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Part Four of a multi-part series. Start from the begin­ning of the series, vis­it the Parts Index or read Part 3 – Woman Problems 

Games media at large has a prob­lem with relat­ing to mobile games. Their prob­lem is they see them­selves as forward-facing into the inclu­sive future of videogames, when it fact, they focus on a nar­row seg­ment in their com­fort zone. Tech media seems more at ease with the con­cept, but offers lit­tle depth past “holy shit the­se guys are mak­ing a lot of mon­ey, this must be the future!” with­out real­ly delv­ing into why mobile gam­ing is such a jug­ger­naut.  At the same time, the Gaming Press attempt­ed to shift their audi­ence, using sta­tis­tics made up of large­ly mobile gamers as the sup­posed basis for their deci­sion.

side mobile 1Back when the first social/mobile bub­ble was still being blown, there was a great push on the part of gam­ing sites to make their ide­al gamer “less exclu­sion­ary”. The misog­y­ny nar­ra­tive hadn’t quite formed yet, but the finger-waving about being ‘exclu­sion­ary’ was already there in spades. They told us that the mobile and espe­cial­ly social gam­ing mar­ket was the future and we were going to have to stop “cling­ing to our toys” and deal with gam­ing becom­ing this new thing. Perpetual point-misser and bewil­dered old man Bob Chipman made a cring­ing­ly bad video in 2011 about how tablet gam­ing would kill enthu­si­ast PC gam­ing stone dead… just before the mar­ket start­ed grow­ing again. This was before he con­vert­ed to the church of McIntosh, but you can see the seeds of the rhetoric there already. He wasn’t alone; self-appointed ana­lysts, the peo­ple who slaugh­ter goats to read the entrails in an attempt to divine all what will be prof­itable, said that the tra­di­tion­al gamer’s days were num­bered, and tra­di­tion­al mod­els of game design that were not ‘social games’ would begin to die out.

Fast for­ward to 2015 and we see a much dif­fer­ent pic­ture. The press has put down the social gam­ing stick and picked up the social jus­tice stick to beat their audi­ence with. There is a pal­pa­ble dis­dain for the ‘art­less’ mobile mar­ket with Forbes Writer Paul Tassi and oth­ers hav­ing to con­fess they had to research some of the games fea­tured in super­bowl half­time ads. What hap­pened to this “embrac­ing of a new audi­ence? Well, it seems they still do it when it is con­ve­nient. The worst cas­es of mis­used sta­tis­tics I’ve seen are two stud­ies that were spun and cherry-picked to say that the major­i­ty of gamers are now old­er wom­en. Once again, the idea of a homo­ge­neous kind of per­son who plays games being uni­ver­sal­ly applied is in action.

side mobile 5This is being used as a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for all kinds of moves away from the “tra­di­tion­al” gamer, even though there is no real data to show that the demo­graph­ic that actu­al­ly reads tra­di­tion­al games jour­nal­ism is shift­ing. We already have a ded­i­cat­ed mobile gam­ing press; if sites like Gamasutra, Polygon, and Kotaku want­ed to shift to be more ‘acces­si­ble’ to this new gamer, they would have done it already. Sites like TouchArcade and Pocket Gamer already exist, and even then, its doubt­ful play­ers on mobile look past the top of the var­i­ous store columns and the Android/iOS store rat­ing.

The mobile space has been the big growth area, but not at the expense of oth­er areas like the hope­less­ly inept seemed to think; as I said in Part 2 of this series, Business 101, gam­ing is a mas­sive indus­try that can and should cater to a series of nich­es. Top-end PC gam­ing does not shrink or grow at the expense of casu­al Android gam­ing, and vice-versa. I’ve already cov­ered that ground a lit­tle, but I once again want to delve into the world of demo­graph­ics.

It’s uncom­fort­able for some to admit, but over a macro scale, fac­tors like age, gen­der, loca­tion, etc. DO bear out cer­tain trends. They are not the be-all and end-all of someone’s pref­er­ence, but they do cre­ate sit­u­a­tions that, on the sur­face, may look like a mar­ket­place is “exclu­sion­ary”. Yes, mobile games are very pop­u­lar, and the hand­ful of jug­ger­nauts that dom­i­nate the mar­ket­place have a high num­ber of users… because they adver­tise them­selves as free. I shouldn’t have to explain that the per­son play­ing Candy Crush on the train because they have a smart­phone isn’t the same per­son who is going to read your 12-page essay gush­ing about your friend’s 2D pix­el art existential-crisis sim­u­la­tor. This also bleeds into the whole “wom­en in gam­ing” prob­lem of broad-brushing; because some­thing was cre­at­ed by a wom­an does not mean it will have mass mar­ket female appeal. Games like Candy Crush fall neat­ly into the same cat­e­go­ry as Sudoku or cross­words, as they are used as sim­ple time-passers on a device. And that’s okay. Using it to say that games writ­ing needs to reject this imag­ined idea of the “boy’s club male gamer” isn’t. There a will­ful igno­rance in their read­ing of sta­tis­tics with the­se stud­ies. There are always going to be games that will appeal to men more than wom­en, and vice-versa. The gam­ing press seems obsessed with the idea that every­thing should cater to every­one equal­ly all the time and try to recruit play­er sta­tis­tics for the entire mar­ket, includ­ing fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent plat­forms, to sup­port this fal­la­cy.

side mobile 2I don’t know how many times I have to state this: the per­son play­ing puz­zle games isn’t the same per­son play­ing FPS games, just like the per­son play­ing bul­let hell games isn’t the same per­son play­ing MMOs. The com­plaint that a game isn’t “acces­si­ble” enough to this imag­i­nary audi­ence made up of Candy Crush play­ers fails to take into account basic facts about dif­fer­ent demo­graph­ics. What you are deal­ing with is a casu­al audi­ence. The word “casu­al” has become mocked by many as a pejo­ra­tive, but I still find it a use­ful, if some­what fuzzy, dis­tinc­tion. This issue goes right to the heart of what a “gamer” is, and the con­cept of a “gam­ing enthu­si­ast” is the best we have come up with for a use­ful def­i­n­i­tion. The dis­tinc­tion between surface-level engage­ment and a deep­er love is one made in every sec­tor. The peo­ple most like­ly to seek out in-depth write-ups about games are those most engaged with gam­ing. Like I’ve said, we already have a mobile gam­ing press doing their own thing, pret­ty far removed from the hand-wringing and audience-insulting of sec­tions of the gam­ing press.

What it comes down to is that gam­ing web­sites sim­ply don’t know who their audi­ence is, and there­fore come into con­flict. They have mis­in­ter­pret­ed what the shift towards mobile has meant, and mis­in­ter­pret­ed the “frac­tur­ing” of the media that was described by Escapist co-founder Alexander Macris in our inter­view. They are still obsessed with the idea of “the aver­age per­son who plays games”, when in fact, the game mar­ket and games media has grown so big that it can sup­port mul­ti­ple styles tar­get­ed at mul­ti­ple demo­graph­ics with­out real­ly com­ing into con­flict.

What does it mean for AAA games that mobile games make so much mon­ey? What does it mean for more passion-focused inde­pen­dent games? Well, accord­ing to this year’s GDC, very lit­tle: accord­ing to their sta­tis­tics, the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of ‘indie’ rev­enue comes from Steam by a wide mar­gin, with the smart­phone plat­forms lag­ging behind. Mobile may have head-spinning num­bers, but it is still a very mono­lithic, and in many ways unhealthy, ecosys­tem.  For most mid- to low-level games, the mobile plat­form can be just a grave­yard. So for a games press hell-bent on cov­er­ing indie games, it seems coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to try and use the mobile mar­ket to sim­ply try and ham­mer a point home about diver­si­ty.

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The slow­ness to react, and the fum­bled respons­es to a grow­ing but dif­fer­ent mar­ket­place, have prob­a­bly cost gam­ing web­sites huge chunks of rev­enue. Add to that the dis­avow­ing of their core read­er­ship, seem­ing­ly out of spite, and you end up with a gam­ing press that is will­ful­ly has­ten­ing its own demise. If you want to cov­er mobile games, then by all means do; I would love to have a place to trust that fil­ters out the many lay­ers of con­fus­ing junk in the Android store, it would prob­a­bly cause me to try and buy more games. Instead, we have this strange rela­tion­ship of con­ve­nience, where per­son­al­i­ties like Jim Sterling only cov­er mobile games to hate-fuck them and insult their cre­ators. I agree with most of the crit­i­cisms of Dungeon Keeper Mobile, but you also have to under­stand it wasn’t made for “gamers”. The very peo­ple try­ing to shut out the exis­tence of a core enthu­si­ast audi­ence are the same peo­ple who react bad­ly when games fail to tai­lor to that expec­ta­tion. If Dungeon Keeper mobile had gone by a dif­fer­ent name, no one would have noticed it, but it came as a shock to the sys­tem to some games jour­nal­ists, because they had tak­en their eye off the mobile-gaming ball. Sometimes when cov­er­ing prod­ucts, you are going to have to come to terms with the fact that some­thing wasn’t made for you. As a pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ist, you might also have to cov­er and research top­ics that don’t inter­est you.

side mobile 4As I men­tioned, I found it odd a sup­posed game jour­nal­ist had to look up a game that was adver­tised at the super-bowl. Even if a game doesn’t inter­est you, isn’t it your job to stay at least aware of games that are suc­cess­ful and that a lot of oth­er peo­ple are play­ing, if you aim to cater to this wide new audi­ence, as you claim? Isn’t it a bit rich to call the “white male dude­bro” gamer a relic of the past, when you can’t even keep up with what is and isn’t suc­cess­ful? This is the weird dual­i­ty the mobile mar­ket exists with­in for many pub­li­ca­tions I have read, this kind of half-coverage of some­thing out­side of their wheel­house, that only comes into sharp relief when their own bias­es or agen­da can be pro­ject­ed onto it. You would have thought some­one who cov­ers games for a liv­ing would have either real­ized that the mobile mar­ket was some­thing sep­a­rate that had lesser bear­ing on unre­lat­ed sec­tors of gam­ing, or tak­en the time to ful­ly under­stand that mar­ket so they could cov­er it effec­tive­ly.

As some­one who inter­acts reg­u­lar­ly with a lot of peo­ple who would not con­sid­er them­selves “gamers” but who do play mobile games, the fact that it is a dis­tinct mar­ket seems intu­itive. Once again, I think that this is an indi­ca­tion of the bub­ble that many peo­ple writ­ing about games exist in, and how lim­it­ed their cir­cle of friends and col­leagues is. I can’t fath­om why a bunch of peo­ple play­ing mobile games would, in their mind, sig­nal this great “indie gam­ing rev­o­lu­tion”, when the raw data shows that mobile is a pos­i­tive grave­yard for most of the­se games.  My only con­clu­sion can be that the­se peo­ple sim­ply don’t know what they are talk­ing about on a basic lev­el, and want to shut out all voic­es that want to give them an answer they don’t want to hear.

I’ve been hear­ing about how the mobile gamer and the now-fast-waning social gamers were going to replace me for years. The rhetoric used is con­tra­dic­to­ry. Yes, old­er wom­en play­ing mobile games is a good thing, but those peo­ple are not going to sud­den­ly rush out and buy Gone Home. They are dif­fer­ent audi­ences. Those mis­in­ter­pret­ing trends and sta­tis­tics and sta­pling that onto a pre­ex­ist­ing ide­ol­o­gy fail to rec­og­nize the eco­nom­ic real­i­ties of mak­ing games and writ­ing about games, and in so doing ren­der much of what they write, and the con­clu­sions they come up with, use­less.

Continued in Part 5: A History of Corruption

Visit the the Parts Index

Scrumpmonkey can also be found on YouTube, on Twitter and on Medium. You can also read more about him in his writer intro­duc­tion for SuperNerdLand SweeneyEditorialDeath of Games Journalism,Editorial,Games Media,Mobile GamingPart Four of a multi-part series. Start from the begin­ning of the series, vis­it the Parts Index or read Part 3 – Woman Problems  Games media at large has a prob­lem with relat­ing to mobile games. Their prob­lem is they see them­selves as forward-facing into the inclu­sive future of videogames, when it fact, they focus…

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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.