By Carl HoweThe New York Times noted over the weekend that the video game industry has an image problem and only itself to blame. From the article:
Think about it. If someone asks you what you did this weekend, and you respond, “Ah, I was kind of tired and just hung out at home and watched a bunch of movies,” that’s normal. If you say, “Ah, I was kind of tired and just hung out at home and watched a bunch of sports on TV,” that’s normal. But if you say, “Ah, I was kind of tired and just hung out at home and played a bunch of video games,” that is simply not a normal adult response in most social circles.
People in the game industry are fond of blaming the mainstream media for that reality, and it is certainly true that most media outlets treat games as a fringe activity rather than as a dynamic part of the modern entertainment landscape. But in that sense the media is only reflecting broader society’s view of games, at least in this country.
As a whole, most game companies do not seem to recognize that rather than whining all the time about how misunderstood it is, the industry itself has the power to change how it is perceived. That means marketing itself much more broadly and, as Mr. Moore so aptly put it, moving beyond the boys in the bedroom.
Innovators like Nintendo (OTCPK:NTDOY) get it. Most of the industry does not. The danger, of course, is that if the game industry continues on its current path, games could end up like comic books in this country: perpetually marginalized and derided as a frivolous diversion for children. (In Japan, by contrast, it is totally normal to see middle-aged businessmen reading graphic novels in public.)
I couldn't agree more. Too much of the video game industry is focused on exactly one genre: first-person shooters. And entertaining as those might be, they will never capture more than about 10% of consumers, if that. Meanwhile, millions of consumers are looking for entertainment other than just how quickly and efficiently they can blow their friends and enemies away. And if gaming consoles and game makers won't give that to them, they'll do something else, like watch TV or chat on the Internet.
Nintendo has the right idea in re-inventing the game controller to focus less on "twitch" button reflexes and more on the types of motions used in real-world activities. And innovative new games like Dance Dance Revolution have proved that other genres can succeed. The question is whether the gaming industry can evolve its marketing to address more than the niche it grew up with. So far, the answer to that question has been no. Let's hope that 2007 is the year when the answer becomes yes.
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