Rise and Fall of the Hardcore

It has been lingering in the minds of gamers for some time now. Ever since the Wii appeared and the video games market went more mainstream there have been a number of players that have felt threatened by this big bulk of casual players. Is this something we should be worried about? Is the development of triple A titles in peril? Some seem to feel that way.

It´s strange that this feeling comes around in one of the most prolific years in AAA games in recent memory. The feeling that the iPad or Facebook (which will eventually share their market) could really change playing habits is real for some, but I think we are nowhere near a situation that will see a generation without boxed consoles.

This fear isn´t something new really. As an industry, there have always been trends that many have tried to follow after one major success; most of the times, however, following another company´s trail to success has proved many wrong. Put World of Warcraft as an example: WoW has been a game that has engaged a huge player base and managed to have them pay a monthly suscription to keep the game going; overall, a massively profitable move by Blizzard. However, we can really say that WoW has been the last suscription based MMO that has managed to make profit (yet to be seen if The Old Republic can really maintain that business model). That hasn´t stopped many studios  from thinking they could pull it through too and, essentially, more games than we could care of have tried to follow the suscription model and the WoW formula. The latest to fail has been DC Universe Online (it lasted 10 months with a suscription based model) and Free to Play is the new king of the fray. So far it has proved a model that can sustain a game by not forcing users to pay; but, again, it is yet to be seen if all the games being released under this model will manage to survive.

Some years ago, the industry was going bonkers with the success of Zynga´s Farmville and many stated that the micro-transaction games were the future and the way to go. As many times before, many companies have followed Zynga´s road to success and been proved that it is not as easy as it seems to make a game popular; or profitable in that sense.

Now this brings us to the iPad/tablets and Smart phones. After seeing the wonders of the devices released and all future possibilities of the portable systems, experts are seeing that there will be no space for the consoles in the market. The main basis to arrive here is the belief that they share a common userbase, but most of the iPhone/iPad users with a console don´t use the system to play at home, therefore we could be talking about giving the user more possibilities instead of really stealing players. Cloud gaming is also seen as a possible option to channel the core market into tablets. Just recently, Onlive announced support for tablets and some games, such as L.A. Noire, adapting a control scheme for a touch-screen. Personally, I think that being able to take with you and continue your save on the run is quite interesting. But the real question is: can we really be bothered to leave the controller/keyboard/mouse and control games exclusively with a touch-screen? If the future does pertain to tablets it will probably be linked to extensions; thus limiting the systems portability; thus losing the point of PC/consoles disappearing.

Denying the success of the “softcore” market is impossible. The Wii has affected both Sony and Microsoft as the iPhone has in some ways affected what is to be expected of a portable system. Users expect more for less and it is still to be proved whether softcore players can be tempted to buy another system when they are already satisfied with what they have. Wii U will have a big say on the issue and many are saying that this will be Nintendo´s demise… but wasn´t that said when the Wii came out too? The future is impossible to predict, but we can know for sure that competition will be there and that a sole product can´t offer what everyone wants. The Wii and Smart phones have managed to break that barrier that existed before: the controller. As a result, people are more aware of video games and it is now more socially accepted. Boxed products are making more money than ever and it is no longer geeky or a kid thing to play video games. Triple A games won´t be menaced as long as there are people willing to buy them and, according to the market sales, there doesn´t seem to be a lack of customers.

It’s clear to everyone that the future will almost entirely be digital; that handhelds will have a hard time to find an interested userbase to compete with the iPhone; that cloud gaming will be on the rise. But there is the law of demand and offer, and I for one am still interested in sitting on my couch or PC chair with a perspective of a deep gaming experience.

So, do I think tablets/phones are a direct threat to the consoles? A lot remains to be seen, but with the current situation the answer would be no. The future is pretty much that: future. As such we cannot really know what will be down the next curve. We pretty much believe we have seen everything but there could be much more we haven´t even begun to imagine.


Way to go…

Business in any media has always been a difficult matter to deal with. In video games, purists normally allege for concepts, ideas and the innovation that comes with them. In the last 10 years, however, we have seen our media pass from a nerdy and lonesome pastime to a social experience, shared by more than those that “match the profile”.


Innovation is something we (the gamer audience) often shout at when a new game comes about or when a new scheme to control it appears as “outrageous”, and this has set the position for big companies such as Activision to prey on its customers repeating known formulas. Many games fall for the need of popularity and good market performance adapting formulas that could otherwise work in different genres far better than, for example, an FPS. This is the case of the new Syndicate that is being developed by Starbreeze or the new XCOM by Irrational; these 2 particularly painful for old followers of these 2 series. Through different interviews about the new Syndicate, a question was thrown at the developers: “Why an FPS?” , “Because we want it to sell well”. Many will be disillusioned… but it is something that should not surprise…


The indy scene is proving to be were the innovation is at: games like Limbo, Braid, World of Goo, Bastion, Super Meat Boy and many many more are demonstrating that there is no need for large amount of fireworks if the idea and the concept are good. If you want new ideas, this is where to look.


Video games are business: Call of Duty: Black Ops sold over 25 million copies worldwide. This is a massive amount of revenue for any company and this phenomenon is partly created by gaming trends. Many will complain about the FPS conversion of 2 classic series of games like XCOM or Syndicate, but the truth is that this allows the developers to reach a larger audience and not only nurture themselves of the old fans (which admittedly, are much less). There have been a big deal of XCOM games after the famous XCOM 3, they just didn´t work for a large audience… Why? Because they did not live up to the original in their attempts to make them better and because they were targeting a small audience.


Social games are the new zealot in the business. The Wii had a bad reputation in the gaming community as long time Nintendo fans felt themselves left aside by the company´s shift of strategy. This move has made the Wii the most successful console ever, despite the gamer community reluctance towards the console. FB and IOS games operate on a similar level.


This new social/casual game phenomenon is greatly looked at as unbelievable by gamers. It is difficult for an “old style gamer” to understand this success of the Wii or FB games since they just don´t appeal to them, and that´s the point. If you have played one, you know what I´m talking about: they are plain gripping. You can´t deem them as fun or great experiences (at best, entertaining) but they manage to get a grip on all those people who never did pay any attention to games and never will be bothered by whichever is the new big title.


Games have always pledged for acceptance; and now we not only have that, we are the industry that creates the largest revenue of them all. Social games and fitness games is just the price we have to pay for global acceptance. As long as I still get Skyrim, I can´t say I care.