I’ve often found myself in discussions regarding the apparent mainstreaming of games, the basic argument being that games will lose some of what initially made them special because they are now being designed for a wider audience. Whilst this is a point of view I can understand, it is also one that I consider a little near sighted.
Though I dislike comparisons between games and films I feel in this instances it is at once accurate and unavoidable. Consider the total market for films worldwide, that’s everything from straight to DVD movies and documentaries, through small art house pictures with limited releases, to summer blockbusters. That’s a market that must be in the area of several billion all told; a huge market. That’s the scale of market I see games having the potential to reach, I believe that for every person who owns a particular historical strategy game there are at least ten other people who would enjoy that game if they tried it, the same is true of many role playing or action adventure titles. Simply put I believe there’s a massive potential market for games that remains untapped because that market is labouring under a misconception regarding what games are.
The problem is those people are never going to try games if the perception of gaming in the public eye doesn’t change, and the only way that’s going to happen is by aiming for the mainstream, at least for the time being. As an entertainment medium the total market share of the games industry needs to increase, to the point at which it’s rivaling that of the film industry. Once that happens, once the market for games is in that several billion people ballpark then it can really begin to diversify. Everybody is different, with different tastes, different desires, there’s potentially a huge market for turn based strategy games but a lot of the people who would enjoy such games simply don’t consider gaming as a valid pastime, and they never will until it obtains mainstream acceptance.
We should not fear the mainstream but embrace it. I don’t just mean reaching the kind of people who play a game of Madden NFL or Rock Band with their friends after a night out but the type of people who watch obscure Spanish films, or read dense Russian novels.
Mainstream means a games industry with a audience so diverse that text based adventure games and super-detailed tank simulations are both viable products because although they might only have a 0.1% market share that’s 0.1% of a billion people.