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We're Slowly Becoming Niche Gamers

Posted on Wednesday, August 13 @ 14:30:00 Eastern by

This isn't a criticism or a rant, but a general observation. Last week I asked you, our fellow readers, to tell us about your gaming habits and how they've changed over the last decade. Most of the responders confirm what we intrinsically know: that due to either our dispensable income or time constraints, our commitment to gaming has lessened over the years.
We choose the games we play carefully, judging them for their lasting value, multiplayer capabilities, and price point. Most of us are willing to wait for a $60 title at launch to settle its way down to a more affordable price tag during the holiday season or when a more complete package arrives that includes all the now inevitable downloadable content. The ultimate result is that the gaming population has become tilted toward becoming niche gamers, whether they like it or not, even if we tend to use that term for people who play Japanese otaku RPGs. (You know the kind I'm talking about.)

That's one additional degree of separation between gaming journalists and the "everyday" gamer. While it's our profession to be a jack-of-all-trades, understanding at least a little about everything in our industry from retail pressure, advertising, overall sales units, and public relations, to online gaming culture, eSports, hardware comparisons, and social issues. That's just the tip of the seemingly endless iceberg of information. Any one of our reviewers is asked to devour and critique somewhere between two to four titles a month in addition to gaming on their free time (and working their day job), which is higher than the casual gamer who might purchase one title a month, if that.
That said, there's a reason why nearly every successful site has an editorial team, if just for reviews. No one can be an expert at every genre, despite claims otherwise, and the knowledge of a reviewer of a particular genre—MMORPGs, MOBAs, annual sports titles, EVO-calibur fighting games, etc.—should be comprehensive. It's only fair, though idealistic, for the audience to read a critical analysis of a title by someone who respectfully comprehends the genre's community and expectations forwards and backwards. So in a manner of speaking, editorial teams act like a holy-trinity party in an MMO, with each person having a specialized role which could otherwise described as niche.
The gaming industry understands that many users lack disposable income and time; hence, the growth of free-to-play games, inexpensive mobile titles, and frequent sales on digital content such as the Steam Summer Sale, Humble Bundle, PlayStation Plus, or the new EA Access subscription service. At the same time, players want to feel invested and don't want to waste money on a game that quickly loses its appeal, a metric that can summarized as user retention. The surge of MMOs in both the PC and console space and sandbox games with user-creation tools or user-friendly mod support are no surprise. This attraction to long-term, multiplayer-driven content is a naturally self-sustaining loop, pushing single-player action games to include multiplayer modes, free-roaming worlds with plenty of collectibles strewn throughout the environments, and a season pass of (hopefully worthy) DLC add-ons and expansions.

But players only have a limited amount of free time (and most likely, less free time than before) to dedicate toward gaming, so the competition between developers to create longer and longer content leads to players needing to commit more of their time on any given game. This forces developers to fight more fervently for attention, perpetuating the cycle as they attempt to grab a larger piece of the gaming pie, or maintain the piece they've got already. That's just competition, really.

Apart from our own time constraints and limited disposable income (and limited space in our living rooms), players know what they want out of a game over time. They know which consoles they like, which genres they're excited for, and the types of games that allow them to explore, collect, create, destroy, and collaborate—​whatever drives them as a gamer. Through my career as a games journalist and critic, I have the privilege to try a vast number of games of different genres so my net is cast wide, but the majority of people I know who play games tend to stick with a limited number of franchises whether it's someone who only plays competitive shooters, or only plays games on their mobile phone, to another who plays The Sims and hardly anything else.

And you know what, that's okay. Own it. With this knowledge in hand, it's important not to take the separation between hardcore and casual gamers too seriously or to make snide remarks about people who don't play as many games as they used to. The gamer who consumes nearly every triple-A title and all of the critically acclaimed indie titles might as well be a unicorn. Far more of us dedicated oursevles to a handful of games. ​All of us are subject to become a niche gamer, if we're not all already.

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