March 6, 2013
It's a strange headline, I know, but as ever, there's something to it. A potentially disastrous something, not to put too fine a point on it. The NPD Group recently made a study of the so-called "core gamer" and discovered some very interesting points about this group that a lot of game companies are pinning their collective hopes on. But this may well be a bad move, in the end, especially if the fullest implications aren't considered.
The NPD Group's studies focused on a survey group of 6,322 citizens in the United States, over the age of nine, who played games on either consoles--any make qualified from the Wii U to the Xbox 360 and down--or PC at least five hours, on average, per week. The discoveries were surprising in some spots, less so in others, and all potentially adding up to a big problem.
First, core gaming is a pretty big market. About 14 percent of Americans over the age of nine is a "core gamer", and the mean age is 30, though the likelihood doesn't drop off until gamers turn 45. But younger than 30, the likelihood increases. Core gamers are also overwhelmingly male, at 71 percent, though regular gamers measure about 50 / 50 overall male and female.
Those "core gamers" are spending less than they used to, which mirrors the overall declining market for video games. About 10 percent said their spending dropped. But when they are spending, they're buying new games at retail prices, spending fully twice as much on new games as they do on used games.
This is where the problem comes in. First off, the core gaming market represents only about one in nine people in the United States. That's a whole lot of market that can go cheerfully toddling off into tablets and smartphones and "Angry Birds". That's plenty of opportunity for things like Green Throttle, which we talked about last night, to take over a huge swath of market because it's working with a platform that people already have. It's a huge problem for triple-A gaming, which is trying to get progressively larger sales to cover progressively larger budgets from a comparatively small hunk of the gaming universe.
Systems like the PlayStation 4 and the new Xbox are going to have a much harder time overall trying to keep up in the future, as the "core gamer" segment they're depending on is already a pretty light chunk of the market and doesn't look to be shaping up any time soon. Sure, there's a market there--just look at the sales for "Call of Duty: Black Ops II"--but that's a small market. And a lot of firms could easily go after that big swath of casual and non-gamer that's left over. In many cases, they're doing just that.
Basically, core gaming either needs to get a lot more players involved, or games for core gamers need to adjust their budgets downward. Core gaming is a well of finite size that may well be drying up, and casual gaming is rapidly becoming a much bigger part of people's lives. Those that fail to account for this shift may not be long for the market.