Gaming’s Dilemma: Expand or Die

Gaming’s Dilemma: Expand or Die

The cost of making video games is continuously rising (or, you might say the cost of making video games is increasingly increasing). That’s to be expected. After all, game hardware is becoming more complicated, so it stands to reason that taking advantage of that hardware costs a fair bit of cash. But there comes a small problem with rising development costs: The people who buy high-budget blockbuster titles, the “core gamers,” are a stagnating breed.

Brian Hastings, Insomniac’s CCO, acknowledges that the potential stalling of the games industry is a problem, and expansion is necessary for survival. “That core audience isn’t really expanding much and the total dollars each core gamer spends isn’t going up, so as triple-A budgets inflate, each developer has to steal players away from other games in order to simply keep their revenues above their costs,” he told CasualGaming.biz. “The only long term viable solution for all parties would be to expand the audience. (…) [A]s an industry we need to broaden our audience in order to have more companies survive in general.”

Hastings said he doesn’t believe the answer is for every major developer to open a mobile and/or social games division, but it’s one direction that Insomniac is attempting with the recent formation of Insomniac Click. Hastings reassured core gamers that Insomniac is still “100% dedicated to making unforgettable AAA console experiences with our proprietary blend of double rainbows and awesomesauce,” but also noted that in order to survive, developers need to respond to the rapidly-changing games market.

Insomniac isn’t alone. Square-Enix recently announced that it’s opening up a mobile games division, and Capcom did likewise some time ago.

Does reacting to the market guarantee a studio’s survival in these tumultuous times? No, but ignoring the growing casual audience won’t help, either. Hastings is correct: The core gaming audience is not growing at an especially rapid pace, whereas the casual market is expanding quickly.

Hastings described core gamers as “people who grew up playing games, read gaming blogs, argue about games on message boards, and who care deeply about creating and playing truly transformative interactive experiences.” It’s as good a descriptor as any, and it’s worth thinking about where today’s average core gamer will be in five, ten years. If someone carries an inborn love for gaming, they’re not likely to shake it overnight. Alas, the generation that grew up with Nintendo and Atari has come into dull, grown-up responsibilities: Jobs, spouses, children, bills, hungry dogs that must be fed. Our love for games still shines deep inside, but we can’t always dedicate the time we want to a meandering game and follow-up discussion on blogs and message boards.

It therefore makes sense to cater to the immediate and huge casual audience. Not every casual gamer will become a core gamer, but a casual gamer who enjoys Insomniac Click’s offerings may be compelled to see what Insomniac has developed elsewhere. Also, kids who start off with simple iPhone games and free-to-play massive multiplayer games will find the jump to consoles very easy.

But there’s a simpler, purer reason to pay attention to casual gamers, too: Everyone deserves to just kick back with a game they love, regardless of the genre or target audience.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

2 Comments

  1. Yeah, if I was the head of a AAA title company, I would be thinking of expanding and you have to go with the figures and try to appeal to the mobile phone or social game market. Even if you don’t really want to make those kind of games because I personally I can’t stand Facebook games and their ‘Freemium’ business strategies, but as a developer, you can also think of ways to go about that market yourself and not selling that game onto the customer the way you it’s being sold onto you i.e me. Insomniac Games are an awesome developer with some tight franchises under their belt, and I do say good luck to them, well, to Insomniac Click anyway.

  2. There’s nothing wrong with expanding. But if that expansion dilutes the ‘core’ game, in the oft said attempt to cater to the casual audience, where would that lead to?

    Sure, split up, make different genre of games, for different audiences. Just remember to keep the games different. And not a one size fits all.

Leave a Reply