Gamers have a penchant for the elite. Most are highly competitive, defensive of their favorite games, opinionated when it comes to their views, and protective of their hobby, which they may view as exclusive or something that others simply won’t understand. It manifests itself often in fanboyism when defending their console of choice (Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft) and slight elitism when it comes to non-gamers expressing curiousity about playing video games.
This current generation has seen a divide in the consumer base and the re-creation of an audience not seen since the dawn of gaming at the arcades. On one side, there’s the traditional progression of consoles through technological advancements in the Microsoft Xbox 360 and the Sony PlayStation 3. On the other, the Nintendo Wii is not much more powerful than a first generation Xbox but touts its unique motion sensing IR controller as a simple and easy way for *anybody* to enjoy. Not only is the Wii attractive in its simplicity, it has a lower price point than the competition.
What Nintendo figured out, is that the average non-gamer who sees a video game kiosk cares little about graphics and technology but is more fixated upon a unique, interactive experience. Throw in a lower price point and a pack in game (Wii Sports) that highlights the unique controls of the Wii and the “casual gamer” is instantly born. If you want to play golf, just swing your arms as if the Wiimote were a golf club. The key to the Wii is accessability.
But born from the rebirth of the “casual gamer,” the likes of which have been hidden since simple arcade games like Millipede and Pac-Man ruled the arcades, is the quality of software on the Wii has significantly gone south. Sure there are good games that utilize the control scheme very well, especially many of Nintendo’s in-house produced titles like Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. But for every single top notch title in the Wii’s library, it seems there’s a dozen more bad titles, or shovelware, designed to cater to the indiscriminate consumer who is more concerned with the activity at hand than production values.
So why is this a problem? Developers know that poorly produced titles will sell reasonably well so they can cut corners and produce cheaply made games and still turn a profit. Even Nintendo is guilty of this through their classic GameCube collection which adds the motion controls to their best selling GameCube games like Pikmin and Mario Power Tennis.
Nintendo, long seen as the last bastion of traditional gaming, has put stunning franchises such as Zelda, Mario and Metroid on the backburner in lieu of the casual crowd by creating titles like Wii Sports Resort and Wii Music. Wii Music was almost an insult as a musician, implying that anybody who can shake a Wiimote can play an instrument. I understand the concept of opening the platform to everyone, but rhythm games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero are leaps and bounds beyond what Wii Music is and even in the casual crowd are well regarded.
The “core gamers,” look down on this practice, and rightly so. It’s disappointed to see the watering down of something you feel is so rich in content. It’s bad enough that bad games exist that masquerade as good games, but seeing games that are well enough being subpar because they can get away with it is disgusting.
Developers should strive to improve the quality and bridge the gap between the casual and the core. Yes, the core gamers will still have their Final Fantasies and Call of Duties, but both the casual and the core demographics appreciate titles like Rock Band and Madden and even Animal Crossing. Video games are often taste oriented and it is easy to rope in the casual gamer with simple controls, mechanics and a bit of charm while still catering to the core by providing the content and quality that they seek.