It’s time to lay some painful truth on you. Hardcore gamers don’t matter anymore. Yes, I am talking to you, the Call of Duty player spouting racial epithets into his microphone. I am talking to you, the Street Fighter player with 10 tournament edition arcade sticks strewn about his room. I am talking to you, the Final Fantasy fan who is willing to beat a 60-hour game in three days, forgoing food or sleep. You guys aren’t the target demographic for console creators anymore.
Now, I’m not saying that hardcore games don’t exist. That’s stupid. I’m saying that hardcore gamers aren’t the people that console developers want to sell their consoles to anymore because of one simple truth: There are more non-gamers in the world than there are gamers.
You see, you can market a TV to just about anyone. The same holds true for cell phones, cars, microwaves, and even to an extent, DVD players and blenders. Most household electronics can be sold to the majority of the country, with gaps in areas like broke college students, seniors that don’t understand how to operate technology, and the Amish.
Game consoles, however, are a different story. You can only sell game consoles to gamers, which is not nearly as big a market as the markets for the electronics I mentioned above. That being said, game consoles are as expensive, if not more expensive, than most of those items. The Xbox One will cost $500. My smartphone, microwave, and even TV are cheaper than that!
The gaming market is also incredibly split. While anyone who wants to watch TV needs a TV, gamers are divided by lines of console loyalty. Zelda fans will buy Wii Us, God of War fans will buy PS4s, and Halo fans will buy Xbox Ones. So, every console can only market to a third of the gamer population, and this population is dropped even further when you consider the sections of the gamer population who just don’t care enough to buy a next-generation console.
Couple this with the fact that game and console development costs are incredibly high these days, and you’ll start to wonder how any console manufacturer makes money. Well, they can charge developers fees just to get a game on the console. Unfortunately, this starts skyrocketing the cost of game development, which brings with it a whole lot of other issues. They can also take a bit of profit from every game sold, but once again, this amounts to less money for developers. They can sell consoles at a loss and hope that game sales make up for it, but you never know when you might be the new Wii U and be stuck with mounds of debt because of it. Or finally, they can make it up in volume by marketing their consoles to non-gamers.
Remember the Xbox One launch? It went something like “TV, SPORTS, SOCIAL MEDIA, SPORTS, NETFLIX, SPORTS, CALL OF DUTY DOG, MORE SPORTS!!!” Well, there was a reason for that. The Xbox One as a gaming console will only appeal to a limited audience. However, the Xbox One as a media box appeals to just about everyone! Seriously, try telling a non-gamer about the Xbox One and see what they think. You’ll get a lot of favorable responses. The idea of controlling TV and music remotely through a smart device, or with motion or voice control, is really appealing to a good portion of us who want to live in the sci-fi TV future.
In short, the Xbox One is trying to get not only the casual gaming market on their side, but also a market completely separate from gaming to begin with! They are trying to capitalize on the success that the Wii had and then some. Before you start claiming that the PS4 is much better, think again. The PS4 is all about streaming media, social networking, and a whole bunch of bells and whistles that are entirely tangential to hardcore gaming.
Here’s the thing: Console developers can’t market to hardcore gamers any more intensely because losing the hardcore gaming demographic isn’t a threat. Think of gaming like politics. In every political election, there will be a group of people who will always vote democrat and a group of people who will always vote republican; they will have their minds made up even before the election starts. Those are the hardcore gamers in this example. They already know which console they want and for what reason. They might even buy all three! Marketing strongly to hardcore gamers might make a few change sides, but not enough to make an appreciable difference.
However, then there are the swing voters; in this case, those swing votes belong to casual gamers and non-gamers. These people have no idea which console they are going to side with. They don’t understand the differences between an Xbox One and a PS4, and whether or not they can play Halo or God of War is pretty much meaningless to them. All they know is that they like spending time on Facebook, watching sports, and playing with new gadgets. Appeal to this demographic and you’ll get a huge bump in sales. Appeal to the hardcore demographic and you’ll just end up getting the sales you knew you were going to get anyway.
So what can the hardcore crowd do to matter to console developers again? Well, they can choose to be less console-loyal. Even before the next-generation consoles were revealed, hordes of gamers on the Internet were singing the praises of their consoles of choice and insulting their competitors. So, as I said before, the companies don’t have to work for your loyalty. If you make them work, they will keep you in mind, because there is always a chance you’ll end up siding with the other guy.
But even then, the purchasing power of hardcore gamers pales in comparison to the purchasing power of everyone else in the world. Why do you think mobile games are the big, new thing? It’s a market base that includes everyone with a phone, a market that is far larger than anyone with a console. Honestly, the best thing we can do is hope that Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo succeed in marketing their consoles to the non-gamer masses out there. This will cause more people to start playing games, which eventually means more casual and hardcore gamers alike. When the big first-party developers can reliably count on a console being in the living room of almost everyone in America, maybe then they will begin focusing on gamers first once more.
Senior Contributing Writer