday Shooter and Beyond Good & Evil through Steam. Suddenly, I'm not killing the industry by being frugal anymore. Suddenly, I've become something of a download-aholic.

Yeah, many direct download games are old, but good games are good games. The NES version of Contra is just as good today as it was in 1988. People are still playing Quake 3 and Counter-Strike 1.6. Over the years, there have been too many great games released for anyone to have played them all to completion. The Wii and the Playstation Store have allowed me to go back and catch several games that I missed the first time around and relive some games that I haven't played in years. 

Think of it this way: I don't have to wait for the postal service. I don't have to drive across town only to put up with unattended kids running around the store and screaming at my feet. I don't have to deal with apathetic assholes behind the counter making it a point to display how much I'm inconveniencing them by having the nerve to ask a question or <gasp> actually buy something. I don't have to worry about scratched disks or CD Keys. I don't have to deal with a limited selection of what's in stock. I just have to wait for the download. And normally that's less than an hour. Three to four hours tops.

The convenience of direct downloading is often complimented by a lower price. Steam had UT3 available for $30 two weeks before anyone else. The most expensive downloadable game on the Wii, Virtual Console or WiiWare, is about $15. Most classic PSOne games at the Playstation store go for five to ten dollars. Seriously, Steam put Bioshock and Assassin's Creed at $30 about three days before most retail stores in this area brought the price down.

Consider that I currently subscribe to Gamefly. For about $25 I get to check out two games at a time from the entire library of games for nine different consoles. Out of those nine consoles, I own seven. Well actually, I own four but since three of my consoles are backward compatible... You get my point though, that's a lot of game. Since it takes about a week for me to send back a game and receive the next title in my game que, I usually get to play about four games, from beginning to end, a month. If it wasn't for the postal service, I could actually play more games than that. How much do you figure Microsoft would charge a month for unlimited, instant, online access to every game in their console brands library? Sony? Nintendo?

And that brings me to Gametap. I had a trial subscription to Gametap when it first came out. I liked the large library of retro games that they had and how easy the whole thing was to use. I hated the fact that I had to call their customer service department to cancel rather than just being able to do so through their web page, which was the deal breaker for me. I must be the only person that cared since the service has grown in leaps and bounds since its debut. Ten dollars a month or $60 a year gets you unlimited access to 950 (retro) cosole, arcade and PC games. Currently, you can play 140 of those games absolutely free. I'm definitely thinking about subscribing and I can't quite shake the feeling that all gaming is going in this direction.

Not that games on demand is a new idea, mind you. Way back when, certain fortunate gamers could pay $15 a month for The Sega channel, unlimited access to Sega Genesis games via their cable provider. Years before that, Atari had a similar service called Gamline that allowed people to directly download Atari 2600 games from a special modem. Ditto for Mattel's Intellivision. Good ideas never really die and now that the internet is in most homes, games on demand is a very inexpensive reality.

Oh, the industry won't go subscription over night of course. But I wouldn't be surprised if the next generation of consoles didn't come with any drive or cartridge slots at all. I'm guessing that the next group of consoles, both set top and portable, are going to offer direct download of the games. Removing the retail aspect entirely.

This is something of a double edged sword though. Sure, it gets rid of piracy and helps keep the price low since the publisher doesn't have to pay for packaging or shelf space, but renting and buying used games becomes a thing of the past. This system also leaves out anyone that lives in an area where broadband internet isn't available. From a business perspective, cutting out those that don't have broadband isn't a big deal since we already know that there are millions of people worldwide that do have it. Reclaiming the secondary markets of rentals and used games isn't a bad thing for game publishers either. How long have game publishers and developers tried to shut down or get royalties from operations like Gamstop? At least since such secondary markets began.

With retail, the publisher makes a profit off of every unit sold. Ditto for direct download. Subscription models are a little bit trickier. Part of the reason why Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo don't offer their retro games on a subscription service is because it turns the console gaming business upside down. Instead of a developer paying a huge licensing fee to the console developer, the consoles subscription service would have to pay the developer to carry a particular title. The amount of payout could be adjusted according to ratings, or advertising revenue, but it would mean that the big three would have to pay for their line up rather than being paid.

Direct download, however, has a different problem for consoles: Since there won't be any rental chains buying the games in bulk, the number of sales will actually take a very quick nose dive. So it'll eventually boil down to making the subscription model work somehow. And the subscription model as already been proven effective via MMORPGs.

In a way, I blame MMORPGs for this industry shift. If it hadn't been for the subscription based business model of MMORPGs, then game publishers would just laugh and point to failed services like The Sega Channel and go about their business as usual. But if MILLIONS of people are willing to pay $15 a month just to play one totally boring, gawd awful game (most MMORPGs are terrible and I'm not alone in this opinion) then imagine what they'd pay for a whole library of really good games! And thus subscriptions and microtransactions for extra content became industry buzzwords.

So the only real question here is whether this will save the consumer money or ultimately cost more for the consumer in the long run. Gametap beats the both Wiiware and the Virtual console when it comes to price. The Playstation store, Xbox Live Arcade, and even Steam cost more in downloads than a year of Gametap. What's more, Gametap hosts many games that Xbox Live Arcade and Steam charge eight to ten bucks to download (BloodRayne, Beyond Good & Evil, Deus Ex, Neo Geo Fighting games, etc.). But what happens when Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo enter this space? Is it really such a bargain when you're paying $500 for the machine and another $300 a year ($25 per month) for a subscription? Would you be still be saving you money if you owned all three consoles and subscribed to all three services? I already know that there are many tools, who consider themselves “hardcore,” that would drop $2,400 for games in a heartbeat, but those people are definitely in the minority.

From a development point of view, very little changes. The industry will still be hit driven with everyone trying to rip off the highest rated games. Hype will probably die down to the level of ordinary TV industry buzz: A welcome change to the fanboy zealotry that currently plagues gaming culture. I also think that games ratings, kind of like TV ratings, will give developers better insight into how to make better games.

Even though all of this is still about five years away, I haven't quite decided how I feel about it yet. I really like the idea of actually owning my games and being able to play them whether I'm hooked up to the internet or not. I want to be able to play my favorite games years and years from now after any sane ratings system would have discontinued support for the game due to lack of interest by the public. I also don't like the idea that these services would be able to monitor my gaming habits, even it was totally anonymous. But if it saves me money... And it's the only way to play games.... Well....



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