Some time ago I wrote an essay that what people wanted in their computers was what they wanted in their neighborhoods: simple, accessible, clear. It was a strange essay, but one I think that made a point about how we often want similar things in seemly different and unrelated situations and technologies. It won't surprise you that I have another strange metaphor to yank out of the air and explore: that what we want in games is what we want in our technologies these days.
Let me back up for moment. Lately I've been trying to understand some of the trends in gaming, because frankly they don't make a lot of sense. We have an onslaught of casual games. We have vastly successful and complex MMOs. We have gaming appearing on every conceivable platform. I've wanted to get a grasp of these trends: and I think I have.
My take? That trends in computing and trends in gaming reflecting overall trend in culture and technology.
What is the trend in computing? It's a trend towards ecosystems, fast and efficient technology, usability, and straightforwardness. Let's face – it people have had enough of computer software and hardware that's hard to use, hard to set up, and hard to maintain. We've had enough virus attacks, spam in our inbox, and incompatible software drivers. We want stuff to work, we have no time for bullshit (and we don't want to pay for it).
Take a look at computer trends now. The slick Apple ecosystem. Slicker and more effective Microsoft technology. Convenient App stores. No fuss, no mess, getting what you want–as complex or as simple as you wanted.
And what trends we see in gaming? We see simple and effective games coming out that people can play anywhere on many platforms. We see convenient downloadable content (how similar to an App Store?). We see simplifications in many games–but there are complex ones still coming out. We also see experimentation in games, resurrections of old genres, different levels of complexity available. Gaming is both diverse and very accessible.
In short, gaming is more and more about getting what you want when you want it, the way you want it. This means that, yes, there is an onslaught of simpler games. That should be expected–we are also facing an onslaught of simpler, more effective computing. There are more people using technology, more people the bus want entertainment, and their need to be games for them–and people are rediscovering simplicity and effectiveness in technology.
I myself have found my gaming habits changing. Having access to so much technology, having access to so many different kinds of games, having so many different app stores, I have more choice than ever. And I'm learning more about my gaming habits and what I want, and what I want to play under certain situations. With today's technology I can indulge my different habits and desires on different technologies and at different times.
So gaming hasn't so much changed, as become more responsive and reflective of the desires of a broader audience. It has taken cues from the simplification of technology, the spread of social media, and past and current gamers.
Gaming, in the end, is following the same trends that technology is following: clear operations, a broad selection to meet peoples desires, but easily accessible. There is World of Warcraft for one audience, assorted jewel–moving puzzle games for another, retro games for a third audience, and so. All accessible through increasingly simple and clear technology.
What does this mean for the future? I think the trends of having technical ecosystems, simplicity and clarity and accessibility, are not going to change. Though gaming is following these trams, I do not think it is caught up with many other companies providing technical and software services when it comes to fully realizing what the audience wants. When it does, I think game companies will have clearer visions of where they want to go and what they want to do.
And of course, hopefully, at that point, we will stop seeing arguments about casual games, hard-core games, and so on. Instead there will just be games for individuals and what they want, much as people now don't argue over which word processor to use–hopefully.