Request for Case Studies: Game Stories
Matters Arising

What is a Mass Market?

Question_markJust do we mean when we talk about the mass market when it comes to games? What does this term actually mean? Steve Ince  seems to think there's no such thing as the mass market for games (or for books, for that matter).

In a post on his blog he says:

The "mass market" is a myth and the sooner the industry realises that it is catering for a series of niches the better it will be for all concerned.

On the one hand, I wholeheartedly agree with Steve that most of the output of the games industry would be better considered to be part of a niche market - certainly most game developers would benefit from taking this view. But I cannot share Steve's view that there is no mass market for video games.

What does mass market actually mean? It comes from the concept of mass marketing, that is, marketing to a wide audience a product that has been mass produced, versus custom marketing to individuals or small groups. But since almost everything is mass produced these days, this doesn't help. Investorwords defines 'mass market' as "a broad, non-targeted demographic". Thanks, that's, um, not exactly helpful.

The bottom line for me is, if it is commercially viable to advertise your product through the most expensive marketing channels - TV and film commercials - that should be a sufficient condition for us to consider there to be a mass market for that product, and by this consideration games definitely do have a mass market.

Why, then, do people want to say there is no mass market for video games? (Owain Bennallack of Develop magazine and others have also expressed this view). Steve cites the film industry:

Looking at the film industry for a moment, a top film will have audiences of 100 million or more, which is huge in comparison to the five million that a top game will sell. When you take into account the fact that there are far more games released each year than films, it seems to me that ALL game genres are niche markets - it's just that some niches are bigger than others.

The film industry? Come on! What do theatrical films and video games have in common in market terms? For me, this is like comparing cheese and cars. ("There's no mass market for cheese, because you can't charge $20,000 for a piece of cheese" and other such entertaining nonsense). A cinema pays a huge price for a film print which they then charge a lot of people a small price to watch. Coin-op games were a similar market - and I'm pretty confident the most successful coin-ops had more than 100 million players. But games you play in your home have very little in common with the box office.

MonotonyWhy not compare an existing mass market for games with the market for video games? Parker Brother's Monopoly has sold 200 million copies over a little less than a century - but this figure is misleading, because in each of the 80 countries its sold, the game on sale is a custom version with different locations, currency et al. The sales figure also probably includes many different licensed versions. What about other games? Trivial Pursuit sold 88 million copies. I can't find a sales figure for Jenga, but Hasbro say it has sold to 'many millions' of players. I'm inclined to interpret this as about 5 million copies. Cranium is possibly the best selling independent boardgame, and this appears to have sold 3 million copies. These all look like mass market games to me.

Let's compare with top selling video games. Super Mario Bros for NES, 40 million. Doesn't matter that it was bundled with hardware - boardgames are bundled with their hardware too. Tetris for Gameboy, 33 million (if we include all versions of Tetris, I suspect we would be in Trivial Pursuit territory). More recently, we are looking at around 15 million copies of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (the most orange game ever made). A typical 'big hit' game (e.g. Halo) sells 5-7 million copies right now - a lot more than a typical 'big hit' boardgame (e.g. Cranium) does, actually.

The video game mass market isn't a myth in the sense that it isn't 'real' (which I personally think is a lousy way to use the word myth anyway), it's a myth in the sense of the California gold rush of 1849: "there's gold in them thar games". Yes, but are you sure your game has the design, production values and marketing to get at that gold? Because if not, you'd do better, as both Steve and I have said, to consider your game a niche market product.

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Nice article.

A shame so many don't look up the definitions properly.

Mass Market when used in 'lazy games marketering 101' often means 'everyone aged 8 to 80'. And it's so overused and misunderstood it's just not funny anymore.

To be blunt and possibly offensive, these people are painfully stupid. Until we get rid of the joypad, that's NEVER happening. 8 to 80 year olds on the same game? Can you imagine an 80 year old picking up a pad and knowing intuitively what to do with it?

Nintendogs and Eyetoy. That's it so far to the best of my memory. Other games at a stretch. Never before have I seen anyone embrace these games from such wild extremes. My mum - an old Lebanese housewife NEVER went near my games machines in all the 20 years I've been hooked on them. One day, I took Eyetoy round to my brother who lives with her and we left it on while eating. We come back and she's playing it!?!?!?!

Nintendogs. I just showed it for a second to my friends' games-hating girlfriend. Then we had to pry it out of her hands an hour later.

THIS is Mass Market gaming. Not fucking Splinter Cell. FIFA has a huge audience, but surely there's a less nebulous name for it than 'mass market'. 'Huge and easy to market to' audience perhaps? Too many words and too much assumption for my liking, but it'll do till we figure out a better one.

I remember a Ubi Soft foot-soldier badgering on about how Prince of Persia had the potential to be a mass market property. Oh how I laughed...

Okay, "The "mass market" is a myth" was the wrong thing to write, particularly as the thrust of what I was trying to say was the thing we agree on, Chris - in the main (if not altogether) games should be considered niche market products. :)

It was weird writing the post as if we were in disagreement, Steve, since I knew we were fundamentally in agreement. Still, this turned out to be more interesting than just pointing to your post. :)

"A shame so many don't look up the definitions properly."

Well, I think the definition of mass-market is still quite nebulous, especially with such a new media as games. Which of these is mass-market - Halo, Madden, Nintendogs, or Deer Hunter 3? I can think of justifications for each.

One thing that somewhat bothers me is that when we talk of "the mass market," that often primarily means "people who don't otherwise play games." I personally don't see anything compelling in Nintendogs that hasn't already been done in the Tamagotchi or pg.magic Petz! PC games years earlier. However, many people who don't normally play games find that to be quite compelling. Compare that against Halo or GTA, which are relatively more appealing to me (and to many other established game-players), but which don't do so well amongst people who don't like games to begin with. It's just that sometimes, this talk of selling to the "mass-market" disturbs me, because it means selling to people who don't normally play games and are not "gamers," which effectively means gradual marginalization of people who have played games since they were born, like myself. While I think growing the market is critical for the media, I don't know if I always agree with the direction in design that entails.

Well, I think the definition of mass-market is still quite nebulous, especially with such a new media as games. Which of these is mass-market - Halo, Madden, Nintendogs, or Deer Hunter 3? I can think of justifications for each.


No. They're big sellers and mostly to a male audience. That's just critical mass of one audience - males aged 8 - 45. That's a massive audience, but it ain't the true 'mass market' definition audience as it's only one sex.

Nintendogs is the only 'real' mass market game as it gets guys, women, kids, grannies and so on.


"I personally don't see anything compelling in Nintendogs that hasn't already been done in the Tamagotchi or pg.magic Petz! PC games years earlier. However, many people who don't normally play games find that to be quite compelling."


Visuals are superior, interaction is superior, you can swap dogs and toys, enter interactive dog shows, carry it around in your pocket (like Tamagotchi too, but higher spec) and so on.


"Compare that against Halo or GTA, which are relatively more appealing to me (and to many other established game-players), but which don't do so well amongst people who don't like games to begin with. It's just that sometimes, this talk of selling to the "mass-market" disturbs me, because it means selling to people who don't normally play games and are not "gamers," which effectively means gradual marginalization of people who have played games since they were born, like myself. While I think growing the market is critical for the media, I don't know if I always agree with the direction in design that entails."


I agree. In fact, you articulated an argument I've had with a lot of people in a very clear way.

I hate that publishers openly court 'mass market' or their interpretation of that phrase, for games that kicked in with a hardcore following - say Prince of Persia or well... Prince of Persia!

However, those that try and court the masses often do it the wrong way. Either bastardisation of the concept (see previously named example, add Limp Bizkit soundtrack and generic rage hero design), over-provision for the less skilled audiences or simply lazy content design, due to license (see EA's Batman Begins game which could've ruled quite hard).

If, by "mass market" publishers are trying to court non-gamers, they would be better off treating them as a niche market of their own and make specific games accordingly. A game based on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" is a good example of this.

I agree. But a lot of them don't from my personal experience. They think they can 'safeguard' for that audience by making introductory levels really stupidly easy, or by forcing choices by restricting previously available gameplay choices and actions, but in a very crude and unimagintive (read: usually frustrating to the player) way.

SCi and Bits Studios' Constantine was a rampant example of this.

And so the publishers fail to cater for the real audience of these games and it becomes a flop in that niche as well as the "non-gamer" niche.

Yup. Sucks doesn't it. They don't listen either.

I never really played games much before I bought an Xbox and Halo/Madden. (Ok, I *did* play Doom 2 and Half-Life before that. But that's about it).

Maybe I'm unique in this regard.

Anyway, I run into all kinds who don't fit the normal game dork profile who then start spouting off about Madden. I think it's more mass market than nintendogs.

Well, it's mass market to football fans; but maybe not to other groups - I can't say that folks outside the US would care too much, and the market (for Madden) is dominantly male.

Of course this goes back to, "who is the mass market?" How broad a stroke should be drawn? If a game would appeal in the US but not outside it, is it still mass market? It might be in the US, but not on an international scale. Similarly, Halo is mass-market to young males, but maybe not to many adult women. I think I agree with Steve above - it seems more logical to simply break down a wider range of niches rather than use the very blunt instrument of "mass market," a term which I find almost meaningless. The problem isn't that games are not "mass market," but they only target a small variety of niches - there are other niches that can co-exist in the gaming world so that all play needs are met. Rather than throw away the existing niches as 'childish' or 'juvenile', new publishers and studios can simply examine ways to bring games to new niches without neccessarily abandoning the pre-existing audiences. By specifically targeting specialized niches instead of targeting a lowest-common-denominator mass-market, the existing core is unaffected while the new niche is satisfied.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)