Sunday, December 30, 2007
Saturday, December 15, 2007
The current state of things
All questions being currently asked and answered by people much smarter than us, no doubt; a massive amount of purchasing data is being illustrated on the whiteboards and Powerpoint presentations in the offices of the curious executives and shareholders of the industry. Grandma wasn't a catalyst for all this. She doesn't influence these folks or hold some position of advocacy on behalf of her generation; she never did. As we have said before, Grandma is just a teeny, tiny part of an inevitability. The attention brought to her, however, has afforded us with the opportunity for a unique perspective on the future of things; to see the whole picture from different levels.
So let's do some predicting.
1. Media & Sales
Here's how it works for a lot of older folks today: Through news programs, newspaper articles and the front pages of websites like Yahoo and MSNBC that syndicate Reuters or AP feeds (before they check their email, they usually glance over the news a bit) they'll hear about Brain Age or about the Wii. When talking with their friends, they might talk a little about how they've heard it's fun and easy to play. The conversation tends to lead to one of three different ways: First, about how they know someone whose kids have one and really like it to which the subject switches to the kids and not the system. Second, about the mental health benefits of things like Brain Age to which the subject switches to homeopathy and the snake-oil promises of charlatans. Third, and most unfortunate, is how difficult it is to get one of those newfangled Wiis nowadays.
Now- of course this isn't everyone, it isn't even Grandma's personal experience (she's a bit of an anomaly), but give us the benefit of the doubt when we say it's the trend.
Next, it will be a day of shopping in a mall or big-box store like Best Buy, Circuit City, WalMart or Target (less typically a GameStop or EBGames or something similar). They will look at the displays a bit and the first thing they will usually see is a giant wall of games behind glass of all varying degrees of violence and cartoonishness. It's pretty overwhelming at first glance to an impulse buyer. You'll notice already that in some instances, a repeating video in the fashion of an short infomercial, rather than a playable demo, will play above the Nintendo section, which stands out from the rest of the wall because of the thick, white borders on all of the games. If they watch a bit or at least confirm that this commercial is talking about the same thing they heard or read about, they might stay a bit longer; completely abandoning the impulse buyer attitude and moving towards the behavior of a true shopper. Overcoming all odds, the person will approach a salesperson.
"Excuse me, is this the thing... the um... Nintendo something or other I heard about with the bowling and the math problems?"
Good Salesperson - "Yes! We've sold these for kids, for college students, parents, retirement homes, it's pretty much for everybody...."
Bad Salesperson - ".....yup. For your grandkids, right?"
Most Salespeople - "Yup."
If the salesperson manages to fish around to find out what the person already knows about it without sounding patronizing and rude AND doesn't overcomplicate things as they typically do around older folks to get a moment of feeling "man, old people don't know shit about electronics. I should ask her what it was like to ride a motherfucking horse to school" feeling of superiority (this isn't always out of malice, but some salespeople tend to overuse acronyms and spew technobabble so they can feel as though they are educating the customer), they will score a sale.
That's about how it works nowadays.
Here's how that's going to change:
Older folks are going to become a lot more web-savvy. They are already a lot more internet proficient than most folks give them credit, but the days of the newspaper and single-time-slot television news shows are coming to an end, for better or worse. This means in a decade or less you're going to have a hell of a lot more 60+ year old forum users. The older demographic will be courted the same way the rest of us are courted now, with PR plants, trusted review sites, and blogs. Sites like ours will do alright, I suppose, but it's going to be the large community sites like GeezerGamers and 2old2play that will hype the newer stuff and influence buying decisions (if hype is warranted; both sites are filled with honest folks who give honest opinions). Truth is, they probably aren't going to need to change their format much if at all, but the big dogs will be the community based sites linking the videos at GamesTrailers and articles on Kotaku and Joystiq and The Escapist and all the good ones that exist or have yet to exist. New blogs written by older gamers will appear and become popular and trusted.
It isn't a "new paradigm" or any of that bullshit, it's just a demographic shift. Today's 55 year old dad and VP of International Sales is the 65 year old bored-ass blogger of the future. It's possible that a mature gaming magazine might pop up and become popular, but the way publishing costs are these days, it's fairly safe to assume most opinions will be formed on the web first. Most of all, it's going to be about trust. Plants, carefully disguised press releases, and paid-for articles of praise for games and systems will always be a part of things, unfortunately, but they are going to have to get really sneaky. In ten years the whole Web 2.0 cliché user will be pretty seasoned, and it will be tempting to use the tricks of today, but god help the poor marketing folks of the future who try to fall into old habits. The older generations have a wicked bite when they've been played.
Because of this media change, the point-of-sale experience also changes. You'll see more of them in GameStops and EB Games-type stores. They will already know exactly what they want; everything else is just polite conversation. The box stores will no longer require the Brain Age kiosk or the repeating infomercial to stand out from a mosaic of choices. The older generation isn't a primary focus of the industry in the future same as it isn't one today; but they are assimilated. No longer will a salesperson immediately break out the casual game recommendation when a mature gamer asks for ideas for personal entertainment. It won't just be Brain Age and Card House, it will be the nineteenth iteration of Final Fantasy VII for the PSP 9000³ or whatever the fuck we're all playing then. A good RPG will be the new audio-book for many; a game that rewards you with a great story.
That's the good. Now for the bad.
2. Games & Design
There are some obvious adaptations we'll likely see in games; mandatory closed-captioning or subtitles (sometimes a pain in the ass for developers but long since overdue), newer accessibility options and an advanced, chock-full-of-ads social networking system that may likely become cross-platform; Home for the PS3 and XBox Live for the 360 will seem as antiquated as AOL web browsing is to us today, no- a truly powerful network will be accessible and changeable from all consoles. Like MySpace but more clumsy and full of achievements and successes and records and videos of all of your gaming travels.
But even this mystical beast will be overshadowed by something horrifying.
Consider: For every Orange Box and Okami, there are 30 Kane & Lynches and Red Steels. The primary market focus isn't going to disappear with the inclusion of an older demographic BUT you are going to see whole shitload of horrible, god-awful games flooding the shelves at the big box stores that will try and desperately fail to make incredible claims about the broad reach of appeal. So, comparatively, for every Brain Age and Wii Sports, you're going to have 30 World Championship Poker IIs.
This isn't just because they want to exploit a new, older market. It's something more sinister. We, as a gaming community, young and old, have to prepare for a time when the Jack Thompsons of this country will win.
Gaming has always been an easy scapegoat of the publicity hungry politician. If the ESRB continues to handle them the way they are now, it is likely that those of us here in the states will soon experience the same kind of gaming iconoclasm that is already in place in Germany. That means banned games, harsher ratings boards, and extremely cautious retailers.
So: there will be a factioning of the gaming community. A broad spectrum of gamers of all ages who have been enjoying their entertainment for a time will try, and likely fail, to fight back against the censors. There will be older gamers who focus primarily on casual gaming that will feel as though they have won a moral victory and directed the industry into something more noble. Then there will be younger gamers who will blame the older crowd for spoiling the fun; isolating them in an attempt to return to the days where everyone, in a way, was represented in the market.
Shareholders of major publishers will panic and demand expansion rather than a costly lobbying battle. Think of it. Partridge Family Expansion Packs for Rock Band. New, downloadable house designs for The Swiss Family Robinson Adventure built of the Little Big Planet engine (fuck, I might just play that now that I think on it.) And yes, Biblical games out the ass. Maybe even a few good ones. ANYTHING to cater to the populist call for a new technological conservatism. And yet, it will come from both major political parties leaving everyone to congratulate themselves, and all of us to blame for the apathy that set it in place.
This is big money. We can't reasonably assume that the art is going to be protected at the expense of losing a corporation. Forget the masses of gamers who vote, forget the popularity, this is simply a war we cannot win if today's lobbying efforts are any example of our competence as an influential community. Chances are, this terrifying new world is exactly where we are headed according to Grandma.
Games are going to be quite different in a decade, but it's not just going to be improvements in graphics and audio and new input devices, it's going to be a whole different realm. The older folks are going to be blamed for it. And they will certainly not benefit from it.
This isn't what Grandma wants to happen. This isn't the gaming utopia we all dream about; the paradise we seem to feel is on its way. Things are great right now, but that doesn't mean they will stay that way. Could we be wrong? Maybe. I fucking hope so. I would be so happy to learn in ten years time that we were the crazy people who hoarded food for a Y2K disaster that never came. But as we all enjoy the current state of things, we have to think long and hard about what is to come.
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