The computer games market is in the midst of a radical shift as vendors move away from complex, expensive and gory titles towards simpler, friendlier games and movie tie ins to attract the ?casual gamer?.
?The casual gaming market is the fastest growing segment of the business,? said Ron Chaimowitz, GT Interactive Software?s chairman and chief executive, in his keynote speech at the Gamexecutive Conference in San Jose on Monday.
His company?s Deer Hunter game, which simulates a deer hunt, was the top US game selling 1.5 million copies during December last year ? just ahead of Barbie Riding Club.
But this move indicates a radical change in demand from December 1994, when Myst, Doom II and Wing Commander III were the top titles. While all three are complex games that appeal to what games professionals call the ?core? gamer, the problem is that such cutting edge technology can cost more than $2 million to develop.
As a result, vendors often need to sell between 100,000-150,000 copies just to break even and falling retail prices are putting margins under further pressure.
The true PC game fanatic is typically a highly educated, relatively high income male who spends an average of 14 hours a week playing computer games.
Casual and occasional gamers, on the other hand, are less affluent, play for only an average of seven hours a week, buy fewer games, are more price-conscious and own a less advanced PCs. Some 42 per cent of them are also female.
But according to Chaimowitz, casual and occasional gamers now outnumber core gamers by ten to one in the US.
Kevin Hause, an analyst with IDC Research, confirmed: ?Gaming is really becoming a mass market,? and added that this trend was aided by the growing penetration of PCs. Almost half of all US households now own a PC, he said, and 41 per cent of these say they frequently play computer games.
So to attract the casual player, Chaimowitz advised games developers to spend less money on product development and more on marketing, to simplify the games they produce and have them run on mainstream PC hardware.
He also pointed out that the casual gamer is far more sensitive to hot franchises and predicted that future top selling games would be linked to blockbuster movies, sports stars and television shows.
They are also likely to become tamer. Doug Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association, called on games developers to step back from depicting excessive amounts of gore and to show restraint in their game content and advertising.
He said that unless the industry practiced ?responsible self regulation,? the authorities were likely to step in and do it for them.
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