Are there patterns to the complaints that the Hardcore heap upon mainstream games? Do these patterns correlate, even in the broadest sense, to play styles?
Psu, over at Tea Leaves, has an interesting and opinionated post exploring the criticism he is subject to because:
...I represent what the long term gamer hates most: the guy who likes mostly Halo and Madden. Where others see a depressing lack of innovation and risk-taking, I see a stunning series of games that have fabulous production values and excellently refined gameplay.
I should note, I personally dislike Halo - but not the people who play it. It's a great product... not quite truly mass market, but very close. It's just not what I want in a game... so I look elsewhere. This is the advice I would extend to all Hardcore players - if you don't like what is in the mainstream, look elsewhere!
I feel that much of the bitterness among the curmudgeonly Hardcore results from a desire for games that meet their play needs on the budgets of mass market games, but a reluctance to accept the changes necessary to court the audience which justify those budgets. I do openly criticise the mainstream games - but I attack them for the opposite reasons: for not meeting the play needs of the very mainstream they are supposed to be providing for.
Psu's flavours of 'fanboy wrath' are as follows, along with how I would correlate this with cognitive dissonance* resulting from play needs not being met:
- "Games are too easy": this strikes me as a Type 1 Conqueror complaint. In the search for fiero (triumph over adversity), nothing is more frustrating than a game which is too easy, as it can never provide the desired emotional pay off. Although previously an outspoken opponent of multiple difficulty levels, I now believe these may be vital. Conqueror-type players desire challenge - they should be able to find it.
- "Games are all dumbed down": here Psu observes complaints about the removal of puzzles, and the simplifying of play - in particular "streamlined character development systems that keep track of the stats for you rather than making you use Excel to do it." Anyone else spot a Hardcore Type 2 Manager theme here? Puzzles and management of multiple variables are key themes here - mastering complexity is the play need being thwarted by the streamlining of mechanics. This isn't an easy fix. Type 2 Manager players may have to accept being forced into the niche markets - even their premier titles (Civilisation x) don't command truly AAA budgets because the audience is small, albeit loyal.
- "Games are all the same": here the complaint is generally targeted at franchises. Psu goes to great pains to attack the Zelda franchise, feeling that it usually escapes criticism, but I have to say only yesterday I read a Hardcore attack on this very franchise. No franchise is safe. This strikes me as a Type 3 Wanderer complaint. The desire for games to have a unique identity is a key theme for this cluster of players (especially in the Hardcore) and franchises just don't meet this need because they are more about refinement than innovation. Here, my 'look elsewhere' advice applies. These franchises (along with licensed games) are the lifeblood of the industry - if you don't like them, don't buy them. There are plenty of innovative games out there - albeit significantly fewer numbers in the upper market. It's not reasonable to expect hundreds of high production value, innovative games - with some exceptions, franchises earn high production values, they are not often born with them, and innovation is in some sense reserved for the first title in a franchise for obvious reasons.
We haven't found enough of a Hardcore, Type 4 Participant cluster for there to be a common complaint emerging from this play style (if there was, it might be "game stories are too simple.") But it does seem that there are patterns of correlation we can draw, albeit informally, between the play styles of our DGD1 model and the common complaints Psu identifies.
Psu concludes by discussing the next generation of machines and concluding there will be nothing new at launch, and we should sit back and wait for the software libraries of the new machines to become more substantial. Spoken like a true mainstream gamer! However, I disagree with his claim that "Nintendo does not have any great insight into the psyche of the game playing public." I believe the new controller stems from precisely that insight - albeit doubtless born of genuine market research, the kind that some game developers seems afraid of because it takes away their rights as Hardcore gamers to assert their belief system as absolute.
I do not believe it's a coincidence that console ownership figures by gender show that uptake of the Gamecube was higher among women than any other console (sorry, I don't have the source - if anyone else does, please let me know), nor that the Casual configuration of the Revolution controller is so non-threatening to the person-on-the-street (and, by extension, so perniciously threatening to some Hardcore players). Nintendo appear to make strategic decisions with full knowledge of the needs of the Casual gamer - since two companies with far deeper pockets are duelling for control of the Hardcore, they have nowhere else to go. (Nintendo even admit they can't compete with the specs of their market rivals). Most Hardcore gamers have no appreciation for just how complex and alienating the standard controller has become - it has some 12 dimensions of control, and the fringe of Casual players can only handle up to 3 or 4!
The trouble is, it's desperately hard to do an end run around the Hardcore. Every profitable market vector we've seen so far relies upon some portion of the Hardcore audience to act as evangelists. Nintendo's battle will be to make that happen while Sony and Microsoft soak up the Hardcore support as they clash with their largely interchangeable monster machines. As the next generation rolls on, we are sure to hear much of the three flavours of complaint described above from the Hardcore - even as they inexorably become early adopters for overpowered systems they say they don't want.
Perhaps it's not, as Psu suggests, that people are stupid (although we all are from time to time), rather, it is that we are incredibly inconsistent.
*Do I need to blog on cognitive dissonance, or is this a well known topic?