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The Homogeneous ‘Gamer’ Myth...
by Jon Brown on 03/12/10 06:18:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Games development is encumbered by an enemy within. This 5th column is intent on us making the same experience over and over and over again. They are interested more in what they know and not what is possible.

Hands up if you think I’m talking about publishers?

Sorry to disappoint, but that’s not the mark. The people I am actually talking about are those of us who actually make games, those of us on the shop floor, beavering away on our latest endeavour. Day in, day out, we hide behind a term which we rarely stop to define because we all know what it means: Gamer.

It’s a solid term, a term that implies a great many things - a person that likes games, understands games, thinks they’re great and wants to spend as much time as possible playing them, someone just like me.

Ah, ‘just like me’, not you, not him over there, but me. That’s where it starts to break down in reality. ‘Gamer’ is used as a term to describe a specific type of person who belongs to an homogenous group that we can all understand, communicate with easily and, ultimately, sell a tailored experience to. The hardcore, if you will.

However, we don’t have to cast our eyes far to realise that there must be an error in this logic; we only have to look around our own offices. Not everyone you work with likes the same games, they don’t even play in the same ways. So how can there be an homogenous ‘gamer’ we can all target, one that we have defined as indicative of a great social group, one that is just like me, when I’m not just like everyone else I work with?

If the DGD1 model is to be accepted (and I do wholeheartedly accept it, because I find it correlates well with the full spectrum of my observations on people who play games, not just video games) then there are 4 different gamer types, each of which is broken down into both the hardcore and casual subsets. Most people that make video games, certainly in the console realm, are either Type 1 gamers or Type 2 gamers.

Chris Bateman describes them as follows on his website:

  • Type 1 Conqueror play style is associated with challenge and the emotional payoff of Fiero - triumph over adversity. This correlates with what Nicole Lazarro has called "Hard fun". We associate Type 1 play with players who aim to utterly defeat games they play - they finish games they start.
  • Type 2 Manager play style is associated with mastery and systems. Victory for people preferring this play style seems to be the sign that they have acquired the necessary skills, not a goal in and of itself. They may not finish many games that they start playing.


It’s obvious to me that I am a Type 2 gamer, I have no compulsion to finish a game, I simply have to feel I have cracked the system, and there are many of us in the industry. I don’t need a game to last for 30 hours, I can defeat it in 2 and walk away satisfied, which is a lucky trait if you don’t have much spare time.

However, Type 1s are even easier to spot by their obsessive approach to one particular game. Ironically, despite being so well represented within our community there is a demographic slice of them that we barely cater for – those with kids. These unfortunate Type 1s are left to play one game in meagre portions, pecking away at the whole in stolen minutes here and there. Some actually give up on playing any games other than the one they’re making, finding the profile of their lives fits poorly with the epic offerings of the AAA titles they like. Less sometimes really is more, ask them what they want and they ask for shorter games, not longer ones.

We’re a maturing industry, with ever increasing resources and research on which to make our decisions. Given that the homogenous gamer is clearly a myth that we have created, it’s about time we abandon him, because he’s weighing us down. With this spectre gone we will be able to stop discriminating against those with different abilities and ways they want to play and start to consider the full family of gamers that we can, and should, appeal to.


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Comments


Groove Stomp
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I've always thought it weird that game reviews mention the length of a game, and anything 8 hours or less is considered "too short." Personally, if I have to spend more than 8 hours to finish a game, then you can bet I won't finish it. I probably won't even attempt to play it in that case. Tight, focused gameplay is what I seek. No filler, no movies, just good gameplay from start to finish in a period of time I can manage.

Daniel Grisales
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@ Aaron Oman: You see, I'm the opposite. It doesn't matter the length of the game for so long as it possesses a quality of entertainment, whether it be gameplay, story, or both (preferably both). I tend to lean towards the story end of the market, where an emotional investment is worth any length of game time. Sometimes, poor gameplay is fine if there is an amazing story behind it (not to advocate poor gameplay in lieu of a good story).



But I'm just one opinion and therefore I believe that it all boils down to what type of gamer you want to broadcast to. You can't win them all so you must cater to a type of gamer (or types depending on the game) and deliver quality not quantity. Gathering up as much of the audience as possible without sacrificing your scope of the intended game I say. However, I'm not in the business, so my opinion is from the outside looking in.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Joshua McDonald
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The real solution here is to build your design team, at least partially, out of your target audience. A game designer will always be at his best when designing games for people like him/her. You want a game to appeal to the guy with a wife, 5 kids, and lots of other hobbies. Great. Put a person like that on your design team and he'll be coming up with ideas and changes to make the game do exactly that.



A couple years back, I was constantly seeing "How can we get more girls into gaming?" articles. People were debating, researching, and all that, but I always had the same thought: "How many girls are on your design team?" A girl with a strong creative side can probably pull more girls into your game than a veteran male game designer reading research papers on what girls like.



Certainly the best designers can step outside of their area and look at what will make the game better for other types of gamers, but designing based off of research on something that you yourself don't get much enjoyment out of will only take you so far.

Kevin Patterson
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Game length is one of the biggest items on my checklist for buying a game.

If its a great game, but short, I will rent it instead.

If it's a long game, and has the possibility of some decent DLC, it will be a purchase.



Type 2 gamers have some great titles out there. the COD MW 1 and 2 games have short campaigns. Type 2 gamers have plenty of titles on the Wii, xbox live arcade, PSN, and PC that fit that jump in jump out mentality. MMO's are great for that.



Type 1 gamers like myself crave epic stories, new worlds to explore, and a memorable experience. I don't have massive amounts of gaming time, but I'll play a title till i finish it, and then move on.

Justin Machamer
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@ Joshua McDonald



I have to say I have the same opinions you do in regards to taking someone in a certain position to generate the content ideas you are looking for. If you want to appeal to a teenage gamer, talk with teenage gamers. If you want to attract female players, enlist female designers. There's only so much I can do with a story without consulting other people's opinions and what they would find interesting or would be looking for. I can make a great story I, and others like me, would like, but it's not about what I would like as much as it is making something that will hit the audience I want to hit. The best ideas I've been able to come up with came out of just talking with various people about things that would be interesting. I'm in no means a game industry veteran as I'm just coming out of schooling looking to get into making games as a career, but I do believe that you need to bounce ideas off of various demographics to incorporate things into the game that people will find entertaining and attractive.

Stephen Northcott
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Game quality is my number one yardstick. Case in point. Heavy Rain. Too short, but forgiven because of it's quality and replay value.



I love long games, and I love completing them. Having said that I can know I've mastered a game within the first 10 minutes or couple of hours. If I have, more than likely I will also know that it's not quite the game I hoped it was. Mass Effect, for example.



I think all this article, and the comments show, is that we are all different, and when you write a game you shouldn't' just write it for yourself. :)



What we should also bear in mind is that our tastes change over time. A few years back I was addicted to Civ III. Nowadays I am not sure I could give that game, or any of it's sequels, the same amount of dedication.



Now, Portal 2.....

Dave Endresak
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@ Joshua and Justin:



Actually, your suggestion of adding female designers falls prey to the same fallacy that is stated in this post: namely, that any so-called "category" or "demographic" is actually a diverse group of individuals with different tastes, interests, skills, etc. In other words, all females are not the same just as all males are not the same (and this is not even considering the question of how you are defining "male" or "female" when physical sexuality actually encompasses a spectrum including intersexed and transexual individuals of many kinds).



As the post mentions, what is actually needed is to create a group with diverse interests and skills. The industry needs to stop selecting talent solely from the traditional industry fields such as computer science or art, and instead hire people from other areas, especially interdisciplinary areas, such as liberal arts or technology studies. Doing this brings in a different set of skills and interests. Of course, you still hire people who love gaming and understand its potential, but you do not get people with the same approach to any problems or issues that arise during development, marketing, etc.





One more comment I'd like to add regarding game length... there are far too many games that have a long playtime but 90% of the playtime is unimportant and repetitive. MMOs have suffered from this problem forever, and still are not fixed, but there are many, many examples of the same problem in non-MMO products for consoles and PCs. I'm sure that everyone can think of examples where a game may have taken them 50 hours (for example) to complete but 40 of the 50 hours were spent doing the same activity over and over, ad nauseum.

Joshua McDonald
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You're partially right, Dave, but you interpreted one of my examples as the point instead of as an example of it. You really do need to categorize to a degree unless you're trying to make a game that is literally, for "everyone" (which I believe would be doomed to fail). One thing that needs to happen early in design is that you need to figure out who you're trying to aim your game at and who you aren't.



The fact that the average Gears of War player isn't interested in Diner Dash isn't a failure in Diner Dash to properly diversify to different tastes. It's simply because its developers decided which types of people they would appeal to and which types weren't worth their effort, aimed entirely at their target, and created a highly successful franchise.





As long as you understand that your categories represent traits that are generally common within a group, rather than a concrete description of the people within it, then they are a useful and necessary part of pointing your game at the correct target.


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