the particular targeting of games

June 5th, 2007

Good computer games have been around for a long time. "In the beginning", you could say that the idea was just kicking off, it was an experimental thing, very small market and few titles. But the 90s certainly made games omnipresent and ever since they've just been around us.

Obviously, when something is new, there tends to be slight adoption by enthusiasts, but not much beyond that. People in marketing will say that you've become successful once you've succeeded at selling your product to people with no special interest in it. Then you know it's good enough "for everyone", not just those with an acute interest in the topic.

But by those standards, games have always been a bit of a special case. Even though they are unquestionably popular, they're not quite like other integral elements of our culture. I used to wonder many years ago at how it was only guys who seemed interested in computer games. All through elementary and well into junior high, I was really into games, and most of my friends were too. But girls weren't. It seemed like an anomaly.

Girls may not buy the most expensive stereo, but they will buy a stereo, they like music. They may not buy the most expensive tv, but they will buy a tv, they like watching tv. And so on, and so forth. So what was so specific about games that had such a gender based appeal? Was it because games weren't made for girls? Probably. Was it because studios didn't know what kind of games girls would play? Probably. Was it because the market for games among guys is naturally bigger? Possibly, but that's just guesswork.

I would say that games reached some kind of threshold in the 90s, early 21st century. When I was growing up, games were becoming better all the time, they were developing quickly. New techniques and new technologies made games published 2 years apart really show that they weren't contemporaries. Of course, I'm generalizing here. But I think that at some point we reached the end of that sharp gradient. I just get the feeling that techniques that came up are now fairly established, and they are continually refined as new hardware allows it. But I don't see that kind of pace of evolution that I did back then. As such, the number of things you could do in a game have been discovered. I don't think games today are offering vastly new ideas than those 5 years ago. Compare that to the mainstream switch from 2D to 3D, that one was huge.

So what I hypothesize is that games have been an established thing for a while now, and studios know what they can and can't achieve, and they don't expect the technological landscape to change drastically in the near future.

At the same time that games have matured, it seems to me that the genre has specialized too. It has narrowed its spectrum to the kinds of games that really are successful. What is the single most popular genre of games right now? (From my perspective, at any rate.) It's shoot-em-up-games. Or at least that's what we used to call them then, I don't know what they are called now. It was Wolfenstein, then Doom, then Quake and so on, it's the Counter Strike genre of games. And there are tons of them. When I see people talking about games they play, it's overwhelmingly this genre of games. At the same time, other genres have suffered greatly. Where is the Settlers, the Transport Tycoon of our time? Many genres have just gone lost it would seem. I certainly feel like the variety today is much narrower than it was 10 years ago, even though there are probably more studios and more titles out there.

So who is playing these games? Reports have shown that when it comes to the most popular genre of games, it's teenagers/young adults. Guys say below 30 who love this stuff. This is the target demographic now.

Coming back to the question why girls aren't interested in games, I was reminded of this issue when I saw an article by a female game developer. In an effort to characterize the female attitude towards games, it would seem that a) women don't enjoy this super popular genre because they find the violence boring (so do I, for that matter) and b) they don't like playing games that are hard to figure out. Obviously, there are very few women *in* game development to begin with, so ideas that would be popular to everyone aren't being heard. Which produces a line of product that doesn't appeal to women. Which again makes women unlikely to go into game development and change the status quo.

Disclaimer: Before you flame, I take the following exceptions.

  1. I don't consider console games, I'm not interested in consoles, and I probably never will be.
  2. There has been a recent surge in online game play with fantasy games, which seems to be more gender inclusive. As such, this opinion may have been more accurate a couple of years ago.
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5 Responses to "the particular targeting of games"

  1. ash says:

    Hmm, well if you don't consider console games then you're kinda wilfully ignoring the vast majority of the games market, in which case you're not really looking at any kind of trend at all. After all the average person on the street doesn't have a PC capable of running the latest games - the barrier to entry is too high and hence the PC markets declining sales and targeting of the narrow 'hardcore' niche.
    One of the most common 'complaints' from gamers these days is about the explosion in 'casual' games - games for non-gamers. Consoles like the DS and Wii are the ones pushing that along and if you look at their targeted demographics it's clear that that is where headway is being made.

    Even if we do consider just PC gaming, one of the best selling game franchises of all time - The Sims - is played as much if not more by women than by men, and it's a game that continues to dominate annual sales charts. Online flash games have become hugely popular too outside the 'core' gaming demographic, so people are playing more games but not necessarily in the form we knew 10 years ago.

  2. numerodix says:

    I ignore console games, because I never had a console and never was interested in it. When I was growing up console games were laaame and I got used to that. I don't think they have the same depth (generalizing again) and I never liked the controllers either. My favorite game of all time (CM) doesn't work at all on a console. Neither does Civilization. There aren't enough buttons/there's no mouse, the concept doesn't fit. Console is great for arcades. Anyway, obviously 10 years ago and now isn't the same thing, so if I started playing console games today I might like them more.

    Yeah, The Sims is that exception which proves the rule. There aren't too many games like it, are there?

  3. erik says:

    Transport tycoon, now there's a game I used to love.

    Never was into the shooting games. I liked Wolf back in the old days because it was one of the first games around with fancy 3D graphics (as I recall) and all my friends played it too but that was pretty much the last time I played a violent game like that.

  4. Boyo says:

    A lot depends on the genre as well. I've met quite a few female RPG (Role Playing Games) enthusiasts. Perhaps the reason is that with RPG's you can create your own character, including the gender. RPG's also don't force a player into a certain role. You can pretty much do what you like and create your own gaming experience. Especially games such as the Elder Scrolls series (Arena, Daggerfall, Morrowind and Oblivion), which don't force the player to follow the main story line and thus are completely open to explore. The online fantasy games that you referred to (World of Warcraft) are also a good example of that.

  5. Eddy Mulyono says:

    I don’t consider console games, I’m not interested in consoles, and I probably never will be.

    Aww, sucks. Now I can't rant about how Nintendo Wii is breaking barriers....