Tag. I'm It.

For as long as I can remember I've been a "gamer." I mean this in every semantic parsing you can apply. My first memory is that of standing in the stream behind my kindergarten, tadpoles swimming between my legs. I was constructing a maze in the mud, trying to corral enough water so that I could get two tadpoles to race. Five years old, killing tadpoles, making mazes, and mentally wagering on races. In short, a gamer.

But back then nobody called me that, and not just because I was five. No, my labeling had to progress through the well-documented historical chain of name calling: newt, dork, nerd, geek. Only then could I finally take the mantle of "gamer." But it's still not enough. I need more.

It was only recently -- the last 10 years or so -- that "gamer" became a unique marketable entity. A subculture has emerged that miraculously encompasses P-diddy sitting on a tour bus playing GTA, smelly frat-boys playing Madden, my daughter playing Katamari, and our Sunday night Half Life 2 Deathmatch clan. At first I thought that perhaps I could find a seminal game, a moment in time where the world went "aha" and decided we all shared enough in common to deserve our new label. But as much as I love a trip down memory lane, I'm forced to admit that there wasn't a catalytic moment. Instead, there was a financial tipping point. Somewhere in the long journey from Gary Gygax's basement to the Wii in my living room -- probably in the PS2/GameBoy era -- there became so much money in the subculture of gamers that it made sense for statisticians and advertising agencies to think of us as all belonging to a single morphology.

During this brief period in history, spanning an arbitrary date range I will delineate as December 13, 1996 through January 14th 2005 at about tea-time, this label did not do us -- remember us, the gamers? -- all that much good. As gamers, we were already ahead of the information curve, and Madison Avenue was slow to keep up. Marketing campaigns we're simply big: big boobs, big guns, big promises. But then the unthinkable happened -- we kept getting bigger. Gamer has become too small a label to be of any use for marketers. It's no longer cost effective to say your going to market something "to gamers."

And so we get fractionation. Are you hardcore or casual? That these are the first two categories is expected, as any marketing intern can immediately understand the financial distinction. It's MBA 101 retail marketing; for every product you have a mass market, and an early adopter/influencer market. You wanna sell Crocs to soccer moms? You better get the kayaking instructors on board first. You wanna sell tired fathers on hot new snowboard gear for their kids? Well the flying tomato himself better be sportin'.

And ever so slowly, the marketeers realize that even inside these two big buckets, we're not all the same. Most mainstream media outlets, from the Wall St. Journal to Blender, now carry some gaming content. And gaming content can mean anything from "Best family board games for Christmas" to "Goriest Game Moments of 2007 -- the Bucket o' Brains Edition." Because of this, the important people -- the people charged with allocating marketing dollars -- have to get smart in order to justify their salaries. They need to define exactly what a given game is, and who it's for. No longer is a game just a game. It's a kids game. It's a casual puzzle game. It's a hardcore shooter. It's a stats-and-dialog-tree RPG.

As gamers -- all of us under the big tent -- we should embrace this. We should demand it. The continued atomization of our subculture is a sign that we have arrived, and that more of us arrive every day onto an Ellis Island of geekdom. When games can afford to specify what they are so explicitly that a mere glance at the box tells you everything you need to know, that's when you will know that we have won the battle, and that the marketing interns will forevermore be our coffee-toting indentured servants.

We all hate bad marketing. Bad marketing is being sold a toothbrush while you're trying to buy condoms. But good marketing is a gift. Good marketing is Amazon popping up an "other people who bought this ..." recommendation for a book you have never heard of, is completely compelling, and which upon reading is the best damned book you've ever read. Good marketing is when you get an e-mail offering you exactly what want, when you want it, and at a discount. Good marketing saves you time, energy, money, brain cells, and gets you things you never knew you wanted.

When it comes to being consumers of something as mercurial as games (as opposed to, say, toilet paper) we should embrace our labels. Me, I want a universal gamertag/Nielsen system. I want the world to know that my average play-time on a branded professional sports title is 74 minutes, but that I still fire up Tony Hawk once a week. I want some dweebish statistician named Alvin sitting in his faded-brown cubicle in a derelict office park in Northwest Chicago to know with absolute certainty that I have an 87% chance of becoming a recurring player in Lord of the Rings Online.

Because when the label works -- when Alvin really, really knows -- that's when I'll get that game faster, cheaper, and will enjoy it more than if I have to figure it out on my own.

My name is Julian. I'm gamer 25-7-bravo-stroke-alpha. Let me know when you've got something for me.

And of course, in the meantime, don't bother me about the toothbrush. I'm all set.

Comments

Rabbit you rock man. Gaming has become so big that we should have 100's of good games to play in the coming years, and for that I couln't be happier with the gaming scene.

rabbit wrote:

For as long as I can remember I've been a "gamer."

Got kind of a Goodfellas vibe there.

I think for your Utopia of game marketing to be a reality the marketeers have to go back and start at the bottom again, i.e. the screaming masses. Just on the XBLA thread on this site alone there is a constant uniform chatter about exactly what we like and don't like about every single title that is released. This isn't the only gaming forum last time I checked, so I would like to propose that there is a sister discussion on every site, albeit not as civil.

Statisticians will always know the what but hardly ever know the why. I'm sure that they will see that New Rally X didn't sell as well as Alien Hominid HD, but I doubt their little spreadsheet will tell them that it's because Rally X was ass.

I think game marketing is going to have a lot more work ahead of it before we get to the point you describe in your article. They need more information and this is one part of my life I wouldn't mind giving it. What about a little survey option on each XBLA demo? 10 or 20 questions I can answer "strongly agree" or "strongly disagree" to let the developers and marketers know why I didn't like it and what I didn't like about it.

Good piece, rabbit. It let me vent frustrations I didn't even really know I had (good marketing).

more of us arrive every day onto an Ellis Island of geekdom.

f*ckin brilliant!

Good Marketing is selling you the toothbrush while your trying to buy condons. The way I see it is if you don't brush your teeth before your date you may not get to use the condom.

liongames wrote:

Good Marketing is selling you the toothbrush while your trying to buy condons. The way I see it is if you don't brush your teeth before your date you may not get to use the condom. :)

Everybody's a comedian.

Heh.

Rabbit good article, always gets me thinking on Tuesday morning. Today, the thought running through my mind is that what you alluded to Rabbit Wrote:

I'm gamer 25-7-bravo-stroke-alpha

although with a sprinkle of reality. That level of one to one marketing is a ways off, as we all know. The algorithms that fuel it in books and movies (Amazon and Netflix) are two prime examples of where we are going, but in the gaming world, we are nowhere near the goal. The thought chugging through is that gaming marketing is still in its infancy and the many of the marketers either do not understand the game and/or the audience to really market it properly. They are improving the recent TV ad campaign for Gears of War was great. I straddle the casual hard core gamer line if you can believe it. I have periods of hard core play followed by other times of casual play. That being said, the Gears of War ad alone almost made me buy an xBox right then and there. Still trying to find the $$$ and justify the time I will want to devote to it, but that game is one I really want to play all because of the marketing. However, it is really the only game marketing I have seen that has grabbed me that way. Thereby in my opinion supporting the gaming marketing in its infancy premise. Some day, the marketing will improve, the gameplay will continue to be refined and as Rabbit says I'm "25-7-bravo-stroke-alpha " send me what I want. I just hope to be around and kicking.

As usual, a fantastic article. But!

Not so sure I agree with the:

rabbit wrote:

They need to define exactly what a given game is, and who it's for. No longer is a game just a game. It's a kids game. It's a casual puzzle game. It's a hardcore shooter. It's a stats-and-dialog-tree RPG.

As gamers -- all of us under the big tent -- we should embrace this. We should demand it.

Classification of my media has always been a sore point for me. Classifications in your local movie rental place are a good example. Where do you look for an animated comedy about vampires in space? Comedy? Horror? Sci-Fi? Family?

I know that games used to fit into categories. But I think that this is a historic legacy that is no longer applicable for many of the games. I believe that games originally had to be limited because of the development time, memory, technological and other restrictions. These days though, an FPS shooter can have an adventure like story. It can become a racing sim. It can have strategy game elements inserted into it. Add to that some RPG elements too. There is no reason for a game to remain in a 1980s mould.

Perhaps, instead of binning games into such rigid and nonsensical categories, they would be better served if these categories (or some refined list of them) become attributes, or adjectives when describing a game. So Diabolo can be something like a demonic fantasy, isometric, dungeon crawler, with some RPG elements, and shallow storytelling, to distinguish it from something like KotOR which would be a sci-fi, third person, room explorer, with heavy RPG elements, and significant story telling. This to me would be a lot more useful in deciding on whether I'd even give a game a chance, rather than binning both of those into some generic RPG category.

In the Information Age game of tag, don't forget to outlaw the "no tag-backs rule." Otherwise we'll be labeled and dismissed rather than labeled and listened to.

Great article, Rabbit.

I've already walked myself in a circle or two about genre classifications. I started with the (I think valid) reaction that genre classifications stifle creativity. From a creative standpoint, thinking about genre is cancer. My feeling that many games seem to start with capital in search of an idea within certain parameters exacerbates my view on this, to be sure.

On the other hand, genre categorizations were tremendously important in the progress of criticism (what we call "reviews" but wish could be more) of film, music, and literature. Why would I want to stop that? Perhaps more compelling to me, on a personal level, is the fact that without differentiation, I wouldn't know Aces High from Texas Hold 'Em – and I certainly don't have the time to read reviews of every game that comes to market. A part of me very much wants reviews and coupons for the games I'd like to be delivered to my inbox while I'm off earning my paycheck.

But there is that other side of me: the side that earns paychecks. I by no means need better, more focused advertising. This is not a privacy concern for me, but a purely fiscal question. Left to my own devices, I could spend the next ten years happily playing the games I now own and those I can swipe from bargain bins and Abandonia.com. On that path I could also, theoretically, eventually afford a ring, a house, and 2.3 kids (and neigh countless prophylactics to keep the count that low). While I'm perfectly willing to defer that dream for the pleasures of blowing my shotgun load in Hanta and Gumbie's faces in the short term, I don't need any more encouragement to spend more money on this hobby.

From a financial wellness standpoint, I'd much prefer the system Amazon and I have going:

  • Quicken says I have money
  • I go online and am offered ways to spend it.

"Don't call me, I'll call you."

My wife calls all of what I do, "Geeking."

Wordsmythe (and others).

Totally see the counter argument. My point is just that if I were perfectly marketed to, i would never, ever buy something i didn't need, too much of something I did need, or anything not as good as I could get for the same money.

Marketing people, despite all evidence, are generally not stupid and consumers themselves, and they get this. They'd much rather sell you something 100 times because you love it than once because you got conned by a good ad.

MoonDragon wrote:

Classification of my media has always been a sore point for me. Classifications in your local movie rental place are a good example. Where do you look for an animated comedy about vampires in space? Comedy? Horror? Sci-Fi? Family?

I know that games used to fit into categories. But I think that this is a historic legacy that is no longer applicable for many of the games. I believe that games originally had to be limited because of the development time, memory, technological and other restrictions. These days though, an FPS shooter can have an adventure like story. It can become a racing sim. It can have strategy game elements inserted into it. Add to that some RPG elements too.

Continuing on the movie-rental example; an ideal solution would be for the flic to show up in all of the sections relevant to it (i.e. Space, Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi and Family). While not always physically feasible (restrictions being, for example, the number of available copies), online it should pose no problem at all - you've just got to put a link to its product page up in each of the sections. In that case it would greatly simplify your search: just think of a quality that describes the product, like Sci-Fi, and finding it should be a breeze.

Sigh

I miss all the big boobs.

rabbit wrote:

Wordsmythe (and others).

Totally see the counter argument. My point is just that if I were perfectly marketed to, i would never, ever buy something i didn't need, too much of something I did need, or anything not as good as I could get for the same money.

"Need" is such a funny word sometimes.