Hardcore and Back Again: Video Games in a Nutshell

The SNES was a young kid’s dream (in the early 90′s). Every game felt brand-spanking new, because it was. When video games first came along, “copycats” were neither a logical thing to consider, nor an option.

Video games were casual. They were made for mainstream audiences. And back then, even the games that dared deal with war or death and dying were tame… For one thing, developers were not graphically or technically capable of creating the realistic violence we see today.

Gaming took off with the 18-35 male demographic (more and faster than the rest). They wanted more hardcore options.

So, video games got more and more hardcore.

Brief interjection – I hated to use the term “hardcore” but considered these semantics carefully…

Saying “games got serious” wouldn’t work, because that term throws a whole different topic in the (what I had hoped to be simple) mix. The consumer-facing video game timeline runs parallel to a completely separate evolution of “serious games”. It’s separate because serious games are rooted in needs not wants, audience notwithstanding.

Everyone from the US Army to childhood cancer researchers have used games for good (or practical) causes, and I’ll leave it there on the “serious” note, for now.

At some point, games like we used to know them were deemed “casual”, “arcade”, “platformers” and other (IMHO) belittling terms.

The fact is, video games got more hardcore because technology enabled it and the core audience wanted it. That made sense, and lots of dollars, too.

But then something happened. Several, actually.

Game developers remembered that whole other piece of the demographic pie chart. They saw women, younger and older audiences becoming more and more entranced with technologies like Facebook, iPhones and internet-based pastimes that were all similar to video games, in more ways than one.

Meanwhile, sales (and development) of boxed video games continued (and continues) to decline, spare a few blockbuster-busting exceptions.

Did I mention the enormous difference in development time and cost needed for a AAA console game versus an iPhone game? Yeah, that.

So those things happened, and you will never in a million years guess what happened next…

Casual, social and mobile game development (and revenues) skyrocketed.

Yes, there were, are and will probably always be “hardcore” console games (and a huge 18-35 male market to play them), but it is safe to say — these days, Nintendo isn’t the only company bringing us back to gaming’s wholesome, replayable, addictive, casual consumer roots.

From indie developers to the likes of Zynga and Rovio, newcomers are leaving hardcore alone and taking their lead from mainstream gamers.

Let me be the first to say… It feels good.


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