Please Quit Selling to Him

This is probably one of my more infamous rants around gaming circles. It’s an oldie, but one that still seems relevant given the game lineups consoles are offering… Fortunately things have improved a little since this was posted, but it still feels like both Sony and Microsoft, in particular, have given up on making games in order to chase this elusive ‘market’ which really doesn’t seem to exist…

I saw ‘him’ the other day. I was in one of our local game stores, looking for an RPG that I haven’t yet played, that most rarest of creatures. ‘He’ walked in. He was large, early 20s, underage girlfriend in tow. She was probably sixteen, and wore and outfit that said she was more open than the typical 7-11. For his part, he walked with a permanent smug, and enjoyed showing off his girl. He went to the X-Box section, being sure to smirk at everyone else in the store, cracking jokes at their expense.

By now, he had the entire store’s attention, so it would have been an intense effort to ignore him. I wanted to, but it’s a lot like ignoring someone that had eaten way too much Taco Bell for the last few days. Some things you can’t ignore, no matter how much you want to. Anyway, he made his way to the X-Box section, where he and his girlfriend started to look for a ‘cool’ game. Hearing just a smidge of their conversation, I begun to realize what they considered ‘cool’, more because they were pointing out other games as something ‘nerds’ and ‘geeks’ would play and smirking in that ‘I’m so cool and you’re not way’. They didn’t want a cool game that was one, they wanted a ‘cool’ game that made them look cool for having it.

To explain this, it’s kind of like going to see a really bad action flick with your buddies because it’s supposed to be cool, and then avoiding the good comedy of the year because it’s ‘kid-friendly’, or at least didn’t earn that NC-17 rating that only the ‘cool’ people demand.

This guy was the walking stereotype of a frat-boy, a smug son-of-a-bitch who reached his life’s peak sometime in high-school, which is why he’s dating a girl from that age group. He thinks he’s cool. He wants others to think he’s cool. So, he wants games that make others think he’s cool. Right now, there are a handful of games that are ‘cool’ in that way, and about a bazillion clones of those games that are neither good, fun, or cool at all.

And, because of those few games that hit the ‘cool’ button, game producers (but not developers) think they’ve finally cashed in, and are now demanding that this ‘new’ audience be aggressively sought after while simultaneously leaving the ‘nerds’ and ‘geeks’ behind. Hell, the X-Box, in particular, caters almost exclusively to this crowd, ignoring entire genres of games just to get that ‘next hot Mature-rated shooter’ out the door. Hell, another Madden update and the deal on the ‘frat jock’ is locked. With X-360, this trend isn’t just going to continue, it’s going to skyrocket—right before it explodes into nothingness.

You see, what Microsoft and its ilk fail to take into account is that these guys just ain’t gamers. They’re interested in ‘cool’, not in games. And, as soon as something else ‘cool’ comes along, they’re going to stop buying games—completely. I expect that to happen about last year sometime, judging from sales numbers, anyway. By and large, these guys have moved on, with some straggling to the ‘cool’ games still, but in dwindling numbers, and others moving on to the next ‘cool’ thing to do, based on whatever Hollywood says is ‘different and good for your image’.

Meanwhile, at the same time, Microsoft has been giving both older gamers as well as our younger ‘nerd’ brethren the middle-finger, and quite happily doing so. After all, they’ve ‘cashed in’ on the LAN college jock crowd! Why do they need the established consumer base that made the PS2 the juggernaut of all consoles, made Nintendo a tidy few million dollars, or turned Pac-Man into a phenomenon back in the day. Now, they can cash out to guys who are going to use them like their underage girlfriends, and probably more quickly! Such a brilliant marketing strategy is one of the many ways we can think Hollywood for its influence in gaming.

Sure, there’s money to be made from these guys, but they’re not gamers. They’re not going to stick around and buy 20 games, ’cause there just aren’t going to be 20 ‘cool’ games for any console. The typical X-Box customer had a total of five games over its lifespan, and Microsoft has lost a fortune on the console, despite their ‘units sold’ numbers.

Meanwhile, the die-hard gamers are wondering when we’re going to get games again, rather than a bunch of shallow, former high-school poser/jock fantasies? Come on, Microsoft, start making them, and I’m sure you won’t have to spin about how ‘losing a few million here and there is good for the company’ nearly as much.

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