Sunday, May 18, 2014

Has the gaming industry forgotten about millennials?

Some weird topic that just popped into my head and I thought was good enough to start the blog. it begins with a simple question, Has the gaming industry forgotten about  the so called millennials? Take into account that this comes from a "millennial" point of view since I was born in 1984, so let's go ahead and dig deep into this idea.

One of the great rpg franchises that deserve to come back.

The end of the millennial:

First of all, it would be a good thing to define what a "millennial" is. As they say, a millennial (or generation Y) is a person born in the time span from 1980 to the early 2000's. It is the generation that ranges from the styles of the 80's, the easy going abundance of the 90's and the shock of the early 2000's. From a gaming perspective, millennials have been there from the very beginning of gaming as an industry up to the point where everything changed. As a generation we are criticized for many things, most of that criticism coming without any facts, but if there is one thing in which we never faltered it is our taste for gaming.

It is not as exaggerated as path-cutscene-path, but it doesn't even come close to the designs of old.

Change for the sake of change:

When we talk about change, we mean the ways in which the industry has managed to change from one business model to another. At one point, some people used to say that the video game industry was immune to the effects of the economical crisis and we as gamers were totally believing it, because quality standards were still high regardless of the monetary turmoil. So imagine what a shock it was to see it all change and basically leave hanging a whole generation that grew accustomed to a gaming style that nowadays is called "niche", "core" or worst of all "not feasible". It can't be denied that great games have been released in these newer generations, but the change in style is very noticeable. Let's start by comparing these two styles as past and present and see which characteristics make them differ.

  • Complex game design based on exploration.
  • Vast use of various types of resources (graphic, sound and user interaction).
  • Strong emphasis on story line.
  • Gameplay over graphics.
  • Games made to make you think hard in order to progress or develop skills over time.
  • Medium to high learning curve.
  • Product was almost every time a full game.
  • Development cycles ranging from 2-4 years at minimum.
  • Fiction topped reality in game content.
  • Simple game design based on presentation.
  • Recycling of game resources.
  • Strong emphasis on making the player addicted to the game.
  • Graphics over gameplay.
  • Games made in a way that it doesn't annoy or frustrate gamers in any way (a.k.a easier difficulties).
  • Low learning curve.
  • Semi-complete product followed by tons of updates and downloadable content.
  • Development trend of making games in 1 year.
  • Reality tops fiction as visual artists make visual material closer to real life.
Every gaming company has their own Warios, screwing things up for the rest of us.

Change for the sake of money:

Each of the reasons why these two styles are complete opposites come from the same principle which is cheap production costs and maximum profits. Don't get me wrong, I am well aware that gaming in within itself is a business, but if we had to describe these two styles with a phrase, the past one would be "Make a kickass game so it sells well" while in the present it would be something like "Make a game that sells and somehow convince people that it is badass".

This is where millennials exit the scene as the ones who were dropped out as the prime customers of the gaming industry. Millennials lived through the many gaming eras that came to pass starting from the early Atari days and if one thing is to be expected from seen how gaming evolved through time is for games to get better; meaning longer, more challenging and more engaging. Millenials are a generation of gamers that have big expectations about gaming productions and will never forget the growth that the industry had, taking big leaps into better gaming experiences. This kind of thinking did not sounded so well to publishers and company investors because it meant more expenses and high risks.

This is when the people in business suits made the change and took power out of the artists hands and gave it to their "market analysts" or "mechandising people". The result of all this is the refusal to evolve and the embrace of a system that began simplifying games to a point that they mostly resemble a bad game from the 8 bit era, but with nice graphics. All this just because it is cheaper, faster and low risk. It is quite ironic for them to keep treating games like simple toys while at the same time saying that gaming has become a full fledged entertainment media with something for everyone. It just doesn't make sense.

Broken down Zero = how our gaming intelligence is treated.

This way of thinking prevented millennials from passing the torch to the newer generation as the new kids were lead to believe that the game development style from the past was too long, boring and passé while the one of the present was cutting edge and cool. People who still prefer the gaming style of the past are labelled as "hipsters" or called "people who still dwell on the past". Companies became rigid, most of the time ignoring what gamers want and using "modern gaming" as an excuse to give us less for our buck. Then as an excuse to get millennials even farther from having any influence, they began to release HD Remakes of famous games of the past just so they don't sell well and use that as an excuse to say "You see? Those games don't sell well any more. There is no reason to make new ones or follow that style of gameplay..."

The stale paradigm theory:

I have the little theory about how things should had been compared to how they are now. If we look into how the gaming industry was evolving, it would seem that people born in the mid 80's would have the industry at their feet from a content perspective. People who became gamers at that time would grow at the same pace as the industry does. So when they were kids the content of games would be mostly directed toward kids, then when going through their pre-teenage and teenage years the content would still be directed at them, then in early adulthood they would still be the poster children of the industry because now they would be the ones with money to spend and have the bigger enthusiasm toward games.

I apologize for the crappy style point chart he he. Just wanted to show the theory in some visual way.
If you see the small chart above, you can see that the emphasis in gaming content grew as people grew if you were a gamer in the 80's. Proof of this come in the games that were smashing successes at the time for each point on the time spans. In the 80's you could picture Mario, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ninja Gaiden, Mega Man, Loony Tunes games, etc. As soon as the 90's came, more serious and beat them up/fighting/violent games became the norm, and at that time it captivated pre-teens and teens quite nicely. After that it all turned into a cinematic experience with a ton of JRPGs, survival horror and action games, now directed towards the teen-early adults age range. After that when the new millennium came, games became even more serious and adults were able to experience great experiences while still giving good stuff to the teens. 

Now after that, as gaming became entertainment media, it should had kept on the early adults/adults zone but instead it went back to the teens and got stuck there (with the occasional treat to adults over 40 which are points off the chart). Why did this happen? Because those age ranges meant cheaper development and lower risk. Please have in mind that this is just a theory.

Where could all the good stuff be? (btw Child of Light IS good stuff)

To wrap things up:

My conclusion is that millennials were taken out of the gaming scene as the biggest gaming market, because we grew accustomed to excellence and excellence costs more money, money they do not want to spend. So they trained newer generations to love watered down experiences and phased out everything that would resemble the gaming industry standard that lived up for almost 30 years. Don't get me wrong, I am not implying that we should still have games that look and feel exactly like in the past. What would be healthy for the industry is to mix up both old and new, past and present styles of development and come up with games that can show how much we have technically evolved, but without degrading the overall experience.

Currently, that mix between old and new is something that is mostly been done by indie developers, but big time companies are taking the hint like Square Enix, that have learned their lesson with Bravely Default, the people at Capcom who already promised that Resident Evil 7 will return to its "survival horror roots", after seen the franchise's value plunge drastically after Operation Racoon City and Resident Evil 6 or even games like Call of Duty or Titan Fall with new gameplay interactions that resemble the crazy first person shooter experiences of the past. The millennials may be out of the scene, but big chunks of our gaming taste are washing ashore and it is a matter of time until game companies are forced to do something about it.  

There is still hope my friends...

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