Games And Tradition in The Video Game Age

There are games out there that are traditional.  Dungeons and Dragons in all its incarnations.  Settlers of Cataan.  Cosmic Encounter.  Risk.  Axis and Allies.  There are pen and paper games, board games that are older than many people, games people have played from childhood to adulthood.  There are games that, for many, are traditions.

By traditions I mean games that people play for a considerable time, may identify with, and that act as cultural touchstones.  How many of us (older geeks at least) remember Monopoly or D&D from Days Gone By, and played them for years and decades?  How many times did we use certain games as references or ways to sync up with others?

So I began to wonder about computer games.

In the computer game realm we don't have as many traditions.  Titles are re-invented and recreated.  Epic works fade into the background, lost in a haze of history and ownership rights.  We don't seem to have traditions, in many sense, and even the many inevitable sequels do not a tradition make.

I wonder if we're getting there, however.

Let's consider Team Fortress 2.  This game seems to exist almost under radar in the spheres I move in – because people just assume you play it.  It keeps popping up.  It keeps being mentioned in casual conversation.  It's to the point where I find myself speculating "Medic or Engineer."*  TF2 is everywhere.

I've seen people do cosplay of TF2.  I've seen people do gender-bending cosplay.  I can't escape it.  Medic or Engineer . . .

And since it is everywhere, it seemed safe for the owners to make it free-to-play and live off of the proceeds from the store and other options.  The whole free-to-play move certainly got me interested.

TF2 is thus taking on the air of a tradition.  Everyone has heard of it.  Everyone seems to play it.  It's assumed by many I've met, especially in my gaming days, that some kind of people (read, geeks like me) play it.

A simple, well-done, colorful, witty, character-driven game.  Perfect to form a tradition around.

Next, let's consider World of Warcraft.  World of Warcraft is the near-archetypical example of a fantasy MMO.  It's got mercy and mentions in media, commercials and pop culture references.  It's the first thing anyone in the English-speaking world seems to think of when people mention MMOs.

The game even kept going by reinventing the entire world – or as I put it, knocking parts over and setting them on fire.  It kept going, however.

Now?  Free-to-play for the first 20 levels.  Join up, just like everyone else.  Give it a try.  Enjoy . . . what seems to be a tradition of its own.

Then there's Pokemon, which . . .  well, what can we say about that.  Tight formula, definite design, multimedia properties.  People grew up with it.  Pokemon is almost pure tradition, re-inventing itself yet staying the same.  You can pretty much be sure of decades of Pokemon to come.

All of these (and probably more) are traditional games of the electronic age.  They are defining experiences that people identify with, they are shared experiences that people can use as cultural touchstones.  We've got our traditions.

What does this mean geekonomically?  Well:

  • Traditional games have huge market potential and presence.
  • They're not going away any time soon, and thus have stability (hint, hint).
  • They'd be hard to knock out (or down) the market.
  • How they got there is a good thing to analyze for your own career and business plans.
  • Their existence could provide problems for some other games that are newer because of these traditional games having market share – and mindshare.

We have our traditions forming in gaming.  We've had them forming for awhile.

Steven Savage

* Engineer unless the team really needs a good support guy or tactician.