Time for Gaming to Expand its Audience?

The Kinect and Move have had lackluster reception. They weren’t complete losses, but their sales paled in comparison to the Wii’s success. They were both attempts made by Sony and Microsoft to expand their fan base—but, frankly, Nintendo beat them to it. They quickly learned that casual gamers are usually satisfied by just one system, and that system was the Wii. So, with casual gamers already spoken for, how are any of these big three companies supposed to expand their fan base? The answer is not as fine-cut as ‘make a system that appeals to such-and-such gamers’—but it’s still something that can be easily addressed. Simply put, companies need to seek out similar niches and target their games towards them, instead of using their whole consoles to target niches.

This might seem like the obvious answer, but it’s one that’s usually made at the developer level—developers decide who their audience is, who to take risks attracting, and what genre they will make their game. It’s up to the publisher to give the final okay. Developers are trained and perhaps inclined to make games that, while divulging from the norm, still have a steady target audience and tried-and-true premise. Having something that has already proven itself to sell makes publishers more inclined to accept the games, but it also staunches creativity and leads to a million zombie or FPS games (or both).

The way to fix this is for publishers to go out of their way to commission unique games or allow for unique content that won’t necessarily sell well, but still makes a good impression on a niche audience. We see this a lot with Sony’s studios—Rain and Last Guardian, anyone?—along with the games they end up approving from third-party companies. Microsoft also attempts to do this with their XBLA service, allowing unique indie games to be published for the system. And Nintendo? They’re kind of atrocious at gaining unique third-party games that aren’t for kids or casual gamers, and that’s where their weakness lies.

Regardless of the company, and increased attention for acquiring new game genres, concepts, or target audiences should be a priority as we move into the next generation of gaming. The news that Dragon-con will have a huge selection of gaming companies and game panels shows that the third-party developers have made an attempt to expand their audience—but it’s time for the larger companies to step up and have a more active role in gaming and fantasy conventions, as well as encourage companies to pitch them unique games. Allowing games to appear in areas of all interests will be what propels it to the same social status as the other major entertainment industries, such as television and cinema. Even if the gaming industry continues to outperform the other industries in sales, if it doesn’t continue to expand and generalize its audience, it will lose out to those larger industries in the long run. Expanding the base to include people of all classes, genders, ethnicities, and interests will allow gaming to become as ubiquitous as the other forms of entertainment.