The myth of the hardcore gamer

Infendo

The hardcore gamer mythOk, OK. There are certainly hardcore gamers out there, but there’s a point to made in here somewhere. The point is that for Nintendo, the phrase “hardcore gamer” is about as relevant to their bottom line as tube socks. Microsoft themed tube socks. It’s irrelevant to Nintendo because I seriously doubt Reggie or Miyamoto or Iwata sit around big stuffy conference rooms sweating bullets over whether or not the big and all-powerful hardcore gamer is going to like their shiny new systems. And it’s not that they can say this now, after 18 months of Wii and DS successes, it’s that I doubt they said anything like it when they were first designing both systems back in 2004 or 2005.

So why would they do this? Why would they ignore the “base” and pander to the sporadic, unreliable “non-traditional gamer?” Isn’t it obvious? It’s because they’re both a myth, at least as far as Nintendo and its strategy is concerned.

Information Artbitrage:

An interesting point to note about Nintendo is that its “core,” unlike Microsoft and Sony, is not in its user base but in its IP – namely, its stable of timeless characters. Mario. Zelda. Donkey Kong. Characters who have had appeal across generations and have acted as the glue of the Nintendo franchise. This kind of core – a mass-market, family-friendly core – is invaluable. And is something possessed by neither Microsoft nor Sony

But Jack, Nintendo just puts the same characters out there year after year! True. Absolutely true. But, like the GameCube, those franchises are always successful IP that make the company tons of money. When he wasn’t being a wise ass, Infendo reader Matt recently made a good point about the GameCube being a moneymaker for Nintendo despite the negative perceptions heaped upon it by the gaming press and, wouldn’t you know it, the hardcore gaming community.

And speaking of negatives, there are far too many Mario titles floating about in the ether these days, aren’t there? I say that sarcastically, because I happen to think that question doesn’t really have any bearing on Nintendo’s strategy, nor will it in the future. But let’s address it anyway. When you go to Disneyland, do you care that the characters are the same as they were 50 years ago? The whole experience is pretty stale, and yet generation after generation goes there year after year. How about when you fire up up your 3rd generation iPod? Nothing new there either. And there’s nothing “new” in Mario games either, at least aesthetically speaking. Fun factor, well, that’s another story. One told in dollar signs and satisfied consumers. When Nintendo launches a system, their characters are built in. Their development teams are built in. Their insane attention to detail (and yes, all the product delays associated with them) is built in. When a Nintendo system launches people know what’s going to come down the pipeline. Widespread appeal is built in.

Nintendo doesn’t pander to the hardcore gamer because it’s a losing strategy. It isn’t? I’d argue it is and that the proof is out there plain to see. Pandering to the hardcore gamer gets you multimedia platforms that do many things, but none of them particularly well. It gives you and HD system that has been designed to appeal to a technophile that wouldn’t be caught dead designing an HD entertainment system around a console when there are more than enough specialty items out there that do it far better. When you’re talking hardcore, after all, you aren’t talking price or discounts or savings, because those are irrelevant to the hardcore sect. It’s a sect that I’d argue is much, much smaller than the press or the actual hardcore gamers themselves would like to admit, and is therefore not the driving force some would have us believe, but that’s a rant for another day.

Information Arbitrage calls Nintendo supporters evangelists and those of Sony and MS faddists. No, not fascists, faddists. As in “fad.” People, as odd as this will sound, are impassioned about Nintendo products, and do most of the selling for the company. All Nintendo had to do was plant a seed at a few dozen Ambassador Parties late last year and they let the people do the rest. All kinds of people too. From Mom’s to little kids to the crew over at 4cr. Aside from a few commercials in December and January with the two Japanese guys peddling Wiis from a Smart car, I have seen exactly zero commercials for Nintendo products. What I have seen — or heard is more like it — is the incessant requests from family members and friends for information about Wii shipments at Best Buy and Toys R Us.

Incessant, eager requests for more, sustained month over month, as strong as the day I brought the system home for a holiday break to show off. That was Thanksgiving. It hasn’t been back since. Doesn’t matter. The demand persists unabated.

Hardcore gamers? To Nintendo they’re a myth.

23 Comments

  1. Jack,

    I like the way you think 🙂 I appreciate your posts for the logical analysis that they usually provide. Are you a Nintendo fanboy? Probably. But that doesn’t mean the points you make are any less valid. Keep up the great work on this site.

    Regarding the actual size vs. the perceived size of this “hardcore gamer” audience, I’ve had this argument with a friend many times. And I agree, it is significantly smaller than they believe. And almost irrelevant compared to the total video gaming market.

  2. That, my friend, was EXCELLENT. I applaud you.

    I whole heartedly agree. MS and PS addicts (maybe a little bit elss for the PS addicts) are Faddists. Nintendo isn’t a fad. I mean, sure Sonic was once more popular than Mickey Mouse, but he isn’t any more. Meanwhile, Mario has kept his popularity level relatively the same.

    The Wii does good what it needs to do good. Games. It doesn’t need any fancy commercials or promises of a Beta test to sell its products. It just needs them to be good. Which they always are.

  3. The hardcore crowd abandoned Nintendo years ago. They flocked to Sega, (more sports games, more blood and fighting games). They flocked so Sony, (ZOMG DISCs!, more FMVs). They flocked to XBOX, (more shooters, more DOA XTREME! Online!) They’ve been looking down their noses at Nintendo ever since. Looking down their noses as those companies they hold sway over kill themselves trying to placate these the whiniest of customer bases: the HardCORE. Finally, Nintendo got smart and gave up on them. Nintendo are looking to please those they always have, and the new customers who will be intrigued by a video game that doesn’t turn you into a zombie (their perception). Now the hardcore are going to end up being the antiquated. They who couldn’t move forward to the next evolution in control. Like the poor atari guys who couldn’t fathom not having a joystick.

  4. Infendo… we’re so softcore.

  5. It’s a cultural thing, it’s probably that way in the us but here in Finland most of my friends (whom all are pretty softcore, eh casual, eh whatever… I give up labeling people because it is stupid and shortsighted) have never heard of the Wii, their concept of gaming rests on the Playstation brand, all other companies, Microsoft and Nintendo included sell only to their core fanbase here… But I agree, buying a Nintendo platform is like going to disneyland (or amusement park of choice), you know what you’re getting, the same things you’ve been getting for the past 25 years, perhaps a new ride every 7 or so years to refresh things a bit but all in all a pretty safe bet for amusement, but there’s also a danger that it gets stale the 4th time you visit…

  6. Bravo! I must say I am impressed by your insight.

    I hold the belief that the mere fact that there are “gamers” hurts the perception of video gaming as a form of entertainment in the view of the masses. Think about it for a moment. Is there such a thing as TVers? Not in the same sense as there are gamers. There are fans (even fanatical ones) of certain TV programming, but when you look at it there are mainly just average people who happen to watch television. There are no titles, no rites of passage or commitments required.

    In the video game industry there are “gamers”, a classification which is further divided into “casual” and “hardcore” gamers, who are in cases painted as being at odds with each other. This creates a perception that you can’t be just an average person who happens to play video games. You can’t pick up a controller without being a card-carrying member of the gaming secret society. In this view gaming isn’t a pastime, a diversion, or even a hobby. It’s a commitment, a title, an obligation. For some gaming even becomes less like a fun activity and more like a job.

    One of the main reasons why I favor Nintendo as a video game company is that they tend to throw the entire “gamer” perception out the window. They make fun games that almost anyone can appreciate (especially most recently, with the Wii and Wii sports). You don’t have to be a card-caring gamer to play the Wii or the DS. You can just be an average person who happens to play games.

    While I love my Xbox (God knows I’ve been playing it a lot), the atmosphere in the Microsoft and Sony communities is decidedly more elitist. You have to be a nerd, you have to speak the lingo. You’re either a gamer or a newbie, you either pwn or you’re pwned (the most idiotic slang ever conceived. Honestly, what mentally-challenged 12 year-old thought that one up? I feel my IQ dropping just using it in this post). This isn’t exactly conducive to getting mass market consumers to think of gaming as anything other than a waste of time, and gamers as anything other than immature idiots.

    People love titles and they love to feel special, which is why as long as there are video games there will be gamers and those who cling to the “hardcore” title. But I contend that gaming will only truly become fully integrated into our culture when the perception of video game players goes from primarily dedicated “gamers” to “people who just happen to play games”

    This is something I think Nintendo understands, which is why Reggie once posed the thought (I paraphrase here) “Do you know someone who hasn’t read a book? Watched television? Seen a movie? Of course not. Now, do you know someone who’s never played a video game? I bet most of you do.”

  7. i love this article, and it needs to be said more often.

    there are hundreds of millions of people in the world that play games, but how many have bought the xbox360? there are people who do just want to play games casually, and sony/msft make that hard to do. nintendo gets it, the others dont.

    one of the problems to me is, the gaming media is mostly controlled by elitist “hardcore” gamers who of course, live to game, and have these picky expectations about what it takes to make a game worthwhile. and they along with their online communities ignore the common man who is quite capable of enjoying a fun game without it needing HD graphics, caring whether its progressive(or even knowing what that is) how many options it has, whether its online.

    i am not saying wanting those things is bad, and i am sure jack isnt either. those things will come in their own time. but they are added costs that dont really sell the games. not even what we consider hardcore games. look at god of war 2, i do know it was not HD and not online. who wants to bet as many people would buy the game if it didnt have progressive? the hardcore begs for it, but it is a bonus, not a game seller, because the casuals own the market. they are the majority, and just want to have fun that all those bells and whistles dont do squat to add to.

    want to know how i know? how many people are still playing ps1 games? still playing early ps2 games? still enjoying n64 games, really simple pc games.

    one fear i hear is that these people not caring about all these bells and whistles will kill hardcore gaming. its unfounded. nintendo still does develop to the core *see note at bottom* of their base. the article mentions the core is its software that continually pulls people in each generation. they have never given a hint of abandoning that group. we still get metroid, zelda, mario,we will get a pikmin, battalion wars, project hammer, disaster, they are still pusing 3rd parties to put deep gameplay on the system, even with 3rd parties still trip on the stereotypes they themselves give nintendo systems. resident evil is still coming, treasure island z seems complex, manhunt was begged for. nights, godfather, brothers in arms and other shooters, red steel, the list will go on. and this while casual games are coming out in droves. nothing will stop developers who love these deep games from making them, because casual gamers do still enjoy those games also. and the hardcore group while small does still buy alot of games.

    overly long and bottom may upset some but tough, it irritates me how people can find anything in everything to complain about, never being happy to simply enjoy what they have, and ask for more from a company where that company is in a position to best serve their wants. one thing i will say, i do agree that nintendo not using the messaging system of the wii to send out game announcements (if you sign up) is a loss for them, and a bad business decision to not make use of.

    ** (not the whiners i hear alot even on nintendo sites that cant be happy with what nintendo gives them but say they like nintendos products so much, i dont love nintendo on blind faith, i do it because i love the way they do things, if you want big internet focus, get a 360, and get nintendo for nintendo strategies, i can understand not being able to own 2 consoles, but then if internet is that big a part of your life, your probably already more then happy with online gaming you can play right now, otherwise are you complaining about something you only want because it sounds cool? if your just wanting online because it would be a nice feature then why is simply wishful thinking worthy of so much crying. people say nintendo has this wiiconnect24 and wireless built-in, and its stupid not to do the obvious with it. your wrong, nintendo may not have your online strategy but they do have an online strategy thats working quite well for them. they have wii online channels that may not suit you but are working well for others (others who may not get the weather channel but have internet for email, but maybe they dont keep the comp on 24 hours like some of us do, maybe it takes 5 minutes (or feels that way) to get the comp booted up to usable fashion and get to the weather channel or the news service, etc…, wii can get what they want in a minute or less, and on their tv at that. they also utilise their built-in online for shop channel, that is part of an online strategy even if you dont see it that way. i appreciate some of these features and have my pc for high-end and occasionally online gaming. i only demand of nintendo that they keep putting out software and hardware that makes me as happy as they have been doing since i got into gaming, they do not need to do everything and compete with everybody, only do what they do best.

  8. My two cents:

    you make a console for the “hardcore gamers” only—you sell 15 million
    you make a console for everyone: you sell 100 million

    think about one fact: all the console that won in their respective generation had something for everyone. The ps2 had metal gear and singstar and buzz and gran turismo, for example.

  9. A fantastic, much needed article.

    A major problem is, as has already been said, that the gaming press is ‘hardcore’. That means, when the Wii was announced, we had comments like “but everybody has an HDTV” and the insistence that online gaming is the future. Now, I don’t doubt that online multi-player will be a key component of many games, but really, the proportion of XBox users that play online games isn’t even that high, especially compared to the total number of last gen consoles sold (and the PS2, whatever people claim, really wasn’t an online console).

    Another way you can gauge the influence of the ‘hardcore’ gaming press, is by using metacritic to look at average scores across the different platforms. The DS, despite its obvious success, apparently has fewer top quality games than the PSP. The gaming press, for all their talk of wanting something new and different, immediately mark down games that don’t fall into established ‘hardcore’ formats.

  10. good point there Doc_R…the review scores thing has become more relevant when the first Wii games came out. The “hardcore” journalists are particularly shy about coming out of their “comfort zone” (traditional pad, traditional genres etc) so, knowing that people are afraid of novelties, we have seen bad reviews for good games and many controversial reviews across the ‘net.
    In the end, I don’t read many blogs or sites as before, because I know that most gaming sites out there are jsut too “hardcore oriented” and don’t share my opinions.

  11. Jack is right: “Hardcore” gamers ARE a myth…

    It is not exactly that they don’t exist, it is just that they, as defined by the amount of time and effort they put into their games, are a very passionate but not very bonded group: you can never really satisfy them and still run a profitable business! Trying to satisfy this mythical consumer group will end up in a behemoth creation, like the PS3, and you will STILL not get every one of their petty wishes covered…

    (I know because I was in that group, at least until the games’ demand for my time ate into my work and family life too much. I guess I’ve turned into a “casual gamer” now.)

  12. The problem with trying to label gamers is that the demographic is constantly shifting. I am 42 years old and have been a computer/video gamer since I was 16, I helped create the video game market. Over the years I have shifted through the different marketing segments in the games industry, and there are millions like me. I am not “casual” in that I don’t sit around and play Tetris and Bejeweled, but I do not have the time I used to dedicate to games anymore, so I really don’t consider myself hardcore. I also don’t play the violent, mature, “hard core” games because I have small children in the house. So what am I? A nintendo fan. My entire family can gather around the Wii and I get my game on with my DS. I want a 360 but there are very few games on it that are family friendly and I wont go hide and lock my son out to play Gears (although it is a really good game!)

    These “tween” gamers like myself are an increasing part of the market and we can be marketed to in much the way that the casual gamers are. Nintendo is first and foremost a business. And although it is noce to think that they just have us gamers in mind, what they really have in mind is making money. There are a finite number of teenage boys in the world so targeting the Halo demographic is good but it would be better to target all gamers from all ages and all walks of life. That may be one of the reasons that they have Perrin in marketing. She knows squat about games but is reaching out to the mass gamer market. (OK maybe she is just an idiot.) At the end of the day Nintendo has a more3 mass appeal than the other systems, both handheld and console, and that has to do with the games and play style on the machines. (not the HP) And by the way they are making money. They get a lot from me.

  13. Some say MasterChief > Mario…

    If I wanted one single IP than it would be FF.

  14. Excellent analysis.

    One other thing about so called “hardcore gamers”:
    even if they spend quite a bit of money on a gaming system (console/PC) initially, I would say they are (in my experience) the first to rush at modchips, firmware patches and so on, and through that to copied games. Their urge to get and play everything just is too strong.

    With Nintendo, you have a broader audience, a big part of which simply buys the games they or their family members want, be it because they can afford the 3-4 games a year they want to get, or because they simply don’t want to get involved in hardware modding, filesharing, patches and the lot.

  15. Good point, cdondanville. When babysitting my niece we typically pass the time playing Wii Sports together. Her mother, a business woman with little regard for games, also enjoys a round of tennis. I doubt I could ever get either of them to go anywhere near a Sixaxis or an Xbox 360 controller. Even if I could I would forbid my niece from playing the 360, especially online.

    I made that mistake once (and only once). My nephew wanted to play Halo 2 and I saw no harm in allowing him to (Halo may be M rated, but it’s not THAT bad). What I neglected to notice was that he quit the single player campaign after a while and went online. I passed by the room just in time to overhear some players talking about their private parts (in explicit detail) and exactly what they were going to do with them.

    I never pulled an ethernet cable from my router so fast before. Xbox games are officially off the family play list unless the game is family-friendly and DOES NOT have Xbox live play (leaderboards and downloadable content are ok, but absolutely no profanity-filled chat lobbies). I play Gears of War in private, but even I don’t use its online mode because I find the sailor-talking kiddies so repulsive.

    Which is also why I like Nintendo’s online strategy with the DS. No talking, no profanity, just playing. Say what you want about friend codes but the Wii is the console I’ll likely be playing online with my family.

  16. i think Caion really has the best insight onto whats going on here, to disrespect the the article writer. Caion’s comment really hit the nail on the head. the bottom line is, there has been this growing problem in the gaming industry, which probably got infinitely worse from PS1 and onward. if you look at the early days of gaming, you got the atari 2600, which seemed like a neat device at the time, and many families bought it into their homes for their entertainment. then of course the NES, which even more families bought, and video games became a cultural phenomenon. notice at the beginning there was none of this hardcore gamer group. then of course the 16 bit era, with SNES and genesis. i think it was about this generation or shortly after, the label hardcore gamers came in; in other words experts in gaming, or the club so to speak. many people that were not into gaming, or who were into NES or 2600 became alienated from the gaming populace. video gaming became discriminated and stereotyped into technophiles or unsociable nerds. then you got the stereotypes that people who played doom or many of the ps1 titles got more violent, and did bad in school. of course other entertainment mediums get this bad press as well, but not to the degree video games did. if you look at the general populace, many look down upon gaming as a hobby. yet, very few look down at moviegoers, ipod listeners, book readers. so why gaming? its because of the hardcore gaming crowd that’s been built up over the years. the other entertainment mediums have no ‘hardcore’ crowds. and frankly they scare off alot of casuals and new people interested in the industry. this goes not only to the hardcore gamer, but also to the hardcore game developer that only develops genres that hardcore gamers are into. nintendo is trying to change this mentality of this, and trying to improve the image of gaming to attract new people, capture the turned away gamer, and satisfy the core fan, all at the same time. that is what they are ultimately trying to do with DS and Wii. and it appears to be working.

  17. sorry i meant no disrespect to the article writer in the first sentence.

  18. Very good article. While I do agree with you, I think one thing that Nintendo has done to say they at least acknowledge they have a hardcore user base is the Nun-chuk on the Wii. If they, as you say, don’t believe they have a hardcore user base, then I don’t see a reason why they included that piece of hardware for the controller. That was one thing they continually stated when first announcing for the Wii: we are looking to satisfy all our customers, old and new. And I see that strategy coming from the Nun-chuk. It basically turned the wii-mote into a traditional controller in my eyes. I’m not sure a game like Metroid Prime 3 would have been possible with just the wii-mote, and FPS’s are very much a hardcore genre. But again, very thought-provoking article, Jack. Definite thumbs up.

  19. Crono, very true. I’d say the nunchuck was a big bone being thrown to the third party developers too, who still very much need some convincing, IMO.

  20. Caion,
    What I would recommend anyone do (assuming you have a 360) if they’re going to let someone under 18 play on a 360 at all, is to create a new ‘offline’ silver account for that person, disable automatic sign-on for your regular account and set some parental guidelines for the silver account. I’m pretty sure that you can choose to let them play M-rated games but not play online or to even play M-rated games online, but not hear any voice-chat. It’s a pretty robust system that should work well if people actually put it to use.

  21. sdstone,

    I’ll definitely look into it. Thanks for the tip.

  22. With regard to the Nunchuck, I read somewhere that it was added because Retro said they couldn’t do MP3 without it.

    Also, great article and lots of great comments. This is exactly why I come to infendo!

  23. I could not agree more with Caion about online play…and I think MMORPGs are a good example of what’s being talked about with the whole “casual vs. hardcore” groups in the article.

    Many, many hardcore players in MMORPGs are REALLY nasty to new players, in spite of the fact that these games seem to have a similar, Wii-like mass appeal in that there’s something for everyone. I’ve seen whole families play MMOs.

    Anyway, as far as young tweens and teens joining these MMOs…even ones cartoonish and kid-friendly as Maple Story, are the communities? I sometimes wonder…these kids, who are mostly shielded from the sailor talk, topics, and people Caion talks about walk into a world with very few boundaries or laws; enforced only as much as GMs are around. The whole experience can be very traumatic to a “n00b.”

    What am I talking about? Harassment, kill-stealing, cussing, griefing (i.e. on-line bullying)…and some problems similar to those in the ‘real’ world – hacking, stealing accounts, scammers, con artists, people who steal items, people who will rip you off. In some ways, I think it’s good that these kids can be exposed to it in an environment where you can always find that certain item again and little real world money (though the lines are blurring) is at stake. A lot can be learned about being on guard and protecting yourself.

    However – you can also equate this to kids living on the streets in the inner city. MMOs can be very dark, sinister worlds…and it can be argued that tweens who play them, in order to deal with this darker side, have to grow up too fast. Caion really hit upon some excellent points that people (especially the hardcores – who are the most guilty of all of this) tend to overlook.