Yesterday Parkin wrote about the concept of ‘Energy’, the free-to-play gaming mechanic that he sees as something of a gaming poison. A deliberate stalling of the mechanisms of the fun factory, designed to encourage gamers to grease its gears with money.
Today, I want to propose another angle to this – that increasingly gamers won’t find it fun, and eventually they won’t put up with it.
If you’re reading this article (certainly if you’re the guy writing it) you have an ingrained knowledge of video-games and video-gaming that stretches a long way back – perhaps even as far back as they go. You have an ingrained knowledge and awareness of how they work and what makes them fun.
What’s more, I’d wager, that in the earlier days of games you were a little more forgiving of their contrivances. You didn’t mind when they repeated themselves, you took insta-death on the chin (generally) and you certainly didn’t mind putting in graft for meagre returns. Why? Well, because you still didn’t know any better.
After the Wii and the iPhone ushered in a new age of casual gaming we are now surrounded by a vast, teeming audience of people who are new to a place where you and I have stood for most of our lives. The term ‘casual’ is problematic, but for the purposes of this argument we’re discussing the fresh faces in the world of gaming who, like you and I all those years ago, they too don’t know any better. As such it’s easy for the games easing them into the world of electronic entertainment to strap on contrivances like Parkin’s much-maligned Energy system.
The way they enjoy their games can be pushed and pulled this way and that, generally with an eye to monetisation, and it’ll be both invisible to them and faintly galling to the established gamer.
This is perfectly fine – there are millions of people enjoying themselves intently whether in Farmville or beyond. Who am I to insult the time they choose to spend, or the companies that create the games they spend that time with?
What’s important to state, however, is that this state of affairs will not last forever. Over a number of years you and I began to learn how gaming worked, and we started to see the barriers to enjoying what we found fun. Today’s casual gamers will soon undergo that same transition, and with the vast pool of potential entertainment that surrounds them it will be a quicker process.
It’s something that I discussed with Frederick Raynal, creator of Alone in the Dark and Little Big Adventure, at this year’s GDC – and if I may I’ll borrow a little of what he said.
“I know a lot of people who are forty years old who’ve never played a game and have started in recent years.” he said, while I underwent a degree of hero worship. “They don’t know anything about games. It’s new to them now. In five years though, all those people will have had their eyes focussed on games for a long time. They will know what sort of game they like.”
“Look at Facebook games like Farmville, which are very successful in terms of their numbers of players. If you look at the curves though, they’re going down. People start to see that they’re doing meaningless things.”
“When you make a game, you need to think about the player – and players evolve. Everybody grows up.”
In the same way that yesterday’s WOW player is today’s League of Legends acolyte, swapping the treadmill for a direct hit of the good stuff, casual players will start to demand more. They’ll seek out gratification from those willing to give it to them, and they’ll simultaneously develop a palate that’s more textured and more mature.
There’s no point in wagging a doom-mongering finger, or tucking thumbs into belts and snootily telling Zynga to make hay while the sun shines. Their pool is vast, and their sun will shine for a long time. Their feed of players, however, will be forever be moving onwards and outwards.
Eventually everyone will be paddling on our side of the river, the elysian fields of gaming rising up on the hills behind us. We’ll be in a better, happier place where the word ‘noob’ no longer has meaning. Join us, won’t you?