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09/02/2003

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j.no

Attempting to get past the cheap punchlines, I can still see several points worthy of comment.

I think Fryer is mixing two very different issues. The complexity, and the fun of games. (Just think a little, and I'm sure you will remember plenty of examples that the "fun" of a game is seldom related to its complexity - or lack thereof).
Further, believing that "fun" is the only real attraction in games is a (very common) mistake. What makes games, computerized or not, so attractive is their ability to stir emmotions (pleasant or not) and challenge our skills and intellect in ways otherwise difficult or dangerous to achieve.

Fryer want's games that appeal equally to young and old, but do young and old need the same kind of mental or physical challenge, the same kind of stimulation? I think that is often not the case, and producing games that appeal to all of the market is to exclude a lot of poential kick-ass games only appealing to a limited market.

As most of the socalled "entertainment industry", Fryer apparently think of games as part of a category including TV, Films and music. This is, if not a mistake, then at least a gross simplification. What those 3 media lack (from a normal consumers situation) is something more than 1-way communication. Games have the ability to be a medium for multiple-way communication, but viewing them as akin to the media of the monologue is not the best of ways to explore and take advantage of this ability.

/rant

Oh... reading the interview again, I realize I probably misunderstood her point on games/difficulty/complexity - I'll leave it anyways.

William

I've commented elsewhere, that one of the unnecessary constraints placed on videogames is that they are all about surmounting a challenge - about agon. There are axes of play and pleasure using videogame technology that have nothing to do with problem-solving or skill-building or controller-mastery that could be explored, that might go far to expand the popularity - and the breadth of experience - of those technologies.

Part of the problem is that our expectations of what videogames are supposed to do has really been framed by the demographic which they were associated with - people for whom skill mastery, competition, and obstacle-overcoming are particularly pleasurable (for a number of reasons that I don't think need elaborating.) This is fine and well and needn't disappear, but it needn't define the medium, either. There are undiscovered pleasures lying underneath the technologies of videogames, and with those undiscovered pleasures are unreached audiences.

JohnK

You mean a Microsoft department is out of touch with reality? Say it ain't so!

Sorry, couldn't help but throw in a cheap line.

I agree with j.no in that Fryer is looking too broadly at games audiences. She seems to be throwing hardcore and casual gamers (amongst others) into the same basket, not realising that they are very different markets. Fryer makes some relevant points, but from the perspective of a more casual gamer. But that should come as no surprise -- Microsoft is in the business of making games that appeal to as many paying customers as possible. They've always made software that was not perfect, just "good enough", so I can't imagine that culture changing too quickly for games. And for most of their target audience that will be "good enough" too.

Mind you, now that I've said that they're gonna release a game sooo damn good I'll have to sell a kidney to buy an Xbox.

*sigh*

Snowmit

If anything, I would say that simpler controls give designers room for deeper gameplay or at least deeper immersion. There is no better way to break the suspension of disbelief than to force the player to try to figure out some arcane series of keystrokes to do something. If you don't know how to do it and you find the controls frustrating then you walk away and never come back - it doesn't matter how rich the game is.

Certainly, from the point of view of trying to get more casual gamers and regular people into games, you want as intuitive an interface as possible. There is a reason that Myst did so well as a game.

Harvey Smith posted an Interesting article about this stuff called Features Without Interface. I think it applies to what she is saying.

Draigon

"geeks and guys"

Lead by example. The perception is geeks and guys for a reason. There's a vast history of geeks and guys playing video games. You want to break the perception, break the mold. Video games are supposedly to express a wide range of emotions, then why is it only being done a few ways? There should be trillions upon trillions of game design possibilities. I don't see trillions upon trillions of different kinds of games. Every game has familiar mechanics, goals, and even stories.

If this lady has gripes about the industry, I hope she's making a difference. I'm certainly not standing in her way.

As for the geek remark, though, I think I should say something. Why is this such a bad thing? Honestly. The modern day geek is not at all the stereotype from years back and with computers being everywhere I think there are plenty of geeks to uphold that new image. Personally, I've always been proud of being a geek, a nerd. I don't think it's bad at all that a personality group should be aligned with an activity. Kind of like sports and jocks. That stereotype is never going to go away, but one thing that has changed (at least from where I grew up) is the definition of a jock. When I was younger, a jock as a negative term for people with no intellect and cavemen mentallities. Now it's more like a determined, athletic person. Some of the mindless traits are still tacked on, but not as strongly in the beginning. This, for me anyway, is because people began to be proud of being a jock. It became a compliment. When you see really smart people proudly calling themselves jocks it slowly tears the negative meaning behind it. The same could be said for geeks. So the "geeks and guys" comment, is really only half negative to me. If games are for geeks, good. It's ours. We own it. If others want to join in, they'll know who the experts are.

(apologies for bad grammar/mispellings. I'm extremely tired)

Brain From Arous

Well, two things.

(1) One of the reasons games are so hard is because of the widespread conceptual and creative bankruptcy among their creators.

Consider: how many times have we seen, and will see, an RPG based on Tolkeinesque psuedo-medievalism? How many cyberpunkish games are there? How many remakes (admitted or not) of Doom and Quake?

Game makers want their games to be challenging, but rather than hit the players with new and challenging IDEAS, they take the easy road and equate "challenging" with "physically difficult."

Ask yourselves: how many games have you played where you knew exactly what you needed to do, often quite early on, and the real "gameplay" consisted only of training your fingers to hit the right buttons on the controller in the right order, at the right time?

Add to this the problem that as developers and testers bring the game close to completion, they've gotten so used to it (and good at playing it) that what they consider a "challenging" level of difficulty is for most people practically impossible.

I think this has something to do with the popularity of cheat codes and such. It's not so much that players want to rampage through the game world in God Mode - rather that without some help, many of them would never complete the game AT ALL.

(2) I am find this "more adult women play than boys" thing highly suspect. I would very much like to see exactly how this "data" was gathered. I have a hunch we're looking at something similar to that bogus old IDSA claim that 40% of gamers are female.

Bobby Bokista

I sorta have taken this opportunity to tear apart the validity of the article about Women Gamers. I think they do an awful job of trying to prove their point. I love female gamers and I wish there were many more, but I think the article tries to hit people with a shock value it doesn't really have. It comments a lot on Brain From Arous's follow-up. It can be found here: Do Video Games Now Draw More Women Than Boys?? Not Really.

Snowmit

Uh, that article doesn't tear apart the article with the statistics at all. It rightly points out that it's a bad analysis to compare the number of older women to the number of teenage boys involved in gaming but aside from that it mostly just says "yup, those are some satistics.". The important thing to note is that if you do the math, then according to the article, the TOTAL percentage of gamers who are girls is 26% + 17% = 43%.

Now, I'd be very curious to know how the stat determined that you were a gamer. Does minesweeper count?

On the idea that the fact that the gaming population is aging is unimportant, I don't think that that's true at all. I think that it *is* significant that people aren't abandoning the hobby as they get older. It means that people are sticking around and that this trend is likely to continue. In other words, video games are more like movies than they are like tag in terms of maintaining a userbase.

Draigon

48% of gamers are women and my family has 2.5 children. Statistics only take you so far.

From my own experience for my own local area, the percentage is probably around 15% and I'm being generous. I would love it to be closer to 50/50 like that vapor percentage, but thinking of that as a reality today is laughable.

If you think about it, the consoles from a hardware point of view are almost geared towards men. Sharp edges, boxy, black, green, dark blue. The Xbox especially tries to be intimidating, large, deviously glowing. GameCube I suppose comes closest with a light, good-natured controller and almost purse-like handle/portability. Maybe I'm being a bit extreme. I would like to see a little more neutrality in terms of hardware appearance, game marketing, and game design. Where is the iMac of the console world?

Snowmit

I think that you're absolutely right about most game products being generally geared towards boys and men. That's what makes the claims in this study so noteworthy.

I don't think you can dismiss the study out of hand. Certainly, dismissing it because it doesn't match up with the percentages in your local area (whatever that means) is a bad idea. For all you know, the girl gamers are all gaming in the secrecy of their own homes. My roomate plays games but she doesn't generally participate in gamer culture, so you would have never met her, etc. I didn't even know she played games until we'd known each other for a year. She still doesn't think of herself as a gamer even though she plays Tetris *all the time*.

They hired a polling company to do the stody so there was probably *some* validity to the findings. The question that isn't answered (as I mentioned before) is what counts as a gamer in this poll? What's the threshold? Plays once a week? Once a year? Once in their lives? Also, what counts as a game? Is minesweeper a game? The solitaire that comes with Windows and that everyone with a computer plays? Or is the threshold higher than that? Bargain bin games and up, say. None of these details are given.

Rather than speculate wildly, I sent an email to the ESA asking these sorts of questions (the article with the poll is pretty much a reprint of a press release that the ESA put out). I'll let you know if they reply.

Jia

I tend to agree with Fryer's general point that the majority of games may be "too difficult for a mass audience." Specifically, Xbox games seem to target a more "hardcore" demographic with lots of complex shooters and simulation type games.

The only console developer who seems to be making general "fun and easy" games nowadays is Nintendo. Games like "Supermonkey Ball" and "Pikmin" are very easy to pick up and deliver immediate gratification, much like the early simplistic arcade games. And there's also "Wario Ware, Inc." for the GBA which is just a collection of 200 some "micro-games" that pare down games to their minimalistic core. As their product site demonstrates, games can take as long as a few seconds and instructions can be reduced to just one word like "catch" or "avoid."

Anyway, I think simplistic "retro" type games are coming back because of the popularity of gaming on cellphones and PDAs which can only support basic gameplay. And while some would argue these sorts of games are a throwback and just a rehash of old games, I think the constraints of limited technology (processing speed, pixels, input devices), forces game developers to be more creative, not less. Sometimes the "latest and greatest" game seems to be just a showcase for the newest 3d card or graphical technology, with minimal thought being put into the gameplay behind the bells and whistles.

Draigon

"Certainly, dismissing it because it doesn't match up with the percentages in your local area (whatever that means) is a bad idea. For all you know, the girl gamers are all gaming in the secrecy of their own homes."

To me, that's kind of ridiculous. For all I know, there are tons of male gamers gaming in secrecy. The study itself has too many questions against its validity which you yourself stated, which again affirms my point that stats should be taken with a grain of salt. I don't think it would be a "bad idea" at all to assume that the nearly 50/50 percentage statistic is erroneous, because while there may be alot of girls gaming in secrecy, surely I would see alot more if the percentage was in reality close to half and half with males. Unless 70% of girl gamers are ninjas. In which case, they are the true ultimate power.

Brain From Arous

I have no problem with women gamers. The more, the merrier.

However, I am suspicious of any statistic, regardless of source, that contradicts my everyday lived experiences. (I keep my mind open, that is, but I remain skeptical.)

I've been gaming pretty much since there WAS gaming. I'm an original Atari Kid. And from then until now - we're talking almost 30 years - I've found female gamers pretty thin on the ground. Yes, they DO exist, but not in great numbers.

When all the dust settles, it may just turn out that video gaming is largely (although not exclusively) a "guy thing."

Wirewyrm

I was about to make a comment about the "adult women gamers now outnumber teenage boys?" right after Draigon first posted, but i thought better of it since the statistics contained therein didn't seem very relevant to the article at the time. However, since so many other people voiced their doubts, here goes:

The article in the link provided by the author misuba in the article centers around a single survey done by ESA. The survey covered a grand total of, and i quote, "a random national sample of 806 adults, covering a total of 1,048 game players including kids". According to ESA's own website, "50% of all Americans play games". Now assuming they meant "Americans" as anybody living in the U.S., the U.S Census Bureau puts the national population at 291,978,198 (12:09 EDT Sep 04, 2003). The U.S. population is in the advanced stage, so growth rate should be close to 0. That means the national population at the time of the survey should not be too different from 292 million.

For those too lazy to do the math, 50% of 292 million makes 146 million gamers in the U.S.A. A sample size of 1,048 gamers is less than 0.001% of the total gaming population. That's less than one gamer representing every one million gamers. How a survey with this kind of sample size can be taken to be statistically significant is a joke.

Hope that clears things up a bit for you peeps. Cheers.

Wirewyrm

Personally though, i encourage girls to game. I tell them it's the future of the media and entertainment. Whenever there's a handicap feature, especially in fighters, i always give them a big handicap advantage, so that we can all play our best and still have fun (even among males, not many people are my match). I sit and watch while my female friends play single player games like RPGs, and help them out when they get frustrated. I try not to be overbearing, but i'm still working on that, although i've gotten much better now. Is there anything more i can do to promote gaming among females?

The way i see it, dumbing down games or making some games easier than others is not the best solution. Having different difficulty (and handicap where applicable) settings on every game is much better, as it allows everybody to enjoy the same games. Capcom and Konami do a very good job of this, for example in Silent Hill 2 and 3, and Capcom vs SNK 2. In my opinion, if they work on this and refine the difficulty settings calibration, it will be the best way to make all games accessible to everyone.

ZYirAH

I guess I'm one of the few people that think games have gotten continually easier since the NES / SNES / Genesis days. I'd say Shinobi on PS2, and Ikaruga or F-Zero GX on the Cube were the last 'challenging' games I've played. The Xbox had a couple of tricky launch games (PGR, Amped) but everything else in its library is pretty vanilla when it comes to difficulty.

I really don't see the Cube or PS2 having proportionally more easy games than the Xbox. I think Ms. Fryer should be addressing the lack of diversity of Xbox games (ie: way too many PC tactical FPS ports / clones) instead of the level of difficulty (or lack there of). More diversity of content would appeal to more potential customers.

Snowmit

I emailed the ESA about the questions that we've been asking here and here is what they said.

"As a general rule, we never release the polls we do but to give you some background, this was a very short poll (only 6 or 7 questions) that did not differentiate between casual and hardcore gamers. We simply asked if they played computer or video games. "

and in response to a second set of questions from me:

"As I mentioned in my previous email, we did not distinguish between any of the subsets you mention, we merely asked a random national sample, "Do you play computer or video games?" While they may be surprising numbers to you, this is actually consistent with previous studies we have done. We do an in-depth consumer survey every April and last year's numbers were consistent with the numbers yielded from this brief poll. "

For those of you who are interested, the results of the April poll that they mention can be found here (it's a PDF).

Take from it what you will.

b-ruce

Aren't all of these: "i encourage girls to game" "I have no problem with women gamers" comments a tad bit patronizing? One would assume that if you were reading "Game Girl Advance" that you would not be against the fairer sex gaming.

I think Fryer's point was that if games are to break into the next level they need to have a mass appeal. And she's right. However, she's wrong to think that a game could be made that would appeal to a 15 year old hardcore gamer as well as a casual gamer, or a 25 year old hardcore gamer for that matter.

Is "Apocolypse Now" appropriate for kids? Was it made for kids? Was the movie "Kids" made for kids? No, no, no. Videogames don't need to have universal appeal to all ages.

Seems to me what Fryer wants more games like Shenmue without the virtua fighter fighting.

Draigon

I don't think that's the point she was trying to make in reguards to difficulty.

Consistant satisfaction is more important than focusing on difficulty. If a game were impossible to beat it could still be fun to a gamer not looking for a challenge if the satisfaction from playing the game is high. The first Mario, for example, does not require you to get far into the game before you start having fun. Satisfaction is immediate. In the same example, though, the difficulty of adjusting to the game mechanics is extremely low. The focus of development was on having fun gameplay and everything else moved outward from that point.

As quoted from the article: "People don't focus on gameplay. Instead they make a beautiful game that is no fun."

mendel

"(1) One of the reasons games are so hard is because of the widespread conceptual and creative bankruptcy among their creators."

Bah!
Get a PC and seek out some independents who distribute online.
One of the reasons creatively bankrupt games sell are the consumers. ;)

My guess about the adult woman gamers? Gameboys sell better than consoles, and despite the name, I think they're pretty gender-neutral. If you defined gamer as "plays on screen larger than 10 inch diagonally", I'd guess numbers would be more male-dominated.
Basis? Far less than a small random sample, it's just guesswork, so feel free to outguess me! ;)

mudpup

I agree b-ruce. Those comments are very patronizing. There is almost this sense of ownership among some males that these games are theirs and that in order for females to enjoy or properly play them, they need to be dumbed down in some way.

I think we need to stop viewing this as a male/female issue. Yes, it is true, or it's been my experience at least, that a lot of males tend to be drawn toward certain types of games and vice-versa. But, for every case where that generalization proves true, I find many instances where it doesn't, both personally and through encounters with other gamers.

I think the issue is diversity.

Also there is the issue of how long a person has been gaming. People who are new to gaming want to jump in and have an exciting experience right away. It takes years to build the sort of dexterity you need to play some of the more complex fighting games, but no one actually tells you this. I had to rely on the advice of kind people to steer me in the right direction as to game choices, or I would've most likely run for the hills.

Anyway, I don't need my games dumbed down. I also don't need to have games over-explained to me. What I really need is a wider variety of subject matter that appeals to my tastes. Games like FFX or Pokemon for GBA are great examples of RPGs which veer off in other directions beyond the typical horror/medieval/tactical types of games. Their core is similar, but the stories are different an more appealing to a broader range of people.

Brain From Arous

"Get a PC and seek out some independents who distribute online.
One of the reasons creatively bankrupt games sell are the consumers. ;)"

I not only have a PC - how else would I post comments here - but I build them for friends and family members.

Yes, there are some good "indie" developers doing interesting stuff, but that doesn't change the problem. The Hollywoodization of game development has taken, and will continue to take, its toll.

b-ruce

I'm just a brain-dead consumer so I'm not sure what "The Hollywoodization of game development" entails. But I think I like it.

I really think games are moving in the right direction. A game should feel more like a movie or actually more like a book (you can really grow to love characters in a 40hr RPG and developers can use that time to fully develop characters.)

Now if you're saying that the games being made are for the most part formulaic and uninspired I might agree with you. But I think the market will grow wiser as it grows older.

You can't expect consumers to make educated purchases when there is a lack of information available to them. Right now it's pretty much all IGN or Gamespot, maybe you can throw Gamespy in there. But I think that the % of the gaming market that actively researches their purchases at these sites is very low. I expect that % to rise in the years to come, as many of these conumers will be burned by buying a game without getting any information beforehand and will learn their lesson.

Domicius

Well, if I never have to solve another jumping puzzle in a game, amen!

I am an aging gamer, and spending half an hour to get past the same d%%n spot in Jedi Knight II killed the game for me. I just whipped out Halo, where even the tough bits are a heck of a lot of fun.

Let's be honest here... us oldies have better things to do with our time than trying to get past iterative or derivative filler in games. Give me progression, and I don't care if it's "only" over 10 hours later.

It's all in how much fun is to be had, not in how long it takes to get to the fun bit.

DarkZero

"'Games are still too difficult for a mass audience,' she told the Game Developers Conference, held at London's Earls Court last week. 'People don't focus on gameplay. Instead they make a beautiful game that is no fun.'

One of the main obstacles was the complicated controls of many of today's games, as well as tough levels which left many players frustrated.

'You want a game that is challenging but never frustrating,' said Ms Fryer."

I think the reporting of this interview on various game sites has been horribly off base. This woman isn't talking about complicated games, she's talking about CRAPPY games. Games like Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness where jumping around platforms is an even more hellish experience than usual. Games like the PS2 port of Hitman 2 that have asinine control schemes that require using two analog sticks just to move around and pressing the L1 button with a perfect amount of pressure to go into Sneak Mode instead of crouching. Games with Resident Evil/Silent Hill "remote control tank" control schemes. Games like Metroid Prime where each button on the controller is a single, distinct action, and pressing the wrong button can cause enough lag to get you killed.

I don't think she's really asking for modern games to be like Super Monkey Ball, but rather like the original Metal Gear Solid. Metal Gear Solid was a pretty complicated game, but it didn't play like one. Switching through its menagerie of weapons and items didn't require eight different buttons or pausing and skipping through three inventory menus. You just held a shoulder button that brought up the menu, scrolled to the weapon you wanted to use, and then took your finger off the button. The same principle worked with backing up to walls. You didn't have to hold down the Sneak Mode button, walk over to the wall, and then press and hold the Wall Attach button. You just ran up to it. That's it. Just press a direction on the analog stick and you're done.

RPG menus, deep plotlines, and varied situations are not what makes a game "complex" for the casual gamer. What makes it complex is ridiculous control schemes, a bad camera that you need to manually adjust every time you move, idiotic situations like jumping around tiny platforms with bad jump controls for twenty minutes straight, and poorly designed levels that do nothing to keep you from getting lost. Some 3D games, and ironically the ones that sell the most copies (Enter the Matrix, Tomb Raider, etc.), have become an arcane science that only a dedicated gamer can understand, filled with camera adjustments, vague menus, required reading (the manual), and other things that only we foolish few can understand.

It shouldn't be this way. Games should not be shipped with a poor automatic camera. Their developers should actually spend more than five minutes refining their control schemes. And above all, they should include some in-game tutorials and hints (codec, anyone?) so you can learn while you play instead of having to sit down and seriously examine the manual before playing. What's really needed, and I think she's even hinting at this, is a game like Shinobi or Devil May Cry, but with an adjustable difficulty level. It's unfortunate that the only games that are being made today that have tight controls and effective cameras are the ones that do their best to push away the casual gamers that desperately need them. Many fighting and action games are technically superior to the sort of schlock that's being sold by the millions right now, but they push casual gamers away by shipping with their default difficulty levels set to Ultra Hard. If their default was set to Easy and they had an options menu where experienced gamers could set it to Hard, I'm sure they would sell many more copies and be well received by gamers both serious and casual.

Hey, come to think of it, that's another thing that Metal Gear Solid did. It even came with FIVE difficulty settings. Heh.

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