Few would argue against the fact that Nintendo are single-handedly responsible for introducing a multitude of new folks to the world of video gaming. Younger children, girls and those who had previous little interest in gaming have been given a stepping stone into this exciting and evocative new world (even my girlfriend has started having the odd game and, believe me, that is an achievement!).
Now, surely this is a good thing, but how does this bode for the future of the more serious gamer? With an audience that is growing daily it must be hard for developers to ignore the potential profit in the casual gamer market. We are seeing an increasing number of Wii sports titles that are basic games, thinly veiled beneath a cutesy and colourful façade, for example. The technology is, of course, very innovative, but sadly the execution is often dated.
However, this does not just apply to Nintendo, as either I’ve become uncharacteristically good at my 360 and PS3 games or there are far more titles that exist as little more than glorified, interactive movies. And if you were me (which I am, so I can vouch for me), you’d realize the latter is far more likely. Sure, I love a cinematic game dripping with luscious visuals as much as the next guy, but without the challenging aspect we surely cannot have the same sense of fulfilment we have grown to crave. Perhaps it is this massive influx of the notorious “casual gamers” diluting the market that has caused some developers to pay less attention to challenging its inevitably less adept audience.
Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way suggesting games are getting worse, but merely that a certain aspect of the enjoyment is surely removed when a game is too easy. Gamers of today are spoon-fed missions and “challenges” and options such as auto-aim, superdupereasymode and the ability to save anywhere are becoming all too common. For example, we’re all familiar with that old-fashioned, unparalleled feeling of frustration when faced with a particularly tough section of a game that leaves us tearing our hair out, before reloading and repeating over and over again. But the sense of achievement you get when you finally make it through and to a save point is fantastic and surely worth the pain. Arguably, you could simply opt not to take advantage of these options but, let’s face it, given the option to save after every tiny action you would, just to make your life that bit easier, wouldn’t you?
Developers cannot be blamed for catering for the growing casual gaming audience. After all, games need to be profitable and therefore must be accessible to a wider number of people. Furthermore, there is still a substantial number of games out there that are clearly aimed at the more skilled gamer; Resident Evil 5 is incredibly (yet satisfyingly) difficult. The big question remains, though: if the current trend continues, will the hardcore gamers fade into the minority, whilst those who “dip into” them now and again become the norm?
Of course, we are far from this situation as there is still a huge number of games being released with the hardcore gamer in mind. However, given the current economic climate, the situation can only be exacerbated. We often argue that games are “recession proof”, but this is a generalization, games must remain profitable and casual games are simply easier to make and much quicker to churn out. Hopefully those developers out there who retain their integrity and dignity will survive catering for a more demanding audience. If Midway, the great grandfather of them all, can succumb to a time when the future of quality gaming hangs in the balance, is anybody safe without selling their soul to the casual market?