Why This is a Good Time for Niche Gamers

Why This is a Good Time for Niche Gamers

These are strange days for video games, and the folks who play them. More people than ever – including moms, dads and kids of all ages – are playing games, but at the same time, we’re segregating ourselves. We bluster constantly about “core games,” “social games,” and embrace or dismiss Facebook’s crop of offerings.

Interestingly, smart developers and publishers are taking advantage of the current “divided” game market by catering to very select audiences. In other words, any gamer who’s into a niche genre can find plenty of ripe, imaginative offerings if they do a little searching.

Rob Fahey of Gamesindustry.biz recently wrote an interesting feature that outlines the reasons why Dark Souls, Software’s merciless but masterful role-playing game, has found an impressive audience in an age wherein we wake up every day to news of more game studio layoffs. Simply, Dark Souls zeroes in on a small audience and offers the very best of a merciless, gritty fantasy world. The result is 1.5 million very happy players as opposed to a larger but apathetic audience that’s dissatisfied with a game that tries too hard to be all things to all people.

“What Dark Souls does, rather than spanning niches, is laser-focus on a few niche areas,” wrote Fahey. “Dark Souls isn’t a success because it wants to be loved by everyone; it’s a success because it’s absolutely untroubled by the idea that most people will hate it.”

Indeed, it’s far better for a game developer to focus on putting a few polished features into a game versus trying to make sure there’s “something for everyone.” It’s good advice for a project of any size (and small businesses for that matter) but it especially applies to titles that are sold at retail. What good is having a huge development team and eye-popping cinematics if the final product spreads itself too thin and impresses no-one? That’s one reason why developers have realized that serving up their best possible product to a niche isn’t simply a smart way to survive in a tough industry–it’s the path to healthy profits.

A common complaint we hear about today’s games industry is, “It’s all about grey-and-brown first-person shooters, now. There’s nothing out there for me.” Nothing’s further from the truth. There has never been a time in video games’ history that’s been so fertile, and brimming with choices. Dark Souls is just one example. The past few months alone has also brought us Atlus’s unusually dark puzzle-platformer, Catherine for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, XSeed’s playful action-RPG Solatorobo for the Nintendo DS, and NIS America’s 3D realization of Cave Story for the Nintendo 3DS.

Hopefully, game developers of all sorts – console, mobile, social, etc. – will continue to do their very best for players with specific tastes.

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.

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