Here’s an interesting factoid when it comes to video games:
There were no gamers before 1985.
In the late 1970s there was the Atari 2600, which had a lot of games ported over from popular coin-operated arcade machines of the time. In the 1980s there was the Nintendo Entertainment System which also had a lot of games ported over from arcades – but what made that console different is that it was the first system that had long-play titles specifically designed to be home-only, such as The Legend of Zelda role-playing game. It was in fact the NES that brought about the first real true home gamers. This means for all intents and purposes that what we know now as a gamer didn’t exist before 1985.
You could say PC gamers existed before the NES in ’85, but I don’t subscribe to that because DOS games didn’t get anything beyond bleeps and bloops until the Ad Lib sound card, which didn’t have wide sales until 1990. That sound card and the CD-ROM is what arguably brought about the best DOS games ever, but that was all well after NES was firmly in the market.
Okay, so you have a whole ton of people from 1985 today that are now the age of early 30s to mid-40s who are avid gamers, but there’s a problem:
The gaming market has absolutely no clue what to do with that demographic.
Unofficially, anyone who still plays video games after age 22 is considered an old fart. The reason for that is because it is assumed that a kid will graduate high school at 18, attend 4 years of college, graduate at 22, enter the workforce and stop playing games at that point. Well, you know as well as I do that once someone hits 23 years old, they don’t stop gaming for a good long while.
In old-school sales demographics, the magic target market are people age 18 to 27; this is because that demographic supposedly wastes the most money on absolutely worthless junk, i.e. they will buy anything even if it’s crap. For the most part, that assumption is absolutely correct because most people don’t grow a brain and stop spending money on crap until they hit their 30s.
Now you’re left with this demographic of gamers age 30 to 45. Definitely not young and definitely not old either, but totally willing to spend gobs of cash on games…
…and the gaming industry doesn’t give them a second thought. In fact, they’re pretty much completely ignored even though they are very strong in number.
The only thing the gaming industry discovered completely by accident is that re-releasing old titles on modern consoles is something the "over-30’ers" really, really wanted. Every modern console has a ‘retro’ area where you can purchase older 8, 16, 32 and 64-bit games, and many people buy these titles. They’re not only cheap, but good sellers because of the intended audience’s familiarity with the games.
Where the problem lies however is that there are no new (keyword there) games made to specifically accommodate the 30-45 crowd. Retro only goes so far, after all.
What do 30-45 gamers actually like?
Tastes vary, but this is what that demographic is looking for:
1. Good long-play single player campaigns
The trend right now in new games is that online multi-player should be the #1 feature, and that’s absolutely not what the 30-45 demographic wants. They grew up with games that were designed first as immersive long-play single player campaigns. A good example of this is Dungeon Keeper; that game is very entertaining, can be played at your own pace and takes a very long time to complete without frustrating you. Another good example is the original Starcraft. Good single player campaigns, great strategy, easy to understand and has truly enjoyable gameplay.
2. Plays like a game and not like a movie
The 30-45 demographic likes games that act like games. What this means is that they typically do champion gameplay over storyline, or put another way, "Give me something to play and not to watch".
There are far too many titles that put needless effort into storylines the over-30’ers don’t care about whatsoever when all they want to do is find the bad guy and shoot him in the face.
Truly great games let you paint the picture of what the story is in your mind rather than having the game tell you through needless exposition. A fantastic example of that is Portal; what that game masterfully does is only gives you what you need to know so you can continue solving puzzles and enjoy the gameplay. The game even pokes fun at itself concerning exposition when at a certain point it explains a puzzle as "Speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out".
3. Does not require ridiculous add-on requirements to get the full game experience
This is a short list of things that will instantly piss off a 30-45 gamer:
- The computer (if a PC game) he or she has isn’t fast enough to run the game – even though the box said what they had was good enough.
- The console (if a console game) needs a specific piece of hardware bought just to play the stupid thing.
- Their internet connection isn’t fast enough to run the game smoothly (bad programming on the game dev’s part there if the bandwidth req’s are too chunky).
- The entirety of the game isn’t unlocked unless you specifically buy something, even though the game was just bought for full retail price.
Summed up in a phrase, this is what a over-30’er wants in a game:
"When I buy this game, my PC or console will run it smoothly. I will not be required to buy any other worthless plastic sh*t just to run this thing. I will not be required to sign up for anything online to unlock features. I will not be required to pay any additional money to use any game feature."
Sounds simple enough, but you’d be amazed how many games fail that checklist.
Will the gaming industry ever wake up and start making good games for the older crowd?
That’s indeterminate at this point, but the industry still firmly believes that kids are the only people worth going for.
They should rethink that as there are plenty of folks over 30 that were able to regain control over their finances and have a few bucks to burn on games, but there’s nothing there for them to buy that would suit them. For their kids, sure, there’s plenty of stuff, but as for themselves, ‘retro’ is all they have – and that, pardon then pun, gets old.