The core audience is divided right now - should we support or shun the idea of social gaming? One side passionately and obsessively says that social gaming is a vermin, a poison for the difficulty of games. The other says accessibility to video games is key for the success of the industry, and to a degree this true. But what is also true is video games over the years have been getting easier - especially in the area of MMOs. Should us gamers embrace this new mentality of the casual or leave it to die in a well somewhere?
The rise of the video gaming industry has changed the landscape quite a bit. First it has gone from making small-time games, making a quick buck and move on. Now, it's spend two years making a highly-successful game, graphics being a focal point, and release three to five sequels to that game if it (or in some cases, isn't) becomes a hit. It's a formula that makes people realize one thing - video gaming is a business. A massive business. A 20 billion dollar industry to be exact. That's a lot of dough. Twenty-five years ago, a developer was lucky if their game broke even; now we have games like Black Ops making a billion dollars in sales in the first five weeks! All of this within twenty-years is a huge jump - especially compared to other forms of media - and the industry hasn't had the time to embrace further audiences. They've been too busy thinking the only audience for their products is the "hardcore" audience.
I wanted to establish the fact (and I have said this before many times) that video gaming is an industry and us gamers forget this fact. And as a business, the purpose for its existence to be profitable and economically sound. The model of the two-year in development "triple A" cycle is not ending any time soon - but companies are now realizing (with the success of the Wii) that there is another audience for their product, and they fully intend to capitalize. The rise of social gaming a lot of people may not like, and I am in this crowd, but for the long-term stability and sustainability of the industry, we're just going to have to accept what social gaming is in its current form.
Casual and social gaming have been around for a long time and can be often used interchangeably. The Wii brought in a whole new persona to what gamers are, which I am thankful for, because it allows other people to enjoy what I love, but also gets people talking about the industry and the state it's in. Never before have we seen so many people talking about video games and while some are stung by what has happened, I think it's a beautiful thing. It's not just the Wii, though, an even bigger platform for games has emerged: Facebook. Social networking will always be a part of our lives - to the disgust of some - and the rise of the so-called "global village" has presented studios with a unique opportunity: a massive platform to make games, for relatively cheap, for an audience of 500 million willing to give it a shot. Zynga, the makers of FarmVille, has received 500 million in funding over the last two years and will launch an IPO by 2013. The company makes flash games. Flash games! That's all it is! FarmVille is a simple idea with addicting gameplay (I don't play it) and has made Zynga the developer to beat on Facebook. Other companies are seeing the potential here - most recent example is Ubisoft. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood had Facebook integration; it wasn't much, but it is a shining example of what we'll be seeing more of in years to come.
Gaming has always had a difficult nature. It took me a while to coordinate using two analog sticks. But the persistence of this newfound audience and the accessibility necessary to accommodate them, some would argue has been killing the challenge of games in recent years. One notable example of this is World of Warcraft. The MMO experience was always one for the hardcore - a casual MMO fan didn't exist until, really, the release of Wrath of the Lich King, the second expansion for WoW. Wrath changed the game dramatically - it made everything easier. Before Wrath, during the original game without any expansions, it would take months to hit the maximum level of 60 and this was for good reason: to give the player an enthralling adventure but also a sense of accomplishment when dinging at the final level. It was a relieve for most players because levelling is a huge grind. But now, experience has been ramped up. Before it would take someone months to get to sixty; now it's possible to get from 1 to 80 in a week. Why this sudden change happened is rather simple - either Blizzard had a declining fanbase and had to make the game easier, or Blizzard wanted to expand their existing audience. Both reasons are perfectly acceptable, because Blizzard is a business, but avid players of the game will say their game experience was ruined. But then, to the joy of the 12 million that play the game, Cataclysm was released and made the game hard again. I have yet to get to level 80 but I will soon, I promise.
Without the success of the Wii and the rise of Facebook, I wouldn't have even thought to write this blog post. Essentially the argument comes down to two things: success or enjoyment. Every person involved in the industry will prioritize one of these two concepts. But it does make me wonder if the fat cats that run EA or Activision or the biggest companies actually play their own games?