What does 'gamer' mean to you?

What does 'gamer' mean to you?


What mental image do - you - conjure up in your mind when you see the word 'gamer'?

You’re a gamer, right? Of course you are! Otherwise you wouldn’t be here, reading this article. What I’m wondering about is what mental image you conjure up in your mind when you see that word, “gamer”. Do you see some pizza-munching, soda-guzzling game fanatic doing an all-nighter playing his latest/greatest acquisition on his PC? Do you envision some pimply-faced adolescent male button-mashing on his Xbox controller while he dialogs using the screen name “Commander Awesome” with similar specimens of homo sapiens? Do you look over the shoulder of some twenty-something secretary spending her lunch break pecking away on her iPhone, playing a game of Farmville or Angry Birds?

ALL of the examples above constitute “gamers”. That is, “people that play games”. The term may be somewhat refined by stipulating “video gamers”, as in any electronic device that utilizes a video display. That encompasses PCs, Macs, gaming consoles, iPhones, etc. (Thus ruling out those Neanderthal board gamers or paper-and-pencil gamers – who almost universally are also video gamers, making the distinction moot.) In the USA (the world’s largest consumer of gaming products), conservative estimates put personal computers in at least 60% of households. As far back as 2006, 69% of heads of households confessed to playing video games.

Wow. For once in my life, I belong to a clear majority group (if you ignore that non-discretionary “Caucasian” classification)! Butttttttt, does it really count if that broad label of “gamers” includes the wrong kind of gamers? Well, what would constitute the wrong kind of gamer”? Generally, I would expect the answer to be “Not my kind of gamer!”

“Aye. There’s the rub!” We are a People divided by a common interest. PC gamers deride console gamers for being mindless Action junkies. Console gamers deride PC gamers for being stuck-in-the-mud techno-dinosaurs. And both of those groups deride cell phone gamers as being social networking TWITters.

All of these demographic classifications (and rancor) are pertinent when it comes to trying to persuade game manufacturers to focus on producing the “right” kind of games. Looking at publishing powerhouses such as Electronic Arts and Activision, it would seem that the voices they are hearing the most from are the Action gamers, most of whom are console-focused. This prompts the PC crowd to bemoan the slow but inevitable decline of thoughtful games being given short shrift in favor of adrenaline-fueled buttonmashers. Even when producers “try to be all things to all people” (e.g., Mass Effect 3), it’s pretty obvious which market segment is getting preferential treatment.

But who can blame manufacturers for trying to maximize profits by creating games that appeal to what is obviously the largest market segment? By genre this is how the games produced sold:

Best-selling console game genres by units sold 2010
  • - Action: 21.7%
  • - Sports: 16.3%
  • - Shooter:15.9%
  • - Family Games: 9.1%
  • - RPG:7.7%
  • - Adventure: 7.5%
  • - Racing: 5.8%
  • - Casual: 5.2%
  • - Strategy: 3.8%
  • - Fighting: 3%
  • - Other: 2.7%
  • - Flight: 0.4%
  • - Arcade: 0.2%

Best-selling PC game genres by units sold 2010
  • - Strategy: 33.6%
  • - RPG: 20.3%
  • - Casual: 19.5%
  • - Shooter: 9.7%
  • - Adventure: 8.7%
  • - Action: 2.7%
  • - Flight: 1.5%
  • - Other: 1.4%
  • - Sports:0.9%
  • - Children's Games: 0.9%
  • - Racing: 0.6%
  • - Arcade: 0.1%
  • - Family Games: 0.1%

For PCs, the genre split is significantly different. Loosely speaking, consoles were predominantly reflex-oriented; PCs were more cerebral than their buttonmashing counterparts.

For quite some time, consoles were rapidly eating up video game market share. However, for the last few years, PCs have been making a comeback. Starting in 2010, PC games were once again outselling console games (dollar-wise) by a noticeable margin. I believe that this was because PC game manufacturers were significantly shifting game emphasis from a more cerebral-orientation to greater reflex-orientation. Looking at games like the thoughtful Dragon Age: Origins which morphed into Dragon Age 2 buttonmashing, you can discern a trend that is obviously trying to draw back Action junkies. The downside for the traditional PC aficionados is that their preferred platform is becoming less about thinking about what to do and more about doing without thinking.

Also in just the last few years, there has been a drastic rise in games for phones. Its most significant impact has been on the console gaming crowd because of 1) cheap gaming apps, 2) the potential for instant communications networking for multi-player games, and 3) the perception that “This IS the wave of the future!” Get in on the ground floor. Tie the games into social networking sites, and the number of potential opponents and allies skyrockets, explaining the stellar performance of Farmville and similar games. Within the next five years, I fully expect that the PC resurgence will falter as manufacturers devote more resources to developing iOS games. And once again, PC game developers will more than likely try to win back market share by creating games that appeal to the social networking crowd.

So, overall, looking at what it is to be a gamer, there is some Good News and some Bad News. The Good News is that – cheer! – there’s a LOT more of us and the number continues to grow. The Bad News is that the majority of those gamers are/will be “the wrong kind” of gamers.